God, researching Garth Jennings is hard. It’s not like anyone has written anything about him, or like he hasn’t made over 70 music videos as co-founder of the film-making outfit Hammer & Tongs – especially not for Fat Boy Slim, Pulp and Radiohead. Someone that looked like him directed Son of Rambow and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I thought I heard him on the radio, but it was probably just Adam Buxton. However, I’m certain I saw him cameo as a zombie crackhead in Hot Fuzz So! Off the back of that single feat of inimitable creativity, we have invited him to pick five books for our Bookshelf feature this week.
To Infinity And Beyond Karen Paik
I hate Pixar. I hate them because they are just too good. It’s the same way I hated the White Stripes or Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. I study Pixar’s every move and weep openly at just how brilliant the films are (the final flight to Andy’s car in Toy Story is one of the most satisfying moments in any film I’ve seen.) This book is the story of the crazy dudes who started the company. It’s not just a story of how they invented the game-changing technology for animation and special effects but how much importance they put on the people they work with, and then giving them the power to “do their thing.” Pixar films generally feel like they were made by people – good, clever, passionate people. It’s worth checking out for the concept art alone, but for people who want to make something truly wonderful before they kick the bucket, it’s a must.
A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole
I only got round to reading this a few years ago. I normally read before going to bed but this book made me laugh so much I had to read it in the kitchen because I was keeping my wife awake. It’s so original, witty and beautifully written. A tonne of people have tried to make it into a film but it always falls apart – the last stab at bringing it to the screen was stopped in its tracks by Hurricane Katrina. I wanted to make it into a film by the time I was halfway through it. It reminded me of when I first saw Withnail and I. It wasn’t so much about plot (even though it works a treat) and the brilliantly described characters did not have to try and be funny to have me rolling around on the floor. Sam Rockwell as Officer Mancusco? I could write the whole cast list now. Whoever makes it in the end will be shot at by defenders of the book, but it will be a noble death.
A Little History of The World Ernst Gombrich
I spent my history lessons reading film books under the table (Edward Dmytryk’s On Screen Directing lasted a whole term.) As a result I missed out on history completely. My brother-in-law bought me this book last year and it was like a lightbulb going on. Though I am ashamed to admit it, I only knew a superficial amount about world history. This book doesn’t dig very deep into each era but it engages you in such a way that you will want to dig deeper yourself. It’s lead to all kinds of history books since (5 Days in London May 1940 is good if you want a window into the Second World War cabinet.) A Little History of Time is written so well – it’s like having a friendly chat with a very clever uncle. Like many of my choices, I love it because of how it manages to take a huge idea and turn it something simple and utterly engaging. It was written for kids, so I suppose that says a lot about me.
Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro
The only novel I have read in one sitting. When I finished it I not only thought it was the best novel in decades, but I wanted to make it into a film. Right away. A lot of my book choices come back to how I want to make films. It was the atmosphere of it that stuck – the horrid reality slowly dawning on me as it did for the characters. Films like The Ice Storm or Brighton Rock (the one with Richard Attenborough) had this awful dread hanging over characters who couldn’t see it coming. Tommy’s scream was the most moving and awful moment I have read in years. How on earth do you write like this? So simple, you don’t even realise the horror is creeping up. As soon as I had finished the book I visited my friend Alex and asked him if he had read it. He said: “Yes, and I’ve just got the rights to make it into a film.” I considered beating him up and stealing the rights from him there and then, but I’ve never been much cop in a fight. Note to self: “You’ve got to move as fast as a ferret in the business if you find something you love.”
Sylverster And The Magic Pebble William Steig
Most children’s picture books are awful, well not awful, but just pointless and boring. It seems like there are lots of people with too much time on their hands who think it’s an easy option. I know this because I am one of these people. I’ve tried to write a couple and feeling very pleased with myself I took them to a book publisher. She sat me down and showed me Sylvester & The Magic Pebble. “Your book is fine, we could publish it, but there’s a lot of ‘nice’ stuff out there. Have a look at this…” William Steig! How the hell did I miss his work?! It’s a beautiful, heartfelt story and told with such elegance and lovely paintings it made me scrap my project right there and then. Some children’s books look like they are illustrated for Guardian reading parents but are of no interest to children – it’s not enough to look pretty. This is as good as it gets in terms of capturing a child’s attention and imagination, and when you realise just how fantastic a picture book can be, there’s no going back. It’s not just because the story is so well written and emotional, Pete’s A Pizza is a silly little story by the same author but equally wonderful and deserving of a place on your bookshelf (next to Oh, the PLaces You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss.) It has been three years since I met that clever publisher and I think I’m ready to go and visit her again.