When you write about culture on a pretty constant basis, James Franco is sometimes like a good old friend who shows up exactly when you need him, always there to say or do something that you can write about. In terms of books, which I believe is Franco’s preferred side gig to his acting, Franco should be commended because there are few celebrities aside from maybe Oprah or now Stephen Colbert who do as much to help more casual readers discover new writers, and that’s a good thing. But…
The problem is that Franco doesn’t seem to ever talk about books by women. He’s basically given us reason to think this time and time again, and even his ideal bookshelf has just one book written by women among the titles by Faulkner, Nabokov, and Kerouac. It’s problematic, to say the least. Franco’s latest round of suggestions, part of his “Summer Book Club” at Vice, sees the actor once again suggesting a handful of books — most of them great ones — by Steve Erickson, Michael Chabon, Teddy Wayne, and others. But again, no women authors — not a single one.
Here’s the thing: I don’t want to rag on Franco anymore. I have no beef with him; he cares about books, he was in Freaks and Geeks, and he’s a huge celebrity who probably doesn’t care all that much what I have to say one way or another. But in the event that he does read this, or he has one of his assistants read the internet, or whatever celebrities do, I’d like to suggest this handful of books written by women that maybe he’d consider checking out and hyping up at some point in the near future. There are many, many more, but let’s be fair: the guy has eighteen classes and two movies to shoot every day of the week. This seems like a decent enough start.
Tampa, Alissa Nutting
Since Franco knows what it’s like having people think you’re maybe some kind of predatory sex pervert, maybe he’d really like Nutting’s great novel on a fictional predatory sex pervert.
Mr. Fox, Helen Oyeyemi
Remember that time Franco really screwed the pooch with Oz the Great and Powerful? Here’s an idea: he should take this or any Helen Oyeyemi book and get some money to turn it into a film that he has nothing to do with in terms of acting or directing. Just give Oyeyemi a bunch of money and get somebody really awesome to make this happen.
Reasons to Live, Amy Hempel
Acting, painting, writing, teaching, etc.: Franco has shown over and over that he has a really short attention span, so maybe a collection of short stories by one of our modern masters might be just what he’s looking for. He could also try Alice Munro, Lydia Davis, or Deborah Eisenberg if he’s into this sort of thing.
The Groves of Academe, Mary McCarthy
There is so much wrong with higher education that I don’t even know where to start, yet Franco was not only able to enroll in four graduate programs (NYU, Columbia, Brooklyn College, and Warren Wilson College), and got into Yale’s Ph.D program, he also teaches while jobs aren’t exactly growing on trees for more qualified academics. A person that can get into that many great programs must be pretty smart, and he obviously cares about the academy and education, so maybe he’d like Mary McCarthy’s novel based on her own experiences teaching.
The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud
It’s a great book, but seriously, one damn book on his ideal bookshelf with “Woman” in the title that’s actually written by a woman would go a really long way in rectifying this situation.
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
Franco says he’s a fan of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, so maybe he should try out some actual Virginia Woolf.
Duplex, Kathryn Davis
Since Franco has a book of poetry coming out soon via the great people at Graywolf Press, he could perhaps hype this wonderfully weird novel by Kathryn Davis (or any of the other titles written by women this publisher has put out.)
The Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector
I just suggest this one to everybody. I think Franco’d enjoy it. Have you read it? Just go ahead and read all of the Lispector books New Directions have put back out into the world.
Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, bell hooks
We figure we should probably include some nonfiction on this list. This could be a really good place to start.
Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag
Since Franco seems to be on a never-ending quest to show the public just how intelligent he is, telling people they should read the work of one of our best critics and one of the last truly great American public intellectuals would go a really long way. Preach the Sontag, Franco.