Recommended Books & Films

If you know of a book or film that you can highly recommend to me, or to others who might chance to land upon this page, please share it in the comments section.

Below are books that I’ve read recently, and found valuable (and can recommend), as well as films that I’ve seen within the past year, and thought were exceptional:

  1. Religion and Its Monsters, by Timothy Beal (Routledge 2002). Insightful, and frequently stunning, cultural and literary analysis of monsters in Western Civilization, from Leviathan in the Bible to vampires in film.
  2. How Fiction Works, by James Wood (FSG 2008). The New Yorker literary reviewer is perhaps the sharpest “close reader” of literary fiction of his generation (he’s about 40 years old), and he does a splendid job of clearly explaining “how fiction works” (accompanied by beautiful examples from classic pieces of literature).
  3. Reading for the Plot, by Peter Brooks (Harvard 1984). Brooks writes exceptionally clearly (in his Freudian-driven theorizing) about fiction, and the erotic energies that draw us into, and through, a well wrought story.
  4. Slumdog Millionaire. Melodrama that actually works as pathos, not bathos.
  5. Russian Ark. The film consists of a single tracking shot, of about 90 minutes, set at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg; a staggering, dizzying cinematic achievement.  

23 Responses to Recommended Books & Films

  1. Sir:
    Very interesting site. I have a unique book that will likely interest your readers if you will take the time to read it. Check the website and let me know if you want a copy. I’ll need a mailing address.
    Best, Cornelius Troost

  2. Alexander Nehamas, “Nietzsche: Life as Literature”

  3. santitafarella says:


    Thanks for the book tip. Sounds great. I’ve never heard of it.


  4. Grad Student says:

    Just found an amazing poet, George Watsky. Here’s an example.

  5. Roger Salyer says:

    Ever read Nightriders by R Penn Warren? I am considering reading it, and thought I’d ask.

  6. santitafarella says:


    I know some of Warren’s poetry, but if what you are referring to a novel, I don’t know it. Let me know if it’s good.


  7. Roger Salyer says:

    I just noticed you have James Wood from the New Yorker on your list. I will look for the book. He is a pretty sharp guy. I was unconvinced by his essay on the problem of evil, but I thought his essay of just a couple of months back fairly brilliant. I knew I’d seen the expression, The New Atheism, before.

  8. santitafarella says:

    James Wood is one of my favorite writers. I can’t recommend him highly enough.


  9. Roger Salyer says:

    If you have an interest in history you might try Diarmaid McCulloch’s “The Reformation.” It won the Wolfson History award in 2003, and the author is probably someone you would find of interest as well.

  10. santitafarella says:


    I added both of McCulloch’s books to my wish list at Amazon. Thanks for that. You turned me on to somebody I didn’t know a while back—Macintyre—and it was a good call. I agree with you that he’s worth reading as well.


  11. I like Russian Ark as well.

  12. brenda says:

    Not a book or movie but a podcast. Herbert Dreyfus’ Class lectures “Man, God, and Society in Western Literature” available on iTunes Open U, University of Cal at Berkeley.

    A recent movie which I have not been able to see, it is not showing in any theaters near me, is “Enter the Void”. Enjoys wide critical acclaim and is hard to find, so it must be good huh?

    A movie that I did see, Lars von Triers’ “Antichrist” was…. thought provoking, to say the least. I also really really like anything that David Lynch does. Most interesting is his recent project “The Interview Project”

  13. confusedbenno says:

    Thanks for the recommendations, it’s always great to find a good read. I’m reading Montaigne’s essays at the moment, and they are brilliant to read – Although he lived in the Renaissance, it’s all so readable. Don’t know how popular he is (I hadn’t heard of him before) so I thought I’d mention him.

  14. susie says:

    Read an interesting novel I downloaded from Kindle: ‘Stench of Evil’ by Peter Hough. Apparently he wrote a non-fiction book twenty years ago on the claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse – and this gave him his plot for his new book. Although it’s fiction, it’s well worth a read!

  15. sight66 says:

    Just found your site. I’d be curious to see what you thought of my book, The Bad People Stole My God. Excerpts available at . Thanks.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I took a look at the excerpts you provided at your site, and I’d ask you to think about tone: you sound a bit sunny, like one who has converted to a new religion. Do you want to present your new experience as completely positive and the other as completely negative, or are there perplexities and complexities that you’re willing to explore that would make your book more interesting for those who are not already with you?


  16. Paradigm says:

    Thanks, How Fiction Works sounds interesting.

    There is a lot to pick from when recommending books and films. I’ve always like Jane Eyre but it seems likely that you have already read it. Carol Shields is also a great writer, the Stone Diaries is one of the best novels I’ve read. If you want a smaller sample her collection of short stories, Dressing Up for the Carnival is on the same level. Some great films are Solaris, Mildred Pierce and Donnie Darko.

  17. proximity1 says:

    The Origin of Individuals by Jean Jacques Kupiec, (translated from French by Margaret Hutchings and John Hutchings) Singapore ; Hackensack, N.J. : World Scientific Pub. Co., ©2009
    from the original French edition, L’origine des individus, [Paris] : Fayard, ©2008

  18. proximity1 says:

    The trouble with physics : the rise of string theory, the fall of a science, and what comes next by SMOLIN, Lee.
    Published/Created: Boston : Houghton Mifflin, c2006.
    Description: xxiii, 392 p. ; 24 cm.
    ISBN: 9780618551057 / 0618551050

    Intelligent thought : science versus the intelligent design movement
    by BROCKMAN, John
    New York : Vintage Books, c2006.
    Description: xiii, 256 p. ; 21 cm.
    ISBN: 9780307277220

    Is the Internet changing the way you think? : the net’s impact on our minds and future
    edited by John BROCKMAN, John
    Edition: 1st ed.
    Published/Created: New York : Harper Perennial, c2011.
    Description: xxxii, 408 p. ; 21 cm.
    ISBN: 9780062020444 (pbk.) / 0062020447 (pbk. )

    Global Burnout
    by CHABOT, Pascal,
    152 pages
    Editeur : PRESSES UNIVERSITAIRES DE FRANCE – PUF (9 janvier 2013)
    Collection : Perspectives critiques
    Language : French
    ISBN-10: 2130608450
    ISBN-13: 978-2130608455
    Dimensions du produit: 19,8 x 13,4 x 1,6 cm

    and, more generally, the topic of Burn-out as a social phenomenon.

  19. Laura Parenteau says:

    Noah’s Wife by T.K. Thorne. Here is a snippet of what she says motivated her. More about the novel can be found on her website,

    “Filling in the tabula rosa of the life of Noah’s spouse was an irresistible lure for me. As a humanistic Jew, it was the challenge of writing the story as historical fiction, rather than merely mirroring the Biblical story, that intrigued me. My goal was to weave my imagination onto the structure of the Noah tale in a believable, historically accurate setting. I wanted to tell the story of what I thought might have really happened, given the foreknowledge of how the tale was eventually written down in the mid 6th Century BCE by Hebrew scribes. That required a study of the roots of Judaism (and what was motivating the scribes) as well as available archeological evidence.”

  20. MBA2MFA says:

    The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage is one of my favorite novels of all time. It’s a reader’s book, and a writer’s book. The most fully-rendered protagonist I’ve ever read. Underrated, IMO. Re. films, just b/c they are top of mind for some reason: Adaptation for its writerly humor, Synechdoche New York for its artistic humor and treatment of big questions with bizarre scenes, and Melancholia for the way it is at once depressing beyond belief and ecstatically transcendent. Thank you for this resource – I’ll visit often!

  21. John says:

    The Happiness Hypothesis, Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. Jonathan Haidt presents 10 great ideas discovered by world civilizations in light of scientific research to extract lessons that apply today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s