The best books to read if you love old black-and-white movies

Who am I?

I'm a New Yorker with a background in the performing arts. Though a lifelong reader and bookstore loiterer, my early writing career was focused on the stage as well as the pursuit of a career in screenwriting. This led to many years writing and producing theatre as well as working in film and TV both as a writer and in production. The books I've chosen, I feel influenced the American language in the last century, an influence reflected in the tone of the novels and films from that period described by scholars as “Between the Wars.” It's a period that fascinates me for it exists now only in books and movies and is therein preserved.


I wrote...

And There We Were and Here We Are

By Scott Brooks,

Book cover of And There We Were and Here We Are

What is my book about?

"I wasn’t even going to tell this story, but Violet had to go and write a whole book about all of us before getting herself killed.” 

Ten years ago, Jerry came to NYC to break into show business. Today, his career is stalled, his ex-fiancé is a TV star, and he survives by bartending in Manhattan’s high-end cocktail lounges. Stunned by loss and regret, he's sleepwalking through a hung-over life when he discovers Violet’s book about when they were young, hopeful servers at a Times Square restaurant. Mustering the courage to open it, he relives the days of callbacks and late nights, angry chefs, and crazy customers. As he searches the words of his self-destructive soulmate, can he reconcile his past, and find the hope he lost along the way?

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Last Tycoon: The Authorized Text

Scott Brooks Why did I love this book?

As perfectly tragic as one of his Jazz Age characters, Fitzgerald drank himself to death before finishing this novel which in my opinion, could have been his best. Like Gatsby, Monroe Stahr is an eloquent, rich, and isolated character, pining for a mysterious woman. He is a hugely successful movie mogul in the golden age of Hollywood, and Fitzgerald’s contempt for the studio system’s treatment of writers is here on full satirical display. The sparse prose sparkles with diamond-like harshness and clarity as the doomed love affair plays out. I’m sure it's his least known novel since it is technically “unfinished,” but most editions publish Fitzgerald’s unfinished future chapters, his pass at the ending as well as his notes and outlines, making this a master class in novel writing.

By F. Scott Fitzgerald,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Last Tycoon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940 before he finished this novel. This text purges the printers' errors and editorial interventions that have appeared in previous editions. The tragic centre of the book is film producer Monroe Stahr, who sees film as art, rather than a money-making device.


Book cover of The New York Stories

Scott Brooks Why did I love this book?

John O’Hara’s name should be spoken in the same breath as Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, and Hemingway. Maybe it isn’t, because he never had that one homerun book that stood out in the canon, like a Gatsby or a Grapes of Wrath. Though I think Butterfield 8 and Appointment in Samara stand up to either of the above, I have chosen this collection of short stories. He wrote more short stories for the New Yorker than anyone ever did and is credited with inventing that particular style that the periodical became known for. Each of these stories – all short and fast as an uppercut – shows the flawed humanity striving in the city from the 30s to the 60s – from ad men to secretaries, to bums and soda jerks. With his trademark crackling dialogue, this collection of gritty Americana will leave you feeling like you are standing in an Edward Hopper painting.

By John O'Hara,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The New York Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Superb... These thirty-two stories inhabit the Technicolor vernaculars of taxi drivers, barbers, paper pushers and society matrons... O'Hara was American fiction's greatest eavesdropper, recording the everyday speech and tone of all strata of mid-century society' Wall Street Journal

John O'Hara remains the great chronicler of American society, and nowhere are his powers more evident than in his portraits of New York's so-called Golden Age. Unsparingly observed, brilliantly cutting and always on the tragic edge of epiphany, the stories collected here are among O'Hara's finest work, and show why he still stands as the most-published short story writer in the history…


Book cover of The Wicked Pavilion

Scott Brooks Why did I love this book?

Dawn Powell is one of the most overlooked literary figures in America from this time. Her acid wit (and gender) immediately begs comparison to Dorothy Parker. A New Yorker transplanted from Ohio, she wrote many plays and novels from the 30s to the 60s. Wicked Pavilion was published in 1954 and is a delicious satire of a group of artists who frequent a small bistro near Washington Square Park – hard-drinking writers, poets, and painters. It features a hilarious subplot of a painter who stages his own death so the value of his paintings will increase. The antidote to Henry James, Dawn Powell writes like Edith Wharton on laughing gas.

By Dawn Powell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wicked Pavilion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The “Wicked Pavilion” of the title is the Café Julien, where everybody who is anybody goes to recover from failed love affairs and to pursue new ones, to cadge money, to hatch plots, and to puncture one another’s reputation. Dennis Orphen, the writer from Dawn Powell’s Turn, Magic Wheel, makes an appearance here, as does Andy Callingham, Powell’s thinly disguised Ernest Hemingway. The climax of this mercilessly funny novel comes with a party which, remarked Gore Vidal, “resembles Proust’s last roundup,” and where one of the partygoers observes, “There are some people here who have been dead twenty years.”

"For…


Book cover of Up in the Old Hotel

Scott Brooks Why did I love this book?

Mitchell chronicled life in New York City during the Great Depression and beyond. His stories of the colorful and fragile lives on the fringes of oblivion are unforgettable. This is one book I return to over and over again and I always find more to love in his prose and the lives that were being lived when the city was populated by people living from one meal to the next. Most of the book consists of tales of the characters down on the old Seaport – the oyster fishermen – Sloppy Louie, and most famously Joe Gould – a homeless man who spent his life writing his magnum opus history project. The novella McSorley's Wonderful Old Saloon is another Mitchell classic – the story of the man who opened and ran what today is one of the oldest – still open – bars in the U.S. You can feel Mitchell practically aching with love for the subjects of his stories. This collection is at once a time capsule and a chronicle of the human condition.

By Joseph Mitchell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Up in the Old Hotel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Saloon-keepers and street preachers, gypsies and steel-walking Mohawks, a bearded lady and a 93-year-old “seafoodetarian” who believes his specialized diet will keep him alive for another two decades. These are among the people that Joseph Mitchell immortalized in his reportage for The New Yorker and in four books—McSorley's Wonderful Saloon, Old Mr. Flood, The Bottom of the Harbor, and Joe Gould's Secret—that are still renowned for their precise, respectful observation, their graveyard humor, and their offhand perfection of style.

 

These masterpieces (along with several previously uncollected stories) are available in one volume, which presents an indelible collective portrait of an…


Book cover of Manhattan Transfer

Scott Brooks Why did I love this book?

I chose this book because it is, I am almost sure, the least known of the bunch, in a list that I admit champions some lesser-known giants of American literature from the last century and a style that influenced me as a writer. But what Dos Passos does with this novel stands apart. An experimental novel when it was published in 1925 Dos Passos jumps back and forth between the narratives of his disparate characters – from bankers to soldiers - creating a pastiche of life in the 1920s and in New York in particular that is raw and harsh at times in its critique of the greedy capitalistic country we were becoming.

What strikes me most about this hundred-year-old book, is how starkly modern it seems today.

By John Dos Passos,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Manhattan Transfer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'My literary hero is John Dos Passos' - Adam Curtis (filmmaker)

'A modernist masterpiece, capturing ... the fragmented lives it sketches, in a dazzling kaleidoscope of New York City in the 1920s' Christopher Hudson, Evening Standard

'Dos Passos has invented only one thing, an art of story-telling. But that is enough to create a universe' Jean-Paul Sartre

'The best modern book about New York'
D.H. Lawrence

A modernist masterwork that has more in common with films than traditional novels, John Dos Passos' Manhattan Transfer includes an introduction by Jay McInerney in Penguin Modern Classics.

A colourful, multi-faceted chronicle of New…


You might also like...

Off Season

By Randy Kraft,

Book cover of Off Season

Randy Kraft Author Of Off Season

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Introspective Observant Bookish Friendly

Randy's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When Sharon's ex-husband, Red, invites her to join him for a winter retreat, she agrees. After all, they've moved past what ails them, and they get on well. She will be on sabbatical fine-tuning a PhD dissertation, and he needs a respite from an illness. Why not enjoy the charms of a southern California beach town off-season?

Soothed by sea breezes, they become fascinated with their mysterious landlord and her late artist partner, Red is befriended by a flirty neighbor and her surfer husband, and Sharon shares her literary passions with a sexy retiree. When the winds of the pandemic blow, they have to confront their past within a daunting future.

Is off-season an opportunity for renewal or a glimpse of what might have been?

Off Season

By Randy Kraft,

What is this book about?

When Sharon's ex-husband, Red, invites her to join him for a winter retreat, she agrees. After all, they've moved past what ails them, she will be on sabbatical fine tuning a PhD dissertation, and he needs a respite from an illness. Why not enjoy the charms of a southern California beach town off season? On the other hand, what else might he have in mind and what will she face if she lets her guard down? Soothed by sea breezes and ocean views, they become fascinated with their mysterious landlord and her late partner, a Fauvist painter. Then, Red is…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in New York City, Manhattan, and romantic love?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about New York City, Manhattan, and romantic love.

New York City Explore 954 books about New York City
Manhattan Explore 121 books about Manhattan
Romantic Love Explore 795 books about romantic love