This story was first published on The Reading Room.
Tuesday marked the release of Academy Award nominated actor Jesse Eisenberg’s debut short story collection, Bream Gives Me Hiccups. Though an actor releasing a book can arouse the skepticism of the reading public, Eisenberg’s collection is garnering much praise. Helen Macalpin of NPR praises the collection’s “panoply of neurotics and narcissists and its smart mix of stinging satire and surprising moments of sweetness” and suggests that “it also offers a youthful new twist on what one of Eisenberg’s hopeless dreamers refers to — ironically, of course — as the cruel ‘irony of life.’” Eisenberg seems to subvert the stereotype of Hollywood celebrities writing bad books. And he’s not alone. Here’s a list of actors that have written critically acclaimed fiction, many of whom Eisenberg is being compared to.
1. Woody Allen
The legendary actor/screenwriter/director is also well known for his short fiction, frequently published in The New Yorker and collected in Without Feathers, Side Effects, Getting Even, and Mere Anarchy. His ability to distinguish his films in terms of tone, subject matter, and style is equally effective in his short stories. In the past he’s garnered comparisons to SJ Perlman and James Thurber. Now, writers of short, funny, high-concept stories, like Eisenberg, are being compared to Allen.
2. Steve Martin
Like Allen and Eisenberg, Martin is a comedy actor who took the book world by storm with his critically acclaimed novella, Shopgirl, which was made into a film written by and starring Martin himself. He’s since gone on to write two more novels—The Pleasure of My Company and An Object of Beauty. What may surprise readers is not the satiric comedy that marks Martin’s writing, but his ability to reach the inner melancholy of his characters, reminding us that many of our best comedians are actually quite sensitive and dark.
3. Miranda July
While best known as a performance artist, July, like many of the others on this list, epitomizes what it means to be a renaissance-person. She’s written, directed, and starred in two feature films—Me, You, and Everybody We Know and The Future. But July has also cast herself as a talented writer of fiction with two books under her belt. George Saunders praised her first collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You, for skipping “the quotidian, the merely real, to the essential, and [doing] so with a spirit of tenderness and wonder that is wholly unique.” Her debut novel, The First Bad Man, is garnering equally high praise.
4. James Franco
Franco is widely known for his wide range of projects—onscreen, onstage, and on the page. He’s studied fiction writing at Brooklyn College and his first story collection, Palo Alto, is largely a collection of the work he wrote while in the program. Since then, he’s gone on to publish a debut novel, Actors Anonymous, which author Amy Hempel praises for playing with “persona in ways that implicate a reader. The defiant humor is hard-won, his take on irresponsible people is both eloquent and suitably scorching, the language is enviable.” Though his work has been met with mixed reviews, it’s clear that he is dedicated to writing, as well as other pursuits.
5. Lauren Graham
She was Lorelai from Gilmore Girls and now she’s also a published novelist. Her debut, Someday, Someday, Maybe is a portrait of a young woman attempting, but struggling, to make it as an actor in New York City. Like Franco’s novel, Graham’s is grounded in show business while also making strong observations about it, pulling from her unique well of experience.
6. Tom Hanks
Though he hasn’t yet published a book, he does have a story in The New Yorker. His debut fiction publication “Alan Bean Plus Four,” draws on Hanks’s fascination with space and NASA, a fascination that began in childhood. Like Graham and Franco, Hanks seems a proponent of write-what-you-know. And his ethos on the subject of space, perhaps it goes without saying, is full demonstrated by Apollo 13.
7. B.J. Novak
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is the title of B.J. Novak’s first collection of short stories. Well known for playing Ryan, the temp, on the American version of The Office, Novak is also an acclaimed writer of fiction. His collection contains sixty-four stories, some of which are quite short, but all of which are comedic in nature without sacrificing a deep level of pathos. Booklist calls the collection “high-concept, hilarious, and disarmingly commiserative,” adding that “his more concise stories come across as brainy comedy bits, while his sustained tales covertly encompass deep emotional and psychological dimensions.” He’s garnered comparisons to both Steve Martin and Woody Allen, as well as George Saunders. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Novak described the collection as “George Saunders if George Saunders wasn’t a genius,” leaving the reader to form his or her own opinion.