Greta Gerwig may have only directed two films, 2017’s Lady Bird and 2019’s Little Women, but both are instant hits that are universally seen as modern classics. Gerwig has an eye for cinema which is among the most unique in Hollywood, a factor that makes her one of the most revered contemporary directors.
Very few directors can boast a single Academy Award nomination for their debut feature film, whereas Lady Bird was staggeringly nominated selected in five categories. On top of that, the film was up for three BAFTAs and four Golden Globes, winning two of the latter. She then somehow managed to eclipse the success of her debut with Little Women, a movie that was nominated for six Academy Awards and won the prize for ‘Best Costume Design’.
Little Women is an indictment of Gerwig’s love of literature, and the director based the film on the 1868 novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott. This story is one that Gerwig felt compelled to tell and wanted to bring this tale she cherished to the screens, passing it on to a new generation. On the topic, Gerwig previously discussed her ten favourite books with New York’s One Grand Books. Although the director doesn’t mention Little Women — perhaps one of her choices will be another piece of literature that she one day makes an Academy Award-winning film.
Her first choice is George Eliot’s Middlemarch, a book that released in 1871, and the author’s name was a pseudonym for Mary Anne Evans. She used a male name to escape the stereotypes associated with women authors in the 19th Century. Commenting on the book, Gerwig said: “Glorious, sprawling, generous. It makes you wish you had not judged characters so quickly and that you could grow old with all of them. I read somewhere that it is a novel for adults, and it is, truly. It is a book I hope to read at every decade of my life, because I think each time it will have something new to teach me.”
The director also acknowledges the similarities between literature and film when she discussed Elif Batuman’s 2017 novel, The Idiot: “She accomplishes in this novel what I’m always trying to do in film: make the mundane extraordinary not by adorning it but by telling it as it is. It combines deadpan humour with romantic yearning and makes you want to read more novels and maybe also try to learn Russian.”
Another contemporary selection that Gerwig opted for is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, published in 2013. “In this book, Ms. Adichie has constructed a full on romance that has the addictive power of a Jane Austen novel but with the specifics of life in Nigeria, as well as life in the United States as an immigrant,” Gerwig explains. “I fell in love with Ifemelu and Obinze in a way that I haven’t felt since I was a child reading novels for the first time.”
As Gerwig’s analysis of Americanah alludes to, characters are the most important thing to her. Whether she can connect with the protagonist is what makes a novel special to the director. She wants a book to make her feel the same way that she hopes her film hopes viewers want to root for Christine McPherson in Lady Bird.
The charm of Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of The Heart from Gerwig’s perspective is another example of this as she states: “The plot of the novel is woven invisibly under you, and pulled out just as you are settling in. It is one of the best novels about a young woman that I’ve ever read.
“These moments of transformation and epiphany go by unnoticed by the outside world, but we have the privilege of being in Portia’s mind with her as she’s trying to figure out exactly how the world is put together and why people do what they do.”
Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse is a book that changed how Gerwig thought, and the effect the novel first had on her is still present today. The director notes, “A classic for a reason. My mind was warped into a new shape by her prose, and it will never be the same again. The metaphysics she presents in the book are enacted in a way that allowed me to begin to understand that corner of philosophy.”
Check out Gerwig’s full list below.
Greta Gerwig’s 10 favourite books:
- George Eliot – Middlemarch
- Djuna Barnes – Nightwood
- Elif Batuman – The Idiot
- Elizabeth Bowen – The Death Of The Heart
- Joan Didion – The White Album
- Maggie Nelson – The Argonauts
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah
- Elaine Dundy – The Dud Avacado
- Alice Munro – The Lives of Girls and Women
- Virginia Woolf – To The Lighthouse