Born in New York City in 1948, Christopher Guest rose to fame for his pioneering work in improv comedy and mockumentary-style filmmaking. Over five decades in entertainment, the British-American actor, director, screenwriter, and musician has honed a distinctly dry style of humor, producing eccentric yet endearing projects that’ve earned critical praise and a devout following.

Guest began his career as a theater actor in the early 1970s, before gaining notoriety for his comic and musical parody contributions to The National Lampoon. In 1984, he gained widespread recognition for his role as gormless rockstar Nigel Tufnel in the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, a cult classic satirizing the music industry.

As a writer and director, Guest is celebrated for films like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration, which showcase his talent for creating iconic, oddball characters through improvised dialogue. Frequently collaborating with a cast of comedy legends – from Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy to Fred Willard and Jennifer Coolidge – his enduring mockumentary work has made him one of the most influential filmmakers of the form.

In a reading list for NY-based bookstore One Grand, Guest recommended classics by Charles Dickens and Dylan Thomas, alongside a rollicking retelling of the Lewis and Clark expedition and a “small but epic” analysis of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Explore his favorite books below, and complement with the bookshelves of other acclaimed directors and comedians.

Christopher Guest’s Reading List

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (also rec’d by Anne Rice, John IrvingTilda Swinton & Richard Branson)

“It is difficult to pick one Dickens novel, but this one has everything for me — a plot with multiple twists, unforgettable characters that are as alive today as when it was written and a deeply emotional core. It is also tremendously funny.” -CG

A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

“Dylan Thomas was the first writer to reach my heart. His work is musical and essentially a painting with words. It still feels like a dream to immerse myself in this piece.” -CG

Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban

“Raban takes the reader on a literal and metaphorical journey. It is autobiographical, historical and filled with sharp observations about the connection between humans and the natural world.” -CG

Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose

“I am obsessed with the subject matter. The Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804 remains the quintessential adventure. Ambrose perfectly distills the journals, and his skillful retelling of the journey becomes a perfect introduction to this important event. I own the 12-volume set of the journals published by the University of Nebraska and have spent a lot of time delving into that collection.” -CG

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

“This novella is wildly imaginative and has one of the best premises I have ever encountered. The Queen of England comes across a bookmobile while walking her corgis on the Palace grounds. She feels compelled to borrow a book and the ensuing infatuation with reading changes her life and the lives of everyone around her. A brilliant, and thankfully prolific, writer.” -CG

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (also rec’d by Michael J. Fox)

“A Czech artist arrives in New York in the late 1930s and joins his cousin, a Brooklyn-born writer, and together they create comics. The world of comic books at that time was exploding, with the arrival of Superman in 1937. It would be criminal to try and explain these adventures, but Chabon is a truly great writer and fortunately he gets to do that in this book.” -CG

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

“A novel about childhood friends who are reunited amid a murder investigation in the South. Franklin is a superb storyteller and this immersion into the dark recesses of the South is memorable. The novel has made a deep impression on me.” -CG

Oak by William Bryant Logan

“The symbiotic relationship between the oak tree and civilization is powerful. From acorns as food, to ink, and the more obvious uses of the wood itself, Logan connects the very origins of man with the oak and all it has provided. It is clear that Logan reveres the profound importance of this tree and skillfully combines the science with a poetic fervor.” -CG

At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs

“I was 12 or 13 when was introduced to the fantasy/adventure books written by the author of the famous Tarzan series, and first read this novel. The idea of a huge mole machine burrowing to the center of the earth and discovering flying reptiles and other dinosaurish creatures was magical. The writing style now seems somewhat formal and clumsy, but as a young reader I was whisked along into the unknown. Later, in the 1930s, the author has Tarzan make the journey, too. How could that not work?” -CG

Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America by Garry Wills

“A small but epic book. Wills masterfully analyzes the Gettysburg Address in terms of its oratory and historical context. Debunking the notion that the 272-word speech was spontaneous or at least quickly written, he reminds us of how fastidious it was. For Lincoln, a man who frequently quoted Shakespeare and was well read in many areas, this was an opportunity to say a great deal at a crucial time of the Civil War. His brevity — the actual Oration by Edward Everett was at least two hours long — was stunning at the time but clearly no accident. Required reading.” -CG

(via One Grand Books; photo by Christina House)

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