Top Ten Fake Books – David James Keaton

Written by on February 20, 2024

Top Ten Fake Books – David James Keaton

Sometime around last year, I realized I’ve been steadily losing my ability to read due to a decade of rampant, attention-span-destroying internet usage. This became even clearer to me when, for the first time in my life, I found it impossible to come up with a year-end top ten list of books. During the pandemic, I think I read just one book cover to cover, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. And it wasn’t even that long. So there you go. So my top ten was that one book, ten times. It probably doesn’t help this situation that I watch way too many movies. So when faced with the difficult choice of taking some responsibility for the slow destruction of my ability to comprehend the written word by simply getting the hell off the computer, instead I found a way to turn my new weakness into an asset! And this was so much easier than reading.

Therefore, instead of a list of my top ten books for this year, I give you the top ten books of all time! And I didn’t even have to read them. Behold… The Top Ten Fake Books in Movies!


“Arsonist’s Daughter” (from “Wonder Boys”)

“Grady Tripp” (aka Chuck Kinder) seems to be riding on the fame of this mysterious debut. Both the arrogant, more famous author Rip Torn and eager red-boot fetishist Katie Holmes, who the movie hilariously reminds us already has TWO stories published in The Paris Review before graduation (yeah, right), remind us how brilliant this novel is and refer to it as inspiration. However, the much bigger fake book that Grady loses in the Ohio River in a flurry of pages World According to Garp-style sounds like it would have been even better if people would have gotten off Grady’s ass about it and just let him write it forever.


“The Shape of Rage” (from “The Brood”)

Dr. Hal Raglan’s self-help Dr. Phil kinda deal is something about “psychoplasmics,” where rather than just getting in touch with your feelings, he helps you externalize them, in the form of headaches, tumors, or beaked, murderous dwarfs. Give it the Pulitzer.


“The Devil May Care” (from “Skin Deep”)

John Ritter’s character wrote this before some brutal writer’s block both affected his hands and his penis, and even his stepson’s playwright girlfriend tells him she read it “three times!” and can’t help flirting with him in spite of (because?) he’s at dinner drunk and nursing a black eye with the ice from his drink. This may have been a play actually, and not a novel, but in this movie those things seem interchangeable, much like writing and impotence! But if we’re talking fake plays, I’d have to go with Barton Fink’s pompous tale of fishmongers and the common man or, even better, Nick Nolte aka Lee Umsteader’s play from Weeds, with his amalgam of stolen hubcaps and plots from real-life plays he ripped off to jam into his fake one. And who can beat his own original touches, like when he finally decided to run out into the audience with sticks and “scare the sh*t out of them.”


“God Hates Us All” (from “Californication”)

Since this show depicts writers as tough guys by having its hero punch everyone in the face it’s fitting that Duchovny’s Hank Moody’s most famous novel is equally edgy. I’ve always imagined it as a Norman Mailer self-help book, which would give hopeful authors tips on how to fight other writers with hammers, like Rip Torn! (true story!), but then they went ahead and made this a real book. Sooo now it’s a fake book ghostwritten by some poor bastard tasked with pretending to be a fictional character? It either wins or is disqualified for that nonsense. And wait a minute, this isn’t even a movie. And the main character’s name was “Moody”? Disqualified!


“A Match Made in Space” (from “Back to the Future”)

This book is apparently so good that in an alternate universe, it made Crispin Glover a household name, something his amazing role as “Jingle Dell” in Wild at Heart (where he dressed as Santa and put cockroaches on his anus) was unable to do.


“How I Did It” (from “Young Frankenstein”)

As far as forbidden tomes found in restricted stacks or hidden libraries or secret books behind revolving bookshelves or books offering handy instructions on resurrection… this edges out the Necronomicon simply because of its no-nonsense title. Though the Necronomicon ain’t no slouch, and of all of its appearances in film, I’d probably go with the Evil Dead version of that famous fake book ,which looked a bit like Gray’s Anatomy, except written in blood. Which totally makes it Red’s Anatomy! I’ll be here all week.


“The Philosophy of Time Travel” (from “Donnie Darko”)

Okay, I’m not going to count this and I’m deleting it right now because the Director’s Cut of this movie started showing actual pages from the fake book, and that’s the dumb version of the movie where they changed “Killing Moon” to some overplayed INXS song. Someone should use this book to travel back in time and make the Director’s Cut never happen. And while you’re at it, maybe erase Southland Tales (except for the Timberlake dance sequence)? The Box, however? Coulda been worse! I watched that one on a bus though, so I would have enjoyed any movie that magically appeared in front of my face to pass the time. The Box also seems to involve this fake book, too. So a fake book in two different movies has to be some sort of milestone? I’m convinced. It’s back on the list!


“The Boat Rocker” (from “Field of Dreams”)

Going just by this fake book’s defenders at the PTA rally where they’re talking about banning it, the author, Terrance Mann (supposedly based on Salinger but sounding a lot more like Vonnegut), is apparently “the finest satirist of his time,” and he might write a little smut, is stuck in the ’60s, peppers this particular book with  promiscuity, godlessness, and, uhhhh, the “mongrelization” of the races? The movie also tells us he coined the phrase “make love not war.” But when I looked up that phrase, the internet told me that in real life Gershon Legman said it first. And that he also invented the vibrating dildo when he was 20. Look it up! Anyway, the title The Boat Rocker is a little on the nose but, hey, if it, in its own way, inspired one man to invent a dildo and another man to build a hockey rink in his corn field who am I to judge?


“Kafka’s Motorbike” (from “Bridget Jones’s Diary”)

The advertising in the movie calls it “The Greatest Book of Our Time,” which is then amended to “One of the Top 30 Books of Our Time, At Least,” and I don’t know about that, but this movie had a surprisingly brutal fistfight in the middle of it, which I’m going to assume was thrown in there because the filmmakers took pity on any bros who got dragged to the theater for this live-action British version of the Cathy comic strip. It should be noted that this fake book may or may not be in the Bridget Jones series, so maybe this doesn’t count, but who’s got time to read anything. More on fake books in real books later. Apologies in advance.


“Underwater” (from “The Squid and the Whale”)

Since the movie mentions some sort of “Cathedral Scene,” I’m going to go ahead and assume that Jeff Daniels’ arrogant, dried-up-author turned creative writing teacher’s fake book was some sort of Raymond Carver knock-off. There are some other fake books visible in this movie, too: Watching the Unseen, which is apparently about a “rock star,” and End of the Line, which has the character’s name bigger than the title, suggesting he was at the peak of his popularity with that release, which would be right after Underwater.

But Underwater is still the big winner here because we actually get a damn excerpt, and sort of accidentally! Daniels reads from this book at a typically dull-looking bookstore reading, and because of some bad closed-captioning choices, you can read along with him. (By “bad choices,” I mean I worked as a closed-captioner for years and there’s no way they should have been captioning what Jeff Daniels was reading instead of captioning the lyrics to Blossom Dearie’s melancholy “Figure Eight” song that was playing over that scene. Anyhow, here’s the fake chunk of that fake book you couldn’t really hear in the movie, courtesy of some renegade captioner:

It has been a long, emotionally draining day and night. ‘Who is that boy?’ someone in the pub asks. Pitchum climbs into his rented VW and drives off past the cliffs of Dover in the muted English sunlight, another chapter of his life behind.

Wait, the main character’s name is “Pitchum”? Yikes! No wonder his wife cheated on him.


Honorable Mentions

The Labyrinth (from Labyrinth) – At first glance, this book by “Unknown” seems to be the story of the movie you’re about to see (it seems to include a labyrinth, a Goblin King, and the final spell-breaking incantation “You have no power over me,” etc.), so that means it probably shouldn’t count here, or we’d have to start counting stuff like The Princess Bride. However, since Jennifer Connelly recognizes absolutely nothing that’s happening to her as being from a book that she knows well enough to almost have memorized (!), we can safely assume that this is NOT the story we’re seeing and, possibly, the story of someone else who had their baby swiped? Which makes Bowie a fairly ineffective villain. I mean, he falls for that twice?? Or does he only steal babies from people who have that book? Or is this his way of getting people to document his adventures? Or does she write the new Labyrinth after her experience? So many questions. Speaking of children’s books! Amazing Amy from Gone Girl would have been right here, but it’s disqualified, too, because (just like God Hates Us All) it totally exists in real life now. (A friend of mine got a copy of it with her Blu-ray. Crazy world. Fake books jumping right off the screen!)

Oh yeah! If you’re watching the Oscar nominees this year, keep your eyes peeled for BONER in Best Picture front-runner Past Lives. It’s got a balloon animal on the front. Otherwise I have zero clue what it’s about!

Other notable fake books include:

Family of Geniuses from The Royal Tenenbaums (probably with a fake audiobook read by answering-machine champion Alec Baldwin), Avalon Landing, Sean Connery’s fake book from inspirational Oscar bait You’re the Man Now Dog. Handbook for the Recently Deceased from Beetlejuice. Though if it reads “like stereo instructions,” as Alec Baldwin explained, how engaging a read could it possibly be? Also, the Sutter Kane books from In the Mouth of Madness should be included here, I guess, which seem to be Lovecraftian plots and Necronomicons (of course) but with Stephen King, er, I mean, Stranger Things fonts.

Oh, I almost forgot about “Caterine Vauban,” mysterious author of If Not Now from  I ♥ Huckabees, a fake book which explained to us that the movie itself was meaningless (a fake book in a fake movie?). And to promote the release, the filmmakers actually made a fake Facebook page for Vauban and talked about her “uncompromising clear-eyed look at our existence.” Heavy. Oh, yeah, wasn’t there a fake mystery series in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? You go ahead and Google that one. I’ve got some more not-reading to do!

P.S. Like I was saying earlier, I almost came up with another category, “Fake Books in Real Books,” but that sounded suspiciously like “reading” again, but if I really really had, I’d probably have to talk about the George Stark books in The Dark Half like Machine’s Way, as they had perfect pull quotes with pithy tough-guy zingers and paper clips going through eyelids… but who are we kidding? The extended versions of these fake books are just real life Richard Bachman books, right? And thinking about those fake books within books within books would have just led me right back to The World According to Garp, which had the fake book within the real book, the gory and fascinating primal scream The World According to Besenhaver, replaced in the movie by the fake book Ellen (“just Ellen!”), which was the first “real” book I read cover to cover, and, at the rate I’m going, will also probably end up being the last book I ever read. Could be worse. Could be raining.



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