Shelf Life: Griffin Dunne

Welcome to Shelf Life,’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.

The Friday Afternoon Club by Griffin Dunne

<i>The Friday Afternoon Club</i> by Griffin Dunne

The title of Griffin Dunne’s first book, The Friday Afternoon Club: A Family Memoir (Penguin Press) comes from the name of a weekly party his younger sister, Dominique, threw for her acting class. The book covers her death at the hands of an ex-boyfriend, and the life of the author, an actor, director, and producer.

From early movies like After Hours, directed by Martin Scorsese, to recent TV shows like The Girls on the Bus (HBO), inspired by Amy Chozick’s book Chasing Hillary, Dunne has more than 100 big- and small-screen credits to his name. Among them are This is Us, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, and Jill Soloway’s I Love Dick, plus one-offs on Succession, Billions, and Girls, along with two dozen directing/producing credits. Those projects include Halloween stalwart Practical Magic and the Emmy-nominated documentary The Center Will Not Hold on his aunt Joan Didion, made with his producer cousin, Annabelle Dunne.

The NY-born and -based, L.A.-raised Dunne has an actress daughter Hannah (mom is Carey Lowell); was an altar boy kicked out of high school for smoking marijuana; once opened the door to 2 FBI agents who wanted to talk to his mom (she had dated Daniel Ellsberg); roomed with friend Carrie Fisher in NY (after Star Wars came out, neighbors in the building called him Mr. Fisher); is a Prince Street food podcast correspondent; lived in the same building as Ric Ocasek and Paulina Porizkova; dove for shipwrecks in Bequia with Fisher Stevens; has a dog named Mary, 5 ostriches at his upstate NY farm, and at one point, a miniature pony with a unicorn-like horn made by Paramount’s special effects department; was sent puzzles for Christmas by Stephen Sondheim; and shot a scene in Addicted to Love with Meg Ryan and his father, Dominick Dunne, at NY restaurant Raoul’s.

Bad at: Spanish.

Good at: Crossing water-related things off his bucket list like a New Year’s polar bear plunge and going from sauna to fjord.

Dislikes: The word “evergreen.”

Fan of: John Mulaney; David Letterman; Mexico City restaurant Contramar, La Roca restaurant in Nogales, AZ where his mother was born/raised, and Northern Thai Food Club in SoCal started by his sister-in-law; war museums; Matthew McFadyen, cartoonist Harry Bliss, Bob Dylan, Slash from Guns N’ Roses; pea soup; New Yorker Talk of the Town caricatures (he was one with Kathryn Hahn, his I Love Dick co-star), political artist Mark Bryan, the Cure, boxing and tennis, Turtle Conservancy, Ranch water (tequila and Topo Chico); and Manhattan diners. Order one of his book picks below.

The book that:

…made me miss a stop:

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I was actually listening to it and drove 75 miles past my exit.

…made me weep uncontrollably:

Waking the Dead by Scott Spencer. I read the book after facing a terrible loss in my family. Soon after, I met the author and wept all over again telling him how much it meant to me. Scott has been my closest friend ever since for decades.

…I read in one sitting, it was that good:

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø. Most of his books I’ve read in one sitting, and when I went to Oslo last year, I sought him out to tell him so.

…currently sits on my nightstand:

American Dream Machine by Matthew Specktor. A truly epic novel set in Hollywood spanning decades that I didn’t want to end and still can’t bring myself to retire to the bookshelf.

…I’d pass on to my kid:

True Grit by Charles Portis. Hailee Steinfeld’s strong character [in the movie adaptation] and personality reminded me of my daughter, Hannah. She loved the book.

…made me laugh out loud:

David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Carrie Fisher’s Postcards from the Edge. Their senses of humor and observations for the absurd were influential to me when I wrote my memoir.

…I’d like turned into a TV show:

The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton. God knows I tried with my producing partner Amy Robinson. Maybe I’ll give it another shot.

…I last bought:

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson. Recommended to me by my friend Keith, who, like me, loves all books and movies set during either of the two World Wars.

…has the best title:

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy. What’s not to love?

…has the greatest ending:

David Benioff’s City of Thieves. The protagonist lives through horrific violence crossing one end of Leningrad to the other to steal some eggs during the German bombardment only to die from a bullet that he accidently shoots himself in the ass.

…features a character I love to hate:

Robert in Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian. “Hate” might be too strong a word, but I couldn’t look away from his pathetic character.

…helped me become a better writer:

John Burnham Schwartz, my editor and a great novelist.

…is a master class on dialogue:

Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock: A Confession. Every line is urgent and vibrant.

…describes a place I’d want to visit:

Pottsville, PA in John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra. But only visit to eavesdrop over corned beef hash and a bottle of Scotch.

…sealed a friendship:

See Waking the Dead by Scott Spencer.

…features the coolest/most beautiful book jacket:

The Friday Afternoon Club. Don’t mean to gloat, but it’s my first book, and I can’t take my eyes off it.

…I’d want signed by the author:

Any book by Philip Roth.

Bonus question: If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world, it would be:

The map room at the New York Public Library.

The literary organization I support:


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