Jesus' Son
By Denis Johnson

Every line in this book is a sucker punch. Gritty and transcendent, these stories often center on one figure, a mendicant roaming about in an addiction-fueled haze, wading through grief, desolation, and violence to find redemption. Despite the darkness, Franco says, this book is really about "a guy just trying to get by." Poet, journalist, and novelist Johnson is the quintessential bad boy—but with a tender streak. "He brings in a whole sphere of emotion, which allows for deeper meaning," says Franco. "The stories move beyond a sociological depiction of drug experiences, to become art."

And making a difference to us: James Franco's Palo Alto


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