The star of the film Extraordinary Measures delves into a mother's love letter to her sons, short stories
chock-full of smart-aleck female voices, and a baking guide with a recipe to die for.
The Measure of Our Success
By Marian Wright Edelman
Edelman is an incredibly accomplished person: She was the first black woman admitted to the
Mississippi bar; she worked with Martin Luther King Jr.; and now she leads the Children's Defense Fund.
This is a love letter to her three sons in the form of 25 lessons.
Why she chose it: In the introduction, Edelman discusses her worries that her
children were brought up in a too-privileged era. "Giving up and 'burnout' were not part of the
language of my elders...you did what you had to do and you got up every time you fell down
and tried as many times as you had to to get it done right," she writes. That really hit me—I
have such a huge fear of failing. I read the book ten years ago, as a young adult, and I
found the lessons inspiring.
Now, as a parent, I see them in a whole new way.
Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
By Nick Flynn
The background: Flynn's memoir is about
growing up in a tumultuous household after his alcoholic father
abandoned the family. His dad became homeless, and though they were
estranged, their paths did cross, in part because Flynn was working at a homeless
shelter his father would occasionally duck into. The book is rough and raw and real. I
was so completely on Flynn's side, wanting him to succeed. I recognized something in
that kid—something I see in some of my friends,
which is being a product of parents who are unfinished individuals.
Why she chose it: This is one of my favorite books right now, because it is so full of all the stuff of life that can be so messy and painful and disastrous. And yet it's full of so much grace. Part of the heartbreak is that the book makes you think when you pass a homeless person on the street:
"That person is someone's dad."
By Anne Michaels
The background: This book was given to me by one of my dearest
girlfriends, which is how a lot of my favorite books come to me. It's about a
little boy who survives World War II—how he's rescued and how he grows up
and gets past the tragedy of what he's been through. It contains unlikely kindnesses
of people toward one another, like an older man who hides the mud-covered boy inside
his coat and spirits
him away, after the child's family is killed by the Nazis—that really got to me.
Why she chose it: There are beautiful scenes of the boy's
coming of age and, later, his falling in love after his divorce. I'm thinking of
one when he's on a date at a very fancy restaurant and he's so nervous, he accidentally
knocks silverware off the table. He's mortified. But then the woman, to make him feel better,
sweeps all her cutlery off the table. Because this character has been through so much,
you are aching for him to be adored like that — and then comes this wonderful line:
"I fell in love amid the clattering of spoons." Michaels's
writing is so poetic. I've turned down pages all through the book.
The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing
By Melissa Bank
The background: A collection of linked stories,
Girls' Guide follows mischievous and daring Jane through the different relationships she chooses to lose herself in at particular moments in her life.
Why she chose it: This is not some deep, probing,
type of novel—it's a nice, cozy, girlfriend book. I read it at a time when I was working really hard and felt really young. I was shooting
in Los Angeles, and I did not have a ritual girl group. I was missing that so much. Now, living in New York, I have that, but I used this book to surround myself with all those great smart-aleck, empathetic feminine voices at a time when I needed them.
By Michael Ondaatje
The background: This is just how I like a novel—full of big, sweeping
landscapes and delicious details. It starts in northern California, horse country, and it follows
two sisters. I don't want to give too much away, but an event occurs that
sends them on separate paths.
Why she chose it: I'm just obsessed with Michael Ondaatje right
now. The women in his books have secrets, yes, but the secrets inform who
they become. What I love is that his women are not victims of circumstance.
They're courageous; they keep moving forward. He gives them a quiet power,
and I like that. The books I'm drawn to are like Ondaatje's—lyrical
and adventurous—and they capture the intricacies of human emotions
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
By Martha Stewart
Why she chose it: An amazing babysitter named Rachel helped me
when my son was a baby. I wasn't really a cook, and she taught me so much about
creating a home. Now I make Martha Stewart's scones all the time—though I
use ginger instead of currants [click here for the recipe]. I freeze logs of the dough, and if I have a girlfriend coming to
stay, I'll put some in the oven. They'll make the whole house smell good.
What didn't stick: I'm a little more free-form than Martha Stewart—but I love her
More Books That Made a Difference
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, March 7, 2014
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