Books That Made a Difference to Ashley Judd
The actor, human rights activist, and author finds fiction and nonfiction both enlightening and healing.
O, The Oprah Magazine |
April 26, 2011
This landmark 1984 treatise by the noted African-American thinker is "a most extraordinary book," Ashley Judd says. "Her courage and insight are really phenomenal. And hooks emphasizes that we always need to consider class and race when we discuss gender. She has the courage of her convictions and such emotional and intellectual autonomy. And she was so young—32—when she wrote it. It's just remarkable."
Written before her fictional best-seller, The Secret Life of Bees, this memoir "gives voice to the ways in which we experience a disconnect with the culture in which we were raised," says Ashley Judd, who sees similarities between herself and Kidd: "Like me, Sue is a Southern Christian woman born and raised in a household that revolves around the church." The most resonant moment for Judd is one that evokes the contradictory ways society sees women—in a scene where Kidd is admiring her teenage daughter diligently stocking a shelf at the drugstore where she works. "Suddenly two men walk by and one says, 'Now that's how I like to see a woman—on her knees.' Kidd realizes that her daughter was one particular woman in that moment, and she was also every woman. It was amazing."
"This novel radicalized me. It changed my life. It made me a dedicated advocate of organizing and collective bargaining," says Ashley Judd, who came upon the classic when she was a young actor just starting out. "It was about 1991, and my acting teacher, the great Bob Carnegie, kept the fees at the school very low so that we didn't have to waste our time working as waiters. He wanted us to be able to go to museums, to see theater, to read. And I took him seriously: I read one Steinbeck novel after another, and the next thing I knew I had read his entire works—I even read the journal he kept while writing Grapes."
"Ah, this is a lifesaving book," Ashley Judd says about the guide millions have used to survive their loved ones' dysfunctions. "It was revolutionary for me, because my life was affected by another person's drinking. I have a very strong sense of identification with what I read here, and most important, I have an enormous amount of gratitude and respect for having been shown a practical plan of action. I learned how to put the focus on myself when recovering from the effects of the family disease of alcoholism. Because of this book, I can today practice loving self-care, spiritually, emotionally, physically."
"Twain is my favorite humorist," Ashley Judd says. "I even have a quote I think is from him in my e-mail signature: 'A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.' And this book is, of course, hilarious—but it's also a family story and a love story in the sense that it's about the divine love between Jim and Huck." The American classic also has another meaning for Judd: "Huck is the child of an alcoholic; he endures incredible physical and emotional abuse. When he finally reaches his own bottom, he realizes he has to escape before Pap literally kills him."