Amy Poehler
Photo: Jamie McCarthy/WireImage.com
When I was growing up, I was a voracious reader; I loved sitting in my house and jumping into new worlds. But more important, I loved meeting new people. Reading was a way to make friends or enemies, a way to discover how all these different people exist in the world and to rub shoulders with them. The ability to feel as if you've met someone, as if that person exists in flesh and blood and that you relate to them somehow, makes you feel a lot less lonely. And it also makes you feel very brave. When you read stories about triumph and about struggle and people coming to terms with how scary life is, you begin to think, "What could I take? What could I do? What would I do in that moment?"

Many of the books on my list are about big themes, light and dark, goodness and evil. (Except for Amy Sedaris's, which is more about the theme of cupcakes versus meatballs.) They hinge on the moment when you come to a crossroads and you have to choose who you want to be. Would you make the decision that is filled with honor and truth? Or would you make the easier choice of retreat and deception? Good characters are complex; they continue to change. Just when you think you've got them in your hand, they slip away. But they keep you reading, keep books interesting, and, maybe, make you more compassionate.

— As told to M Healey