gwyenth paltrow
Photo: Steve Sands / Contributor/Getty Images
I have a lot of time to read when I'm on a movie set, and I've been really lucky to have been given some great literary works over the past several years. I have the issue of Poetry magazine in which "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot was first published, and I have first editions of the works of J. D. Salinger. But one of the best gifts came from Ethan Hawke when we were shooting Great Expectations. I was having a hard time because my first big movie, Emma, had just been released, and everything started to change. I had my first crisis. I found myself asking, "What's happening to my world? To my life?"

In the middle of all this, I went into work one day and found that Ethan had left me a big cardboard box full of his favorite books: The Stranger by Albert Camus, Motel Chronicles by Sam Shepard, The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, to name a few. Isn't that the best present? He gave the books to me with the intention of taking me outside myself and having me connect with poetry and literature—things he thought would give me perspective and make me feel better. It was such a generous gesture.

I remembered his gift last year when I had a birthday party. I told my friends that I didn't want fancy presents—just for each of them to bring me a copy of their favorite book and to write on the first page why it's so special to them. It was a wonderful night, and I had so much fun discovering what my friends thought about each book. In a way, that's what I've done here: On the following page, I've listed seven of my favorite novels and the reasons I love them.

jane eyre
Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Brontë

My mother, who is this brilliant actress [Blythe Danner], started reading Jane Eyre to me when I was probably 9 or 10 years old. It was the first adult book that I got lost in. There's one scene when Jane is a child living with her relatives, and an older cousin begins to torture her. She fights back, but ends up getting locked away in a room as punishment. I so felt her frustration. When I read it again later in school, I connected to different parts of the book—especially the scenes with Jane as a young governess, new to Rochester's house and rather unsure of herself.

crime and punishment
Crime and Punishment
By Fyodor Dostoevsky

One of my all-time favorite novels is Crime and Punishment. I read it in high school, and for some terrifying reason, I really identified with Raskolnikov. It's so funny, because he sort of behaves amorally, but he has an incredible sense of right and wrong. Obviously, I couldn't identify with him as a killer, but I could understand what it means to know that something's wrong but do it anyway. I was 17 when I read it, and the feeling of having betrayed one's sense of right and wrong—and then living with the consequences—was something that I could completely identify with.

the sheltering sky
The Sheltering Sky
By Paul Bowles

This is one of the most visual books I've ever read. I just felt as if I was witnessing every scene firsthand, and my imagination was painting the most colorful pictures of North Africa, the cafés and the desert. I remember that when I read it, I was completely taken away from my life. Actually, I think this was one of the books Ethan [Hawke] gave me.

franny and zoe
Franny and Zooey
By J. D. Salinger

The whole family dynamic in Franny and Zooey is fascinating. But for me, this book is all about the end, when Franny comes apart in the bedroom. The delicacy of someone that intelligent being so close to falling to pieces is intriguing to me.

goodnight moon
Goodnight Moon
By Margaret Wise Brown

My mom, who has this very rich voice, would read this book to me when I was really little. I would lie there in bed, and she'd say, 'Goodnight moon,' and do the whole thing. So I associate this book with safety and love. My parents got me the French translation for Christmas a few years ago (I've always been a bit of a Francophile), and I keep it by my bed. I just love the idea of blessing everything that's near and dear to you before you go to sleep with a simple 'Goodnight.'

catcher in the rye
The Catcher in the Rye
By J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye was assigned reading for me in seventh grade. I think the reason everybody in the world connects with this book is because it's about being isolated—just slightly outside of what you perceive to be the norm. It's the ultimate story of being a little bit on the outside, and I think everybody sort of regards themselves as being that way. And the language! It was the first book I ever read that made me laugh out loud.