From dazzling poems to a panoramic nonfiction classic to a profound—and subversive—American history (one he's developing as a TV series), the star of Oliver Stone's W corrals his all-time favorite titles.
I've always loved what reading does for me. It's my solace—being taken by what somebody has written, what they created from scratch. I appreciate getting a different perspective. You tend to become myopic if you're sticking to your own interests. That's why I love my job, because with each new project, suddenly a different perspective is forced on me. To prepare for the role of George W. Bush, I read 18 books, and now I know a lot more than I ever cared to know about the Republican Party. Yet I've also discovered things I appreciate about it that I'd otherwise never have known. So when I hear a person say, "No, I'm a Democrat—I can't feel that way, I can't try to see things from that point of view," I think, "Why not?"
The more I read, the more I think about the question that a lot of us were asked as a kid: If you could have a dinner with 10 people, who would you choose? You know the one—where people always picked Jesus and Gandhi. With reading, you're able to have that dinner over and over and over, depending on what books you choose.
— As told to M Healey
The Colossus of Maroussi
By Henry Miller
This book—an account of Miller's time in Greece just before World War II—saved me when I was working in a place I didn't care for and I couldn't leave. I was stuck indoors for two and a half months, but when I got hold of this, I suddenly got to leave. I went on a trip, found myself walking every step with Miller. What I appreciated most about it was his descriptions of meeting people and traveling with them for a short period of time; I'd had that experience in Europe when I was 18. I also loved the physicality of his writing. He conjures the primitiveness of his exchanges with the Greeks. It was then that he realized we don't have to present ourselves as something we're trying to be; we can be as we are, and we'll find a connection with others so long as we don't force it.
The Cinnamon Peeler
By Michael Ondaatje
I read certain poets when I was younger, and I look back and think, "Oh, that was my Bukowski phase, my Rimbaud phase." Ondaatje's poems, though, resonate through an entire life. I find that, in different moments, I pick up his work and there's another line or another poem that will hit me as it never did before. And one that once meant so much will turn into confetti again. His poetry takes you into everyday life through colorful wings and cotton ball dreams, until you land back on the pavement of reality.
A People's History of the United States
By Howard Zinn
I've known Howard for a long time—right now I'm producing a 15-hour educational series with him and Chris Moore, Anthony Arnove, and Matt Damon called The People Speak, which is based on our trips across the country, reading from the book. We've gotten amazing people to do songs and speeches, from Eddie Vedder to Sean Penn to Viggo Mortensen. I think it's an incredibly rebellious book, because it's from the point of view of the citizens and victims. I was appalled to learn of the atrocities committed and allowed by our country throughout history. For instance, you hear about slavery, and yes, you feel you have a good perspective on what it was, but then you read this and realize that you didn't know that one-third of the people who were transported from Africa actually died on the ships. This is the most empowering book I've ever read. In fact, the reason I picked the school my girls go to is that it teaches A People's History.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories
By Salman Rushdie
Rushdie wrote this fable when his young son asked him, "Why don't you write something I can read?" I've always liked stories that are told from the point of view of children—that capture their sense of discovery. This book is saturated with the boundless, childlike imagination of its author. The descriptions of sea creatures called Plentimaw Fish and how they swallow old, worn-out stories, churn them in their stomachs, and then regurgitate newly woven ones has stayed with me.
The Executioner's Song
By Norman Mailer
I remember that my mind and emotions were thrown all over the room the first time I read this book, and I still feel haunted whenever I think of it. I became so emotionally caught up in the story of Gary Gilmore, who was convicted of murder in the 1970s and sentenced to death. Mailer gives you the story of the guy from moment to moment. Gilmore knew that he'd done a horrendous deed, but he felt that the judicial system was not living up to what it espouses. He forbade his lawyers to appeal and forced the state of Utah to execute him. He basically said, "Why don't you say what you're going to do and do it?" I felt this great fluctuation between loving his principles and hating the man.
More Books That Made a Difference
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, March 14, 2014
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