By Amy Hempel and Jim Shepard
I'm a huge dog lover—I just adopted a new dog last week. I keep this book by my bedside. Arthur Miller's "Lola's Lament," for instance, is fantastic: "I worry. / I have to because nobody else does." But one in particular by Edward Albee about his dog Samantha after she dies—"They weren't with me / When I was taken in to die"—makes me cry every time I read it.
By Philippa Gregory
I have to admit: This was rollicking fun—a real page-turner. I'm not usually into historical fiction, but for some reason I loved this book. Gregory takes actual figures and, with a little artistic license, creates a dramatic vision of life as a woman in the court of Henry VIII. She imbues the main character—Anne Boleyn's younger sister, Mary—with qualities that make you root for her. And, of course, there's all that sex and intrigue. It was a romp, but also a reminder of how rarely I get to read a book that's total escapism.
By Thomas L. Friedman
After 9/11, I realized I didn't understand enough about Mideast politics. When I don't know something, I start asking people, "Who should I read?" Bradley Whitford, who played Josh on The West Wing, told me to look at Thomas Friedman's columns in The New York Times, which I did, and when this book came out, I knew I wanted to own it. I'm interested in the way Friedman frames some of the geopolitical events of today as a conflict between superpowers and what he calls "super-empowered individuals"—like Osama bin Laden. Some of these people, he writes, "are quite angry, some of them quite wonderful—but all of them are now able to act much more directly…on the world's stage." That's an incredibly frightening proposition, but Friedman's a knowledgeable man who spells things out in a way that I can follow.
By Elizabeth Gilbert
I wanted to read this memoir because I'm newly single, West Wing has ended, and I'm in this place of wanting to explore what else is out there. I admire Gilbert's bravery to leave a relationship that didn't make sense anymore, to face the possibility of being alone. She wasn't willing to settle. Like her, I've always wanted to learn to speak one of the Romance languages and see a bit more of the world, but I'd be a little daunted to leave everything and travel to three foreign countries in one year, as she did. I'm more of an armchair tourist. I love the way she writes, and she's inspired me to travel the world. Or think about traveling. For now, I'm living vicariously through her.
By Jane Fonda
My mother gave me this memoir as a present. I thought, "Well, I'll just flip through it." But I was entranced. Before this, I hadn't thought about all the things Jane Fonda has done—the careers, different relationships, her adolescent pregnancy prevention campaign in Georgia. At the same time, she's brutally honest about her self-doubt (something I definitely suffer from). I was so impressed that she was able to walk through the muck and keep reinventing herself. She's a woman who strives to be authentic. She refers to her life in terms of "acts," and she feels as if she's in the last one—I think it's brave to imagine: "How am I going to use the time I have left?"