Julia Roberts

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I believe in the power of timing. Certain books have come into my life in such a way that I can't help but think, "This is the perfect time for me to be reading this."

I can usually read only before bed or when I wake up in the morning. One day I was at home on my little ranch in New Mexico and nothing was going on. It was cold outside, so as soon as I got up I padded into the living room, where I have all these bookshelves. On this particular morning, a book called Crazy Woman, by Kate Horsley, caught my eye. I pulled it down, built a fire and dragged a beanbag chair in front of the fireplace.

That was a great luxury—to actually sit down with a whole day free, start a book, and like it enough to just barrel right through. I got up once, I think, to get a cup of coffee. Other than that, anybody who came by my house that day would have seen me in different postures in this beanbag chair.

When I finished, I realized what a joy it is to read books that take place sort of where I am. I could look out at the landscape so similar to the one the author was describing.

Of course, sometimes I'm just as grateful to find a book that takes me a million miles away. When I was in Indonesia, everything was so foreign to me—exciting and beautiful but overwhelming. I had brought along Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. Reading such an American story made me feel comforted. That's what I mean about timing: I got to read this great Kate Horsley book right there at home. Halfway around the world, I had Willa Cather's novel, which was exactly what I needed then.

Next: Find out about 5 page-turners she loves
The Wild Palms by William Faulkner

The Wild Palms
By William Faulkner
The Wild Palms would have to be my favorite classic novel. It's such a beautiful, tragic love story—a book that will just destroy you. And Faulkner's language is so utterly descriptive. He can write an entire page that consists of only adjectives and two commas. Actually, he's the reason I ended up passing high school English, because my punctuation was always kind of...eccentric. I would say to my teacher, "Well, you know, William Faulkner—he doesn't use proper punctuation." And one of my teachers ended up devising a system with two grades, where you were graded on content and then on whether it was properly written.

An Imaginative Woman and other stories by Thomas Hardy

An Imaginative Woman
By Thomas Hardy
I love Thomas Hardy. I don't think a lot of people know that he was also a great poet and a writer of short stories because he produced so many novels. One of my favorite short stories—and I'm not a big short story fan—is An Imaginative Woman. It's tragic. People are going to think I'm morbid, loving all these sad books. I actually don't mind a happy ending in a novel—certainly, it's nice when it happens. But when you've invested so much time and your fingers have pushed through all that paper and you get to the end...well, a tragic ending kind of goes with the tragedy of finishing a book.

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson

Written on the Body
By Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson has written many fabulous books, and I just think, "How does this woman sleep?" This story is so intriguing. One of the things that's amazing—I don't know how far into Written on the Body I realized it—is that one of the main characters is referred to in a really unspecific way in terms of gender. But I don't know if Winterson intends for people to know this before they read the book. It's kind of like you choose what gender the narrator is. And she actually pulls this off without the story seeming confusing—and without you even really noticing what she's done.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The Red Tent
By Anita Diamant
The Red Tent was a gift. And when I first started reading it, I thought, "This is what happens when someone who doesn't know you very well gives you a book." After the first two pages, I thought, "This is a little, um, different, taking place more than a thousand years ago and all." And then I was hooked. It was riveting—the wives of Jacob, telling biblical stories from their perspective. This isn't my standard pick, and I don't know if everybody would embrace it, but it's just wonderful.
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
By Carson McCullers
One of the most amazing books I ever read was The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. McCullers was southern, and I'm southern. I wonder how much a non-southern person can appreciate some of the nuances that I consider very specific to that part of the country. In the subtlest, most unconscious ways, I'm able to get her description of, I don't know, humidity in a way that somebody who lives near the Great Lakes will never really know. It was published when McCullers was, what—23 years old? I was still taking hour-long naps when I was 23. How remarkable that she had all that talent at her disposal at that age.