Photo: Toby Canham/Stringer
Thanks to certain intrepid writers, the Company Men actress found the courage to choose the life she wanted.

By Anaïs Nin

"Nin's unexpurgated diaries are astounding," says Bello. The French writer's journals stretch from her early adolescence to her death in 1977; this volume covers 1934 to 1937. "She decided to only tell her truth, to live her truth, no matter how that was seen by the world. She writes, 'I have no fear of depths, and a great fear of shallow waters'—the shallowness of life," Bello says. "When I read her diaries, I was introduced to the possibility of living unconventionally in a world that seems to honor convention. Nin made me realize that I have a choice—and gave me the courage to choose the life I want."
Memorable quote: "Life. Fire. Being myself on fire I set others on fire. Never death. Fire and life. Le jeux."

Bello's next pick: Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
dinesen out of africa

Out of Africa
By Isak Dinesen

Bello has been obsessed with Africa since she was a girl. "I don't know why," she says. "I grew up in a blue-collar family in Philly. No one even knew where Africa was, but I had it in my mind that I needed to go there. As soon as I made my first money, I did." Dinesen is the pen name of Karen Blixen, a Danish woman who moved to a Kenyan farm in 1914. Bello admires Blixen's independent spirit, especially as it's mirrored in the story Blixen tells of a bushbuck named Lulu—a type of antelope she raised from infancy, that eventually ran away. Blixen was devastated, but one day she looked out her window to see Lulu—now regal and fully grown. "The sight takes her breath away," Bello says.
Memorable quote: "[Lulu] was in possession...standing quietly on her divine rights."

Bello's next pick: Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
kristoff wudunn half the sky

Half the Sky
By Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

In this engrossing book, Kristof and WuDunn report stories of gender inequality around the world. "I give this book to every woman I know," says Bello, who studied peace and justice education at Villanova and has since worked with women in Kosovo, Darfur, the Congo, and Haiti. She was impressed by the writers' reporting, of course, but also by the ideas they give for helping women in precarious situations. "Sometimes we go to a place of, 'Oh, it's gonna take billions of dollars to make an impact,'" says Bello, "but Nick and Sheryl write about the small things people can do, and I realize I just have to do my own little bit—whatever that is."
Memorable quote: "Women aren't the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity."

Bello's next pick: Darkness Visible by William Styron
Darkness Visible by William Styron

Darkness Visible
By William Styron

"This memoir of Styron's descent into depression is the closest thing I've ever read to what it really is," says Bello. "It's a crisis of the soul but also a chemical disorder in the brain that leads to a way of feeling that—for a long time—I thought was beyond description." Bello says she's read many books about depression because she grew up with it in her family. "The best books," she says, "are those that make someone feel not so lonely anymore. That's the gift—a greater depth of understanding about the disease—this gave me."
Memorable quote: From Milton, where Styron found his title: "No light; but rather darkness visible... Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace / And rest can never dwell, hope never comes...."

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