There’s a “challenge” going around facebook and various social media to list Ten Books That Have Influenced Your Life. After multiple nominations to participate, I finally made a list. I’ll share it here as well:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve always had an affinity for the Fitzgeralds. Their fabulously talented yet so unfulfilled. I devoured this book the first time I read it in high school, but also knew while reading it that I’d understand it more in a couple years. The economy of the language is remarkable and every time I read it again I find something else that blows me away.
The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov. I fell in love with Chekhov in college while working on The Seagull and Uncle Vanya. He tells stories unlike anyone else. His stories are delightful and moving yet haunting and confounding. Chekhov’s gift for capturing the nuances of interaction is unmatched.
The Men With The Pink Triangle by Heinz Heger. Heger’s autobiography was the first testimony by a gay survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. My emotional response to this book was immense. I learned a great deal about the shared history of homosexuals and our usefulness in the world. This book redefined for me what it means to be gay.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. This book is a treasure chest filled with insight and sound advice. What makes this so enthralling is that all the advice comes from an honest, vulnerability place. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s the whole spectrum. It particularly helped me battle my perfectionism habit and learn to let some things go. So, this book has probably added years to my life. I borrowed this one from Tyler Spicer and almost didn’t give it back. I now own my very own copy.
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. The book tells the story Walls’ and her siblings’ eccentric, impoverished childhood. I read this book while coming to terms and putting ownership on my own uncommon childhood. Walls amazingly tells the story with an open heart and keen understanding although she was often endangered and abused. The amount courage and love it takes to accomplish that is incredible. This book was part of the inspiration for me to tell my own story. If Michelle Carafano hadn’t handed this book to me, there might never have been a From Foster Care to Fabulous.
The Empty Space by Peter Brook. This book blew my mind. It’s the only time I can remember re-reading each page several times and then staring off into space to process. Passionate, unconventional, and fascinating, this book shows how theatre defies rules, builds and shatters illusions, and creates lasting memories for its audiences. Being that I’ve created a life in the theatre, when I feel lost or uninspired, I reread this book and realize how infinite art and expression can be.
The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp. This book (among life lessons and many incredible mentors) taught me that it isn’t enough to be a creative person. Talent is great, but it doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t know what to do with it. This book found me during a time when I really needed it. I wasn’t working and I wasn’t creating anything and I had gotten quite depressed. I read it in one sitting on a bus ride from NYC to Cooperstown and immediately felt inspired to work and armed with some tools to help me do so.
Backwards & Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays by David Ball. In fewer than one hundred pages, David Ball, outlines a method for unlocking plot, character, theme, pacing, imagery, motivation and more. This is a must read for anyone working in the theatre. He goes on to analyze Hamlet backwards which is one of the greatest things I’ve ever read.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. THIS BOOK. My fake sister, Rachel Stivers, always recommends the best shit. When she gave me this book, I knew I was going to like it right away. It’s beautiful. Memoir has a tendency to fall into the same forms and this delightful book turns that form inside out. The drawings are beautiful and the story hits all the right notes about family, coming of age, literature, death and art. Not to mention that the stage musical version which ran last season at the Public is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on stage.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. This book is so epic you can’t even handle it. Another recommendation from Rachel Stivers (and Jennifer Soloway), I got completely lost in the world of this book. I read it when I moved to NYC the first time. I remember I would ration my pages per night so the book would last as long as possible. I love the characters. I love that as I read this book, I knew the author loved the characters. I love that the book touches on homosexuality, the role of women in the arts, censorship, anti-Semitism and other big ideas without bogging down the plot, magic or excitement. I could go on forever about this one. If you haven’t read it, just go read it.
Getting this list down to 10 was quite the task. I’m not 100% happy with it, but refer back up to Bird by Bird to remember the perfectionism problem. Now I get to pass this task on to others!