Books That Made a Difference to Gillian
Posted at 1:34 PM (PDT) on Monday, June 16, 2008

O, The Oprah Magazine (in bookstores and newsstands now with cool new photos of Gillian!)
READING ROOM: Pg. 48 Vol. 9
July 1, 2008

Books That Made a Difference to Gillian Anderson
-As told to Mamie Healey

More, more, just give her more books! The X-Files star finds beauty, influence, wisdom, and inspiration in three hard-to-shake contemporary novels, a high-climbing history, and the ever-compassionate Pema Chödrön.

I remember when a friend gave me a novel - I had huge respect for this person's taste-and he said to me, "I am so jealous that you have this in front of you." I knew exactly what he meant. I'd had that feeling myself when I recommended a book to friends. On the first read, your skin is tingling and you're completely overwhelmed by the beauty of the story or its poetry. It's very difficult to return to that place when you go back to a book for a second read, because you're obviously influenced by an inner knowledge of where it's going to end.

If I hear about a good book, I will buy it automatically, so now I've got many, many books in piles. It's strange - I sometimes have the desire not to finish an amazing book, and at the same time, I know that there are so many more to read. What a beautiful conundrum to have in life, you know?


The Known World
By Edward P. Jones

This is a fictional narrative of a free slave in Virginia who becomes a landowner and slave owner himself. It's a peculiar situation but historically accurate. Jones recounts that some black owners would treat their slaves as they themselves had been treated. It's like child abuse in a family lineage, the way that's passed down from generation to generation. I found the novel an acutely sad reminder of a time when, in our own backyards, humans were property and lives were considered dispensable.

Mountains of the Mind
By Robert Macfarlane

Macfarlane combines stories of his own experiences summiting mountains with a history of mountain climbing. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, man saw mountains as ugly: God's mistakes that got in the way of us going from point A to point B. As Macfarlane explains, it was relatively recently that we began to think of them as "majestic" or "sublime." I'm also fascinated by the way that mountains can possess people. On some level, I understand that-not the need to conquer but the hunger. And the risks that one is willing to take in order to have what one wants.

The Speed of Light
By Elizabeth Rosner

A brother and sister, children of a Holocaust survivor, live in the same building. He's essentially an agoraphobic who has internalized the grief and pain of his parents; his sister has escaped it, or she thinks she has. When she has to go to Europe, she asks her housekeeper to check in on her sibling. You see a relationship develop between the brother and this South American woman, who has witnessed the massacre of her family. At one point, she leaves him a paper bag full of lemons. On each one, she's written a word or two to help him through the day. The gift of these succulent-smelling fruits is a wonderful image of a hidden man being led out of his skin, through her beautiful gestures. I decided that I was going to option the book, adapt it, and direct it. That's still my goal.

When Things Fall Apart
By Pema Chödrön

This came into my life at the end of an important relationship. I was having a hard time letting go of the person, of the memories. Pema offers tools. One is the practice of tonglen: You put your mind toward the suffering that you find in the moment, and you expand your meditation to include all those around the world who might be suffering with the same thing. And you extend compassion to them. So it's not just about me. Somehow it gets you out of yourself, and that's been very helpful.

Bel Canto
By Ann Patchett

The story takes place in an undisclosed South American country at a ball thrown for a Japanese businessman. The hosts have hired the businessman's favorite opera singer to perform. But terrorists take the guests hostage, releasing all the women except the singer. Though the situation ends in violence, for several months, as the hostages and their captors listen to the singer rehearse each day, they relax in their appreciation of this woman's voice. The book is about the ways in which beauty and love can transcend disparities, prejudices, even hate.

For more of Gillian's favorite books, click here.