50 Cultural Icons on Their Favorite Books


Everybody loves a good book. Yes, everybody — even the rich, famous and culturally relevant. And since there’s nothing better than a book recommendation from someone you already idolize, why not check out which ones they count as their favorites? Maybe you’ll wind up finding out that you have even more in common with Lady Gaga than you thought. After the jump, find out which books your favorite cultural icons, from Bill Murray to Joan Didion to Nas, love best — and get to padding that reading list.

Bill Murray

“Well, my favorite author is Mark Twain. He’s smart, and funny. Huckleberry Finn, especially the chapter all the purists hate, in which Tom Sawyer stages an elaborate rescue of Jim, is a writer having as much fun as possible. But my favorite book is a two-parter by Laurens Van Der Post, A Story Like The Wind and A Far Off Place. My favorite book used to be The Plague by Albert Camus.” [via]

Joan Didion

“I often reread [Joseph Conrad’s] Victory, which is maybe my favorite book in the world… The story is told thirdhand. It’s not a story the narrator even heard from someone who experienced it. The narrator seems to have heard it from people he runs into around the Malacca Strait. So there’s this fantastic distancing of the narrative, except that when you’re in the middle of it, it remains very immediate. It’s incredibly skillful. I have never started a novel — I mean except the first, when I was starting a novel just to start a novel — I’ve never written one without rereading Victory. It opens up the possibilities of a novel. It makes it seem worth doing.” [via]

John Darnielle

“I’m reading the collected stories of Gogol right now. My favorite book is either Play It As It Lays or The Canterbury Tales — the former will take you an hour to read, the latter a lifetime, both are timeless in my opinion. I have been big-upping Merce Rodoreda whenever I get a chance. A Broken Mirror is a completely, completely, all-time-favorite-list book that doesn’t seem to get a lot of play but I think she’s one of the best writers of the 20th century.” [via]

Michelle Obama

“One of the books that I loved — one of the first books that I loved and read cover to cover in one day — not because anybody made me read it but because the book was good — it was called — it was a book called Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. And that book helped me love reading, because before then reading was kind of like something you did when you had to do it. But that book, it like grabbed me and pulled me and I just kept reading and kept reading. And any book that does that for me — do you feel that way when you get a book and you just can’t put it down, whether it’s a mystery or one of the gossip things like Camp Confidential? Who reads Camp Confidential? Sasha is loving those books. I think those are just — they just suck her in and she can’t put it down.

So those books are my favorite books. And there are many, many others books that I’ve read like that over the years, but Song of Solomon was my first one.” [via]

Robin Williams

“Oh my god, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. It’s one of the greatest books of all time, and the greatest character is The Mule.” [via]

Neil deGrasse Tyson

What was your favorite book as a kid?

One, Two, Three, Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science by George Gamow… it’s still my favorite book. And Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift… gotta love those Houyhnhnms.” [via]

Joanna Newsom

“My favorite author of all time is Nabokov. I’m really obsessed with him, actually… all my Nabokov novels are, like, ravaged by notes crammed into the margins of every page, from readings and re-readings. I especially like the annotated Lolita, edited by Alfred Appel Jr., because I can just luxuriate in his neurotic, exquisite feast of footnotes and endnotes… like a book within a book… amazing.

My other favorite book is The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle. Incredible. One of the greatest literary meditations on beauty, sickness, mortality, loneliness, perfection, defection, bravery/heroism, regret, pity, purity, magic, and power, of all time. So there. The movie is my favorite, too, though for slightly different reasons. I actually just discovered that Mr. Beagle lives in Oakland, which is right near me, so I’m sort of hoping that somehow, someday, I might get to meet him…that would be so amazing….” [via]

Dolly Parton

What’s your favorite book?

“Well, to be honest, it’s the first little book that’s in the [Imagination Library] program. It’s The Little Engine That Could. Because I’m the little engine that did. I always say that “I thought I could, I thought I could” and “I think I can, I think I can, and I still think I can.” So I think that’s a great little inspirational book. It really kinda sums me up pretty good.” [via]

Olivia Munn

“My favorite book is Replay, by Ken Grimwood, about a man who replays his life and the decisions he’s made over and over. The takeaway for me was that no matter what life you’ve led or the choices you’ve made, there will always be great love and great sadness—you can’t escape those two things. I think that’s a great lesson.” [via]

Donald Glover

“I have an obsession with books about kids with Asperger’s syndrome. I like the way they think — it suits me. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon is great. That and [Jonathan Safran Foer’s] Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close — they’re on a separate bookshelf. They don’t understand what the other books are saying by their facial expressions, but they’re perfectly lined-up.” [via]

Hillary Rodham Clinton

What are your favorite novels? Your favorite short stories? Poems you hold especially dear?

The Brothers Karamazov made a lasting impression on me when I read it as a young woman; I intend to reread it this summer to see what I now think about it. My favorite short stories are by Alice Munro, especially her collections Carried Away and Runaway. That’s an easy choice for me compared with the many poets I’ve appreciated over time. Included in that list are E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, Seamus Heaney, Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver and W. B. Yeats.” [via]

James Franco

“I loved Faulkner’s use of voice in As I Lay Dying. Not just the way the chapters are told by different characters in first person, but the way that the characters’ interior and exterior voices clash. The interior monologues are so much richer and more complex for Faulkner. He gives voice to the characters’ emotions for them. This isn’t a short story collection, but each character has his or her own story and perspective even if they are all linked by the burial of Addie.” [via]

Lena Dunham

“I love Lolita. I read it for the first time in fourth grade, because I was told that it had sexy parts. And because Nabokov is such a good writer, I was unable to find any of the sexy parts. Obviously, elderly men should not molest young women, but it has this incredible ability to flip the tables and remind you that characters are complex and humans are troubled.” [via]

Chelsea Handler

What are your favorite books of all time?

The Fountainhead. Mawson’s Will. My brother-in-law gave me that book 15 years ago, and I was so moved by it I was scared to read anything else. Human will can be stronger than any elements, and where there is fortitude, there is great achievement. One Thousand White Women. Anna Karenina is a good jumping-off point into adult reading. I find Russian writers to be very charismatic storytellers; and that is where their charisma ends.” [via]

J.K. Rowling

“[The Woman Who Walked Into Doors.] It is the most remarkable book. Roddy Doyle gets inside the head of his character so utterly, so completely. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a believable, fully rounded female character from any other heterosexual male writer in any age. I should emphasize that I would feel the same way about the book if it had been written by a woman; I would still think it was the most remarkable achievement. But when I sit back and think, ‘A man wrote this?’—phenomenal. He has created a woman who, you imagine, will go to the bathroom and defecate. He also leaves her with her dignity, even though what she’s going through is a horrific thing. And he does it all in such a subtle way. I do think he’s a genius. His dialogue is irreproachable. And your heart…you’re totally drawn into his books. I’m very passionate about Roddy Doyle, and I’ve never met him, which is a frustration to me.” [via]

Bill Hader

What were your favorite childhood books?

“The first adult novel I read, and this is a favorite memory of mine, resulted from my grandfather — who was a voracious reader — taking me to Novel Idea in Tulsa, Okla., to pick up a book for school. As we headed to the checkout line he said, ‘Why don’t you pick out something to read for pleasure?’ I went to the Young Adult section, and he stopped me: ‘No, no. Go to the Fiction section.’ I was 12, and this was a big deal. The Fiction section is where all the books with sex and bad language lived. I self-consciously browsed the aisles, careful to avoid unwittingly picking up Fear of Flying or something, until I came to a paperback with a spooky cover. The title: Salem’s Lot. Description: Vampires in a small town run amok. Written by the guy who wrote that movie where the girl gets blood dumped on her, so she destroys her tormentors with her mind. ‘This one,’ I said. Lying under the eaves in my attic bedroom, devouring that story (Danny Glick at the window!) is a feeling I try to recapture every time I read a book.” [via]

Muhammad Ali

Favorite book?

“That’s a dumb question! It has to be The Quran.” [via]

Amy Poehler

“[Traveling Mercies.] The autobiographical essays in this collection cover faith and family, booze, men, and self-love. They’re full of the small moments in [Anne] Lamott’s life, the observations that make you laugh really hard and make you bawl really fast — two of my favorite activities. She talks about how the most popular prayers are “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I’ve read all her work, and she continually surprises me and speaks to me. One of the lines from this book that I love is: “All you can do is show up for someone in crisis. Your there-ness… can be life giving, because often everyone else is in hiding.” That’s just killer.

Lamott is so open and funny and honest about her own shortcomings and insecurities that you feel connected. She takes away the mystery of things like writing or religion or motherhood and makes you feel included in a very human way. I think every good book should make you feel connected to the rest of the world.” [via]

Caroline Kennedy

Your favorite book of all time?

“An impossible question. Two books that made me cry real tears were Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy, and A Death in the Family, by James Agee. Two books that made me laugh out loud were A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole, and Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis.” [via]

Lady Gaga

“I read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet every day.” [via]

Nikola Tesla

“The fifth condition of adjustment is memory. Perhaps in the most people, the brain is keeper of knowledge about the world and the knowledge gained through the life. My brain is engaged in more important things than remembering, it is picking what is required at a given moment. This is all around us. It should only be consumed. Everything that we once saw, hear, read and learn, accompanies us in the form of light particles. To me, these particles are obedient and faithful. Goethe’s Faust, my favorite book, I learned by heart in German as a student, and now it can all recite. I held my inventions for years ‘in my head,’ and only then I realized them.” [via]

Cheryl Strayed

Your favorite book?

“That’s such a hard question because I love so many books. My favorite writer is Alice Munro — all of her books. She’s a tremendous writer and has taught me so much about writing. She’s my favorite among many, many other books and writers I love.” [via]

Daniel Radcliffe

“I was reading Louis de Bernières’s trilogy on Latin America and this book came up as something I might like, so I bought it… It’s now my favorite novel — it’s just the greatest explosion of imagination, craziness, satire, humor, and heart… There are passages that have become everyday Russian sayings. For instance, ‘Manuscripts don’t burn.’ If it had ever come out that this book was being written, Bulgakov would likely have disappeared permanently. That phrase stands for the fact that nothing is more powerful or more indestructible than the written word.” [via]

Jeff Buckley

Favorite book?

“I don’t read half as much as I should. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I mean, anything about rootless family life gets to me. Geek Love is about the family and a little about the evils of evangelism through the character of Arturo. But mostly, it’s about family.” [via]

Kit Harrington

Who is your favorite fictional character?

“Well, my favorite book is 1984 by George Orwell, so I suppose Winston Smith. Henry V — I love him.” [via]

Jeffrey Eugenides

“Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is probably my favorite novel. I don’t feel like Middlesex is much like a 19th Century book, but some day, I can imagine writing something along those lines. So far, I would say, it’s not the 19th Century that has influenced my writing. I don’t use film or music as an influence either, I write about life. Life is enough for literature (laughs). There’s a fair amount of cinematic things in the book. Film going backwards, time elapse… Growing up in the film age is probably affecting that. Of greater importance to me, well at least in this novel, were Virgil, Ovid — Iliad and Metamorphosis — and maybe, in this book, the line from Tristram Shandy that runs through Kafka, Günter Grass and Rushdie. I usually say my biggest literary influences are the great Russians: Nabokov, Tolstoy and the great Jewish Americans: Bellow and Roth. And Classical literature, ’cause I had Latin as my major.” [via]

Jon Hamm

“I love reading plays. Part of the reason I became an actor was that I would read one and think, “Ah, it’d be fun to be in that.” Arcadia is about the discovery of certain theories of physics and math, but it’s also a love story — a sad love story — infused with ideas of early feminism and the Industrial Revolution. The action bounces back and forth between the early 1800s and modern times stylistically and smoothly. And the words are just beautiful. Stoppard has an amazing command of the English language. He moves the plot along in such a way that if you’re not paying close attention, you won’t catch the five or six things that are going on. This is probably my favorite play — it’s got this weird combination of excellent dramatic writing and math and science. It sounds kind of nerdy, but there you go.” [via]


What are you reading now?

“Stephen, my road manager, got me something that Truman Capote wrote, Music for Chameleons. I read strange things. My favorite book is Stranger in a Strange Land. [via]

Richard Prince

“[Catcher in the Rye] is just a favorite book. I’m aware of the implications. It’s kind of the Disneyland of book publishing. You don’t mess with images from Disney. You don’t near it. And Catcher in the Rye is also on lockdown; it’s almost become an institution, it’s very sacred. It’s very rare to get a great first-edition copy.” [via]

Emma Watson

What is your favorite book and why?

“My dad read me The BFG by Roald Dahl when I was younger. I’m really fond of that book. Le Petit Prince [by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry]. I like books that aren’t just lovely but that have memories in themselves. Just like playing a song, picking up a book again that has memories can take you back to another place or another time.” [via]


Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. He’s my favorite author.” [via]

Lorin Stein

“The book I reread most often is probably Life on the Mississippi, followed by the Jeeves books and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. My favorite book of poems is the collected Keats. My favorite novel is Remembrance of Things Past.” [via]

Jennifer Lawrence

“[Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters.] I’m so drawn to Salinger’s view of society back then, and to his sarcasm. I read Catcher in the Rye first, then this one. I don’t think there’s ever been anything like these characters in American literature.” [via]

Louis C.K.

Who is your favorite author or what is favorite book?

“I loved the Great Gatsby. I can’t believe they did it in 3D. What the fuck? Dharma Bums. these are just random. My Travels with Charlie. Grapes of Wrath. Crime and Punishment. Slaughterhouse 5. All Vonnegut when i was a youngster. Catcher in the Rye. 9 Stories. Something by Thomas Mann I can’t remember. Heart of Darkness. I Claudius. The Golden Ass. Hercules My Shipmate. Fire from Heaven. Persian Boy. The Chronicles of Narnia when I was a kid and now my daughters. TR biography. Lots others.” [via]

Anne Hathaway

“[The Secret Garden.] “I wanted to be Mary Lennox so badly. I still have a soft spot for gardens and I’m always going off to see if I can find locked doors inside them.” [via]

George R.R. Martin

“One of my favorite characters – and I love Lord of the Rings; don’t make it sound like I’m bashing Tolkien here, ‘cause it’s like my favorite book of all time – but my favorite Tolkien character in Lord of the Rings is Boromir, because he’s the grayest of the characters, and he’s the one who really struggles with the ring and ultimately succumbs to it, but then dies heroically. You see, he has both good and evil in him.” [via]


“Oooh. Favorite book. Probably Convictions by Richard Pryor.” [via]

Zoë Saldana

“[Different Seasons.] It’s true that Stephen King writes about human psychology and digs into the darkness of it, but there’s also a lot of beauty and liberation in his stories. Shawshank Redemption is my favorite. One character, Andy, never lost hope. Despair was all his fellow inmate, Red, had known. In the end, Red became infected by Andy’s hope. This story has one of the most amazing endings. I cried for three days after I read it.” [via]

George Clooney

“Just some light bedtime reading, called War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.” [via]

Bill de Blasio

“Growing up, it was the Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I still love that book.” [via]

Ayn Rand

“[T]he very best I’ve ever read, my favorite thing in all world literature (and that includes all the heavy classics) is a novelette called Calumet “K” by Merwin-Webster.” [via]

Will Smith

“[The Alchemist.] Coelho talks about the whole of the universe, and it’s contained in one grain of sand. For years I’ve been saying that, and now it’s really starting to expose itself to me. My own grain of sand has been a story. The next 10 years will be my peak of innovation in film-making and just as a human being.” [via]

Woody Allen

Catcher in the Rye has always had special meaning for me because I read it when I was young — eighteen or so. It resonated with my fantasies about Manhattan, the Upper East Side, and New York City in general.

It was such a relief from all the other books I was reading at the time, which all had a quality of homework about them. For me, reading Middlemarch or Sentimental Education is work, whereas Catcher in the Rye was pure pleasure. The burden of entertainment was on the author. Salinger fulfilled that obligation from the first sentence on.

Reading and pleasure didn’t go together for me when I was younger. Reading was something you did for school, something you did for obligation, something you did if you wanted to take out a certain kind of woman. It wasn’t something I did for fun. But Catcher in the Rye was different. It was amusing, it was in my vernacular, and the atmosphere held great emotional resonance for me. I reread it on a few occasions and I always get a kick out of it.” [via]

Dan Brown

What’s your favorite book of all time?

“We did not have a television while I was growing up, and so I read voraciously. My earliest memory of being utterly transfixed by a book was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Halfway through the book, I remember my mom telling me it was time for bed and not being able to sleep because I was so deeply concerned for the safety of the characters. The next day, when I finished the book, I remember crying with relief that everything had worked out. The emotion startled me — in particular the depth of connection I felt toward these imaginary characters. It was in that moment that I became aware of the magic of storytelling and the power of the printed word.” [via]

Jonathan Ames

“Literature-wise, I recently went through a huge P.G. Wodehouse phase. I want my next novel to be comically-shaped like Wodehouse’s books are, particularly the Bertie and Jeeves cycle of Wodehouse’s comic English novels. I always return to Graham Greene as a great plot-oriented writer. All of his protagonists are suffering; you read them and you feel like you get to know the characters, even in some of his weaker books. I’m also a big fan of Cervantes. I wanted to come up with an answer to the question, “What’s your favorite book of all time?” and I think it would be Don Quixote. I spent six months reading it; I laughed so much while I read it. I don’t laugh that much, but I do like humorous books, and I like to entertain readers that way.” [via]

Bill Gates

“My favorite of the last decade is [Steven] Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature. It is long but profound look at the reduction in violence and discrimination over time. I review a lot of the books I read at gatesnotes.com (is that too self-promotional? http://b-gat.es/12GKLyN).” [via]

Lil Jon

What is your favorite book and why?


Alec Baldwin

“[To Kill a Mockingbird.] In some important ways the characters that we have grown to love in this story are worse off at its end, but they are wiser, and the family still has each other. This is a great story about facing life’s difficulties and moving on, no matter what.” [via]

Stephen Colbert

Everything about this.

David Bowie

Bowie has 100 favorite books.