Simple Classics Endure

The A-list Devours A-list Literature

BY: Michael Arkin

Forget “Who are you wearing?” this year the most asked question on the red carpet just may be, “What are you reading?” Like a vintage Dior or a timeless Yves Saint Laurent, simple classics endure.

While the New York Times bestseller list is chock full of non-fiction hits (Becoming Michelle Obama anyone?), the bookshelves of the rich and famous are bowed under the weight of the classics. Just ask Anna Kendrick whose vacation reading includes All Quiet on the Western Front. But what would you expect from a woman who read The CrucibleThe Great Gatsby and Jane Eyre when she was twelve?

Then there’s Kiera Knightly. It should come as no surprise that the actress who has made a career out of playing classic heroines like Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet, Anna Karenina and Colette has read every one of W. Somerset Maugham’s books. Who could blame her? When was the last time a book had you sitting on the edge of your emotional seat like The Razor’s Edge or overcome with empathy for the painful rejection suffered by the club-footed Philip Carey in Of Human Bondage?

When Bradley Cooper wants to get away he often escapes into the pages of a great book. The actor/director whose A Star is Born picked up seven Oscar nominations including one for his performance as musician Jackson Maine, is particularly drawn to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mr. Cooper credits the book’s ability to transport the reader to another time for inspiring his own love of reading. In the book Huck encounters some pretty unsavory characters, great training for anyone planning on working in Hollywood, which may explain why the classic American tale is also a favorite of perennial funnyman Bill Murray.

Like her most famous role as Hermoine Granger in the Harry Potter series, Emma Watson is independent, intelligent, and confident. But you may not know that like Hermoine, Emma is book smart. So much so that the Brown University graduate and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador started a feminist book club on Goodreads called Our
Shared Shelf. So what’s on that shelf? The eclectic list includes Daphne du Maurer’s Rebecca, one of the greatest gothic novels ever written. In this timeless classic a sudden proposal of marriage takes an orphaned lady’s maid to Manderley, her husband’s Cornwall estate, where she is forced to live in the shadow of his late first wife, Rebecca,
under the watchful eye of Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca’s devoted housekeeper and one of literatures most sinister villainesses.

In her latest release, Destroyer, Nicole Kidman plays a detective who must confront her past in order to find peace. Is it just a strange coincidence that one of her favorite books is War and Peace? Like Erin Bell, the character Kidman plays, Natasha Rostova, the heroine in Tolstoy’s masterwork must also come to terms with her past in order to find happiness in the present. The tome is one of Ms. Kidman’s favorites and the Oscar-winner admits that Natasha has always been her dream role. Are you listening, Hollywood?

Rounding out the list is Daniel Radcliffe who heartily recommends Ernest Hemingway’The Old Man and the Sea. In fact it’s the first book he recommends to friends who are looking for something to sink their teeth into. The magnificent tale of the Cuban fisherman Santiago and his prize catch is really a story of struggle, defeat and death and
just may be the penultimate story of acceptance.

In a world increasingly obsessed with who’s wearing who and who’s sleeping with who take a cue from the glitterati and discover what’s on the night tables of the rich and famous and what makes a classic classic.