Selma Blair Has a Soft Spot for Holocaust Books – The New York Times

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Read our review of Selma Blair’s memoir, “Mean Baby.”

“Nothing Is Lost: Selected Essays,” by Ingrid Sischy. “Hello, Molly!,” by Molly Shannon. “The Invisible Kingdom,” by Meghan O’Rourke. “Till We Have Faces,” by C.S. Lewis, a favorite. “Sister Stardust,” by Jane Green. “The Lincoln Highway,” by Amor Towles. “Meant to Be,” by Emily Giffin.

Theodore Dreiser’s “Jennie Gerhardt.” I reread it every few years. I first read it in Budapest while shooting “Hellboy II,” after finding it in a small used bookstore containing English books. The cover is cloth and reminds me of the mornings I came back from a night shoot and put myself into a daytime slumber wishing Jennie to have an easier life, with no need for the weak Lester Kane. “She wondered curiously where she would be when she died” is a quote I often repeat.

John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” Jamie Lee Curtis recommended it recently, upon a query. So now I’ve dropped two big names.

On a hammock near the beach, in the shade, with laughing and contented friends scattered about, only occasionally sidling up to me while I read all day every day, taking ocean plunges every few chapters. And a dozen great books in the queue of a lending library not far off.

“The Sudden Guest,” by Christopher LaFarge. Have you heard of it? It was published in 1946. A slim red volume I found on our family room bookshelf in my 20s. It has stayed with me ever since, this close character study of an entitled older woman preparing for a storm alone in her large mansion by the sea. I found it sad and lovely in its small honesty. I don’t think this woman is very nice. Really quite selfish. Still, I can relate to the sense of impending doom she feels and the way she manages to carry on, alone. She realizes life demands human participation.



The screenwriter I most admire is Todd Solondz. His 1998 film “Happiness” is perfection. The prose writers I love most for their style and voice are Elvis Mitchell, A.O. Scott, Sarah Polley, Ocean Vuong, Mary Karr and Stephen King. I adore Glennon Doyle, who is so smart and feels like the team captain for women readers and writers! I’ll always be devoted to Judy Blume.

Recording the diary of Anne Frank was a remarkable alignment. To be asked to narrate one of the most enduring books from my childhood was an incredible honor for me. Sitting in the recording room, saying those famous lines of hers: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquillity will return again.” It was a surreal experience, and I tried my best to do justice to her legacy. Of course, her words are still so haunting and urgent. They always will be.

My first best book was made into a great movie — “Tess,” based on Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles.” Nastassja Kinski is sublime as Tess; and my mother, who could be very critical of me but secretly adored me, remarked how I looked like her, so that was an added attraction. I cried so at the ending and was furious at the injustice of the patriarchal world contributing to her tragic flaw. She was doomed. And pure. And eventually a murderer. I loved her. I loved the movie as I watched it on our small television, right up close. My mother and I had already seen it at the theater, purchasing Jujubes at intermission. I see a blood-soaked ceiling in my mind’s eye. And Tess lying like a sacrifice at Stonehenge.

Of course, mine, “Mean Baby.” I have 50 years of her.

Both my turns with Todd Solondz. His writing is so clean, to the point, rich and spare. One sentence tells a whole story.

The most immersive and by far the richest experience was “Gruesome Playground Injuries,” by Rajiv Joseph. It was a two-hander I did with Brad Fleischer at the Alley Theater in Houston a few years before my son was born. We are in the Samuel French as the originating actors, which feels like something. And it was an astoundingly heartbreaking and darkly funny production directed by Rebecca Taichman. Before and during the run in an overwhelmingly hot and sticky Houston, Rajiv, Brad and I would stand in the pool at our apartment complex and run the play from start to finish every day. Committing to this play was a tremendous task and truly transformative. Imagine running lines to your favorite play, all of which mirror your own life, like a mantra while wading in a pool day after day. It was a revelation and utterly terrifying to live what felt like my own life from elementary school to womanhood. Every performance and rehearsal a novel of quietly disturbing hope in connection.

Auntie Mame seems like a nice departure for me.

The Bible. Preferably the Old Testament. One doesn’t just pull out a Bible anywhere now … guilty and pleasure.

Melissa Rivers’s book about her mother, Joan Rivers. It was so very good I gave it to my own mother, a few years before my mother died. I believe it was the last book that made her laugh out loud. It was excellent, we both wholeheartedly agreed. I must read it again. Oh, drat, my mom still has my copy.

I cried reading Molly Shannon’s new book, when she details the last moments of the tragic car accident that took her mother and sister. Her mother’s last words were asking for her girls. It just broke my heart.

Joyful Clemantine Wamariya’s “The Girl Who Smiled Beads” (written with Elizabeth Weil). Wamariya writes so purely about her incredible escape from the Rwandan genocide and her journey to the United States. The author’s strength and resilience are so beautifully explored. I felt helpless fury at the injustice and cruelty but also comforted by the presence of the writer. Reading Elie Wiesel’s“Night” and Harriet E. Wilson’s “Our Nig: Or, Sketches From the Life of a Free Black” at 14 were cousin experiences in reading.

In Esmé Weijun Wang’s “The Collected Schizophrenias,” she writes in one essay from the view within a particularly unmooring delusion called Cotard’s syndrome. Her bravery in writing about one of the most stigmatized mental disorders was a revelation. I felt an instant kinship with the author despite knowing next to nothing about the disease because it felt too scary.

For many years I gravitated to memoirs, especially books on solitude, grief, depression or chronic pain. Understanding my own chronic illness and how it shaped me has been a lifelong pursuit of understanding for me. But I am also good to move on a bit now. I will read any books on the Holocaust. I am drawn to the idea of continuing to bear witness to that horrible time. And to honoring the stories of the survivors.

On the opposite spectrum, I love books with entirely glamorous stories.

I wish I had an organizational system for my books, but mostly they are just piled up as side tables … everywhere. Throughout my house. The books I want to read again are on the shelves in my library, but not in any particular order. Recently purchased books such as “We Were Liars,” by E. Lockhart, “Easy Beauty,” by Chloé Cooper Jones, “A Fine Balance,” by Rohinton Mistry, wait in my bedroom. Favorites in my office: “An Oregon Message: Poems,” by William Stafford, “On Green Dolphin Street,” by Sebastian Faulks, “Shockaholic,” by Carrie Fisher. The ones in my car for the carwash wait are always nonfiction — or Joan Didion. Always “Play It as It Lays.” The one in my bag is whatever I am in the midst of. And then the final shelf, the lending library.

I can’t imagine anything I have would surprise anyone. I am, myself, surprising to people who are easily surprised.

Primo Levi’s “If This Is a Man.”

Of course, Carrie Fisher. I would love to see her again now that I have grown up. Anne Frank and Sylvia Plath.

“Stoner,” by John Williams. Another recommendation from Jamie Lee Curtis, who says it is a perfect novel. I think I may agree, though I have only just read the prologue. How have I never heard of this book before now?

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