Ethan Hawke‘s an actor — you’ll see him next in The Magnificent Seven this fall — and a screenwriter, director, and author, now with four books to his name. As he tells us, Hawke, 45, has immersed himself in reading since he was a kid, so we asked him to tell us about the books that have defined his life.
The book I loved as a child
The Hobbit. I’ve probably read it 10 to 15 times. My father gave it to me for Christmas when I was a kid. He read it to me aloud, I read it by myself, and now I read it to my son. You cannot do better than The Hobbit.
Another book I read to my kids
Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family is a lesser-known all-time great. There isn’t anybody in my family who doesn’t love The Animal Family.
My favorite book I read for school
I can tell you it wasn’t The Witch At Blackbird Pond.
The book that cemented me as a writer
I always like to say that Patti Smith, Charles Bukowski, and Jack Kerouac have inspired more bad writing than any other authors because they make it look so easy to write about your friends and experiences and somehow magically make it interesting to other people. I may be one of those writers.
The classic I’ve never been able to read
Ulysses. I’ve read the first four chapters at least three times.
The classic I’ve pretended to have read
The last 14 chapters of Ulysses.
A movie adaptation I loved
P.T. Anderson’s Inherent Vice. It’s a mysterious, crazy, brilliant movie. I can’t imagine trying to adapt Pynchon for the screen, no less succeeding at it. Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson — the whole cast was gonzo and perfect.
My favorite movie adaptations of a book I starred in
I was 21 when I played the part of a platoon sergeant in A Midnight Clear, based on the William Wharton novel. Over the years I’ve gotten many letters from World War II veterans who appreciated that film, largely because the casting was age appropriate. We’re so used to seeing Tom Hanks or John Wayne or other greats as our military leaders, but they were in their 40s when they played the roles. In reality, these positions are often assigned to 20-somethings or teenagers, and too few stories explore this particular brand of heavy, heavy stress at such a young age.
The imaginary place I dream of moving to
Westeros. But I fear without tremendous good fortune I’d be beheaded quickly.
The genre I’d read if I were limited to one
I guess it would have to be the Russians: Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky. I could read them until the day I die, and not only because of their length.
A book I’ve returned to time and time again
W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge. It has meant something different to me with every read. Like picking up a new book every time, it has resonated profoundly and distinctively through every stage of my life.
The fictional friends I’d love to have
I always wanted to be a member of Salinger’s Glass family.
The last novel that made me laugh, and the last one that made me cry
James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird is the last book that made me laugh. In a time where people are thinking and meditating so much on race, he attacks the country’s deepest and most sensitive wounds with joy, humor, silliness, and an incorrigible wit, and the takeaway is profoundly funny and deeply human. It makes your heart bigger. On another note, Anna Karenina is the only book that has made me cry from happiness.
Do I read my books post-publication?
Never. It’s too frustrating. I read sections and all I can think of is changing them. It’s a very unpleasant experience.
What I’m reading now
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.