Books

Book-loving celebrities name their favourite fictional reads

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A person's taste in books can be seen as something of a window into their soul. 

It's perhaps unsurprising that a fairly reserved actress like Keira Knightley is drawn to the genteel drama of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And Lena Dunham, not a lady to shy away from taboo, finds creative stimulation in the complex, troubled characters  of Vladimir Nabokov. 

Just as she is attracted to intense film roles, Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman likes her reading material meaty too, opting for Leo Tolstoy's formidable work War & Peace as her book of inspiration. On the other end of the scale, Halle Berry is a lady after our own hearts by singling out teen classic Are You There God? It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume as her life-changing tome of choice.

JK Rowling, meanwhile, hits miles out of the Harry Potter comfort zone with one of her favourite books - the bleak domestic violence masterpiece that is Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked Into Doors

From weighty period drama to contemporary fiction, children's books and little-known foreign novels, come read more about the stars' favourite fictional reads - and grab a little flavour for your own bookshelf along the way. 

Photos: Getty Images and Rex Features. With thanks to Oprah's celebrity bookshelf feature for some of the featured quotes

  • Sarah Jessica Parker

    The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

    "Where to begin? Simply put, I’m indescribably jealous of any reader picking up this masterpiece for the first time. And once they do, they will long remember the heartrending character of Theo Decker and his unthinkable journey."

  • Nigella Lawson

    Persuasion by Jane Austen

    "Everyone has their Austen, and this is mine. Sparer, more savage - and also more poignant than Pride and Prejudice, this is a novel that tells us wisely and wittily about the nature of romantic entanglements and the follies of being human. It isn't riven with the deep, muscular ironies of, say, Emma, but there is something about the dry lightness of Persuasion that is deceptive. It stays with you long after you've read it."

  • Gwyneth Paltrow

    The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

    "The extraordinary novel that changed my life and the lives of so many other young women in the 1960s. I have the paperback copy I read at the time, and it's dog-eared, epiphany after epiphany marked so that I could easily refer back to them. Does anyone read The Golden Notebook nowadays? I don't know, but back then, just before the second stage of the women's movement burst into being, I was electrified by Lessing's heroine, Anna, and her struggle to become a free woman. Work, friendship, love, sex, politics, psychoanalysis, writing—all the things that preoccupied me were Lessing's subjects, and I can remember how many times I put the book down, reeling from its brilliance and insights."

  • Keira Knightley

    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

    "I read the book a lot. I've been obsessed by the book since I was about 7. I had all the Austen series on book tape. I was obsessed with the BBC version when I was about 10 or 11. I read the book finally when I was about 14 and got obsessed again." 

  • Lena Dunham

    Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

    "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.''

  • Halle Berry

    Are You There God? It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume

    "I was about 13, and I so connected with Margaret and what she was going through growing up. That early encounter got me through a very difficult, awkward time, and I still look for stories that can teach me something. I feel that if I can learn from someone else's mistakes—fictional characters or real women, it doesn't matter—then I can spare myself certain hardships."

  • Claire Danes

    Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

    "This short story contains some of the most exquisite dialogue I’ve ever read. It’s only four pages, covering about three quarters of an hour, as a couple waits for a train in Spain. You come to realise that they’re talking about the woman having an abortion. They never speak about it overtly but their story is just heart-breaking. Again, this is all about people beginning to recognise the huge distance between them. It’s a very appealing story for an actor because the drama exists in what is not spoken."

  • Anne Hathaway

    The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    "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." 

  • Jennifer Lawrence

    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    "I really wasn't expecting to like it. I thought I wouldn't want to finish an 800-page book, but then I started slowing down and reading the same chapters over and over. You fall in love with the characters; you grow up with them."

  • Kate Winslet

    Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola

    "This story seeps into your insides - the way Zola describes the intensity of the relationship between a woman and the man with whom she has an affair. When you meet Thérèse, she barely speaks. She's so numb and stagnant. I think we've all been in those emotional places at one time or another. That lack of courage, lack of confidence, has always profoundly disturbed me. She is transformed through passion and desperation. She and Laurent love each other so much that everything else fades away. They don't think beyond being together. And, of course, it's the act that makes that possible - drowning her husband - that destroys them."

  • Natalie Portman

    Cloud Atlas By David Mitchell

    "This was the present I gave everyone I knew for three years. It's six different stories told in different time periods and genres: One is historical fiction, another is a '70s thriller mystery, the sixth is a post­apocalyptic story. It's one of the most beautiful, entertaining, challenging books—something that takes all your attention. I think the stories are meditations on violence, specifically the necessity of violence."

  • Rachel McAdams

    Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

    "I absolutely fell in love with this book. I don't think I got out of bed for three days - I was just eating it up. My favorite story line was the one between Deanna and Eddie Bondo. I found that totally hot. It was one of the hottest love stories I've ever read."

  • Jessica Biel

    Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    "I've read it quite a few times and just love it. It's tragic, and I think tragedies might be good for you: You read them and think, Maybe I'm not doing so bad—I'm doing OK!"

  • Holly Willoughby

    Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James

    "I finished the first book and thought, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever read.’ I was completely obsessed. Literally couldn’t put it down. I mean, bloody hell, you learn a lot - I think every woman should read them!"

  • Kate Beckinsale

    The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

    "This novel is about a family of children whose father died, and then their mother dies, leaving them orphans. It's spooky and disturbing, with the children aping adult life even though they're not ready for grown-up responsibilities. I love how McEwan writes: it's so spare, and every word is so perfect. This novel made me see how lovely life is for a child who doesn't have to deal with things beyond her depth—how divinely innocent my daughter's world is. It's a bit sad for me, though, because, with my father's early death, I don't have a map for a normal childhood beyond her age."

  • Nicole Kidman

    War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy

    "My favorite book is War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy because it's why I wanted to become an actor. But it's not light reading."

  • JK Rowling

    The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle

    "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."

  • Oprah Winfrey

    Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

    "Zora Neale Hurston's classic is my favourite love story of all time. Janie Mae Crawford spends almost two decades with abusive dominating men but eventually finds true love with Tea Cake. In the time they have together, he teaches her to open her heart to the world."

  • Felicity Huffman

    The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

    "My husband [the actor William H. Macy] gave me this novel for my birthday. It was a perfect gift except that I stayed up until 1am reading it - and when you have kids, that's tantamount to playing Russian roulette. Zafón created a story within a story—a complicated plot that involves an enthralling book and its unknown author. It's a thriller that grabs you by the throat and won't let you go."

  • Sophie Dahl

    The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden

    "Godden writes about the brink of adolescence so beautifully and this is the quintessential coming of age story set in summer time France. It’s a book full of longing."

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