The best books about actors

7 authors have picked their favorite books about actors and why they recommend each book.

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The Mask of Apollo

By Mary Renault,

Book cover of The Mask of Apollo

The final sentence of The Mask of Apollo has haunted me for decades since I first read the book in my teens. When I read it again, many years later, I discovered that the story is as moving as I remembered. Renault weaves a fascinating re-creation of classical Greek theatre with Plato’s attempt to tutor a true philosopher king in the kingdom of Syracuse. But it’s the final chapter, after Plato’s death, that raises the book to the level of tragedy. For then we meet the young Alexander, already almost god-like in his charisma, a fire seeking fuel for its burning. Alexander burns through the world seeking it, but what he is looking for in the world has already left it: a broken Plato has already died.

The Mask of Apollo

By Mary Renault,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Mask of Apollo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set in fourth-century B.C. Greece, The Mask of Apollo is narrated by Nikeratos, a tragic actor who takes with him on all his travels a gold mask of Apollo, a relic of the theatre's golden age, which is now past. At first his mascot, the mask gradually becomes his conscience, and he refers to it his gravest decisions, when he finds himself at the centre of a political crisis in which the philosopher Plato is also involved. Much of the action is set in Syracuse, where Plato's friend Dion is trying to persuade the young tyrant Dionysios the Younger to…

Who am I?

I am a writer and historian, specialising in the early-Medieval period and the fractious but fruitful encounter between the Christian and Islamic worlds. My fiction is informed by my non-fiction work: it’s a great help to have written actual histories of Northumbria in collaboration with some of the foremost archaeologists working on the period. I regard my work as the imaginative application of what we can learn through history to stories and the books I have selected all do this through the extraordinarily varied talents of their authors. I hope you will enjoy them!


I wrote...

Edwin: High King of Britain

By Edoardo Albert,

Book cover of Edwin: High King of Britain

What is my book about?

The first of the Northumbrian Thrones trilogy, Edwin: High King of Britain tells how the exiled king of Northumbria, hunted by his enemies, regains his throne. But in the fractured world of 7th-century Britain, there are many men seeking power, and to be a king is to lead a short and violent life. As the High King, Edwin seeks answers to the questions that torment him: his purpose, his destiny, and his end.

Bernard Cornwell said of Edwin: High King of Britain: ‘A splendid novel that leaves the reader wanting more.’

Book cover of Stories I Only Tell My Friends

I have zero fascination with celebrities, but remain a sucker for a showbiz memoir as told by a true raconteur. And though you might never have known it from the pretty-boy reputation cemented firmly by his 80’s era film oeuvre, Rob Lowe ranks right up there with George Hamilton in both his having known pretty much everybody in Hollywood, but also having a great story to tell about each one. At turns self-deprecating, deeply touching, brutally honest, and laugh-out-loud funny, Lowe’s Stories doesn’t dish any dirt—so if that’s what you’re looking for, you might want to look elsewhere. But if you’d like an inside peek at Hollywood as told by a Gen-X icon in his own words (no ghostwriters here!), you can’t go wrong here.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends

By Rob Lowe,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Stories I Only Tell My Friends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A wryly funny and moving account of an extraordinary life lived almost entirely in the public eye.

Teen idol at fifteen, international icon and founder of the Brat Pack at twenty, and one of Hollywood's top stars to this day, Rob Lowe chronicles his experiences as a painfully misunderstood child actor in Ohio uprooted to the wild counterculture of mid-seventies Malibu, where he embarked on his unrelenting pursuit of a career in Hollywood.

The Outsiders placed Lowe at the birth of the modern youth movement in the entertainment industry. During his time on The West Wing, he witnessed the surreal…


Who am I?

Just your friendly neighborhood thriller novelist. When people find out I write books, they inevitably enquire, “Really? Have I read anything of yours?” Well, funny you should ask! I’ve been cranking out stories since I was sixteen but took a couple of decades to finally land a publishing deal for my debut novel Hammerjack and its sequel Prodigal (Bantam Spectra). A lifelong Star Trek fan, I’ve also published the novella “Revenant” in the collection Seven Deadly Sins (Gallery Books). My latest is the high-tech thriller Candidate Z, available on Amazon.


I wrote...

Candidate Z

By Marc D. Giller,

Book cover of Candidate Z

What is my book about?

Once the leader of an elite team of cyber-crime investigators, Hunter Lambert was among the FBI’s best and brightest—until unspeakable tragedy left her career and life in ruins. Now she works as a private security consultant, hiring her skills out to the highest bidder while seeking out clues in secret to expose the conspiracy that led to her downfall. 

After a high-profile assignment goes sideways with deadly consequences, Hunter is approached by a shadowy figure with an intriguing offer: Find out who’s trying to kill him, and he’ll use his vast resources to help her get justice. The job won’t be easy. The client is Brad Zorne—a Silicon Valley billionaire with a list of enemies. Zorne isn’t just running for his life. He’s also running for President of the United States.

True and False

By David Mamet,

Book cover of True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor

This is probably the most challenging read here, but so worth the effort if you want to dive deep into one of the most unique artistic minds of our time. If you’re not a trained actor, you might not understand all of the nuances here – Mamet is a definite theater guy and doesn’t stop down to explain every detail here -- but any artist can learn Mamet’s biting, witty, shocking creative tips. I recommend just letting this one wash over you the first time, but if you give yourself to this text and to Mamet, it is sure to give you a new perspective on the way we all create art and hopefully inspire you to delve into some creative expression that you were always too scared to try. 

True and False

By David Mamet,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked True and False as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, director and teacher has written a blunt, unsparingly honest guide to acting. In True and False David Mamet overturns conventional opinion and tells aspiring actors what they really need to know. He leaves no aspect of acting untouched: how to judge the role, approach the part, work with the playwright; the right way to undertake auditions and the proper approach to agents and the business in general. True and False slaughters a wide range of sacred cows and yet offers an invaluable guide to the acting profession.

Who am I?

I’ve been obsessed with studying the artistic process for over 25 years since I got my degree in Studio Art and Art History at Vanderbilt University. After getting my MFA in Creative Writing, I headed out to Hollywood to produce national television for over twenty years. I’ve worked with many of the greatest actors, filmmakers, and writers of our time and written my own bestselling novels about artists. I read as many books on the artistic process as possible. My mission has always been to ensure that every person knows that they, too, can be artists – creating art isn’t just for the “great”, it’s for everyone. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo

What is my book about?

Called “tremendously entertaining” by The New York Times, Stephanie Storey’s brilliant bestselling debut brings early 16th-century Florence alive while entering with extraordinary empathy into the souls of two great Renaissance artists: Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. 

From 1501 to 1505, Leonardo and Michelangelo both lived and worked in Florence. Leonardo was a charming, handsome fifty year-old at the peak of his career. Michelangelo was a temperamental sculptor in his mid-twenties, desperate to make a name for himself. This is the fictionalized story – based on real history – of their heated rivalry that pushed them to create two of the most iconic masterpieces in all of history, in the same town, at the same time: the Mona Lisa and the David.

Unprotected

By Billy Porter,

Book cover of Unprotected: A Memoir

If you’ve ever seen Billy Porter werk the red carpet, you know he doesn’t hold anything back. His memoir is no exception. And while the challenges he’s faced as a Black, Queer person are as unique as his talent, every theatrer-maker can identify with his dreams, his passions, and his disappointments. I so admire his courage in calling out hypocrisy in our business while simultaneously demonstrating the grace to call in for healing. 

Unprotected

By Billy Porter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Unprotected as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the incomparable Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award winner, a powerful and revealing autobiography about race, sexuality, and art

It's easy to be yourself when who and what you are is in vogue. But growing up Black and gay in America has never been easy. Before Billy Porter was slaying red carpets and giving an iconic performance in the celebrated TV show Pose; before he was the Tony Award-winning star of Broadway's Kinky Boots; and before he was an acclaimed recording artist, actor, playwright, and all-around diva, Porter was a young boy who didn't fit in. At five years old…


Who am I?

As a brainy, bullied Queer theater kid, I was 14 before I ever saw anyone like myself onstage or onscreen. Then—Wham—in June of 1980 I saw A Chorus Line on Broadway and Fame at the movies. But there weren’t any books that showed the theater life as it was actually lived. When I published my love letter to my high school theater friends in 2004, no one had written a novel about our kind. Today, as someone who’s managed to make a living as a writer-director of musicals, I strive to share the whole truth with the young artists I mentor. 


I wrote...

How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater

By Marc Acito,

Book cover of How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater

What is my book about?

How I Paid for College is just true enough to embarrass my family and just fictional enough to shield me from prosecution. It’s about a teen actor who schemes to steal his college tuition money when his wealthy father refuses to pay for him to study acting at Juilliard. It won the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction, was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, and has almost been a movie or TV series for nearly 20 years.

“A brilliant, laugh-out-loud novel” - City Magazine, London, “Acito has fantastic narrative chops, writing funny, fast and satisfying chapters…This is a book for mature readers that reminds us what a blast immaturity can be.” - People Magazine

So Much Blood

By Simon Brett,

Book cover of So Much Blood

Few characters in crime fiction are as charismatic as Charles Paris, a struggling actor whose career has more ups and downs than a seesaw. Simon Brett presents us with a fascinating character, a middle-aged man who is endearing even though he is a drunk and a womaniser. 

There is always a murder whether Paris is acting in weekly rep or has a cameo role in a film. So Much Blood involves Paris appearing at the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Brett skilfully weaves in the drama of putting on a show and the dynamism of the Scottish city with Paris’ occasionally amateurish sleuthing as he tries to uncover who committed the crime. Excellent entertainment.

So Much Blood

By Simon Brett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked So Much Blood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Appearing in his own one-man show on Thomas Hood at the Edinburgh Festival, middle-aged actor Charles Paris finds himself falling for a gorgeous young girl with navy-blue eyes. He also finds himself being dragged into a complex murder investigation involving the death of a fading pop star, a bomb scare in Holyrood Palace and a suicide leap from the top of the Rock.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by crime ever since I was a junior reporter working on a daily newspaper and covered a huge number of court cases. I’ve written all my working life and turned to crime writing after reaching the final of a UK TV channel’s Search for a New Crime Writer competition. I’ve built up contacts within the police force during my career which has enabled me to write Storm Deaths, the first in a series of police procedural crime novels. I’ve seen so many films and TV shows that don’t follow the proper procedure, so I ensure that all my writing is as authentic as possible. 


I wrote...

Storm Deaths

By Steve Orme,

Book cover of Storm Deaths

What is my book about?

A reporter is murdered, a television weather presenter inexplicably disappears. Are the cases linked? Detective Inspector Miles Davies has to find out. His attempts are continually thwarted by his boss who seems intent on ensuring that Davies doesn’t discover the truth. But why is Davies reluctant to investigate whether any members of a local basketball team are involved? Davies knows he has to weather the storm and find answers—before more bodies are discovered.

A cross between John Harvey and Stephen Booth.”

The Sea, the Sea

By Iris Murdoch,

Book cover of The Sea, the Sea

This 1978 Booker-winner is said to be the British philosopher and novelist’s finest work. A celebrated London theater director retires from his dissolute show-business life to the seaside, only to encounter his lost boyhood love, for whom he renews a frightening passion made of equal parts nostalgia and fantasy. In addition to its Nabokovian study in obsession and its poetic air of Shakespearean romance, The Sea, the Sea is also a seminar in the ethics of art: the characters debate their obligations to other people, the viability of art when divorced from ordinary human concerns, and even—this is not strictly a realist novel—the morality of using magic to transform the world. Most novelists don’t face the ethics of art and literature this fearlessly; I love the challenge Murdoch poses to those of us who practice the art.

The Sea, the Sea

By Iris Murdoch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sea, the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the prestigious Booker Prize-a tale of the strange obsessions that haunt a playwright as he composes his memoirs

Charles Arrowby, leading light of England's theatrical set, retires from glittering London to an isolated home by the sea. He plans to write a memoir about his great love affair with Clement Makin, his mentor, both professionally and personally, and amuse himself with Lizzie, an actress he has strung along for many years. None of his plans work out, and his memoir evolves into a riveting chronicle of the strange events and unexpected visitors-some real, some spectral-that disrupt his world…

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by philosophical ideas, the more radical and counterintuitive the better. But as someone who’s never excelled at abstract thought, I’ve found these ideas’ expression in argumentative nonfiction both dry and unpersuasive, lacking the human context that would alone test the strength of propositions about spirituality, justice, love, education, and more. The novel of ideas brings concepts to life in the particular personalities and concrete experiences of fictional characters—a much more vivid and convincing way to explore the world of thought. Many readers will be familiar with the genre’s classics (Voltaire, Dostoevsky, Mann, Camus), so I’d like to recommend more recent instances I find personally or artistically inspiring.


I wrote...

The Quarantine of St. Sebastian House

By John Pistelli,

Book cover of The Quarantine of St. Sebastian House

What is my book about?

I wrote The Quarantine of St. Sebastian House between March and April 2020. I wanted to capture not the factual history of those early pandemic days, but to record the period’s apocalyptic atmosphere—fears of impending doom amid the eerie quietude; the chaos of contradictory information and ideology in a society suddenly transported online; and above all how it felt for normal life to be suspended in an existential crisis, with all our values and priorities suddenly up for debate.

My story of one quarantined apartment building whose tenants face off over art, politics, and philosophy—a struggle that builds to terrible revelations, climactic violence, and redemptive love—is about how social crisis reveals the conflicting truths at the bloody heart of our individual and social lives.

Whizziwig

By Malorie Blackman,

Book cover of Whizziwig

I loved this book for many reasons growing up but I think first and foremost because it was one of the first books I had ever seen with an illustration of a black child on the front cover aimed at children around my age. It was also turned into a TV series and I remember realising at this point in my early teens that there are so many ways that a book can be interpreted. Not just in the minds of their readers but through different creative mediums and this really excited my imagination as I have been acting since I was small and very involved in many different forms of music. This made Whizziwig, a story about possibility at every turn as the subject matter is also about chancing upon an alien life form in your backyard with whom the protagonist becomes friends. Plus, it was the first…

Whizziwig

By Malorie Blackman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Whizziwig as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Whizziwig is an alien - a very special alien who makes wishes come true, but only wishes made for someone else! Every wish granted gets his space ship one step nearer to becoming repaired. But every wish granted also causes chaos for Ben and his family.

Who am I?

I have always been a very imaginative individual and even now I think of my imagination as a place I can escape to. I build worlds and dimensions in my head and visit them often especially when I'm writing my own books, poems, or drafting characters. I'm a very visual individual and pay attention to detail so these imagined worlds can become quite complex and intricate. That's why I have always loved adventure, it's such a privilege to be given access to other worlds and minds through the medium of books. You get a chance to wander around someone else's imagination – what a way to escape, what an adventure in and of itself!


I wrote...

The Tunnels Below

By Nadine Wild-Palmer, Ellen Shi (illustrator),

Book cover of The Tunnels Below

What is my book about?

The Tunnels Below is a rite of passage fantasy adventure about growing up and facing up to whatever the world throws at you however weird and wonderful. It follows the story of Cecilia who’s twelfth birthday takes a very unexpected turn when she finds herself at the centre of a plot to save a community from the brutal Corvus rule in an unfamiliar underground world. 

Company of Heroes

By Harry Carey Jr.,

Book cover of Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company

The author, son of a silent screen star and a respected actress, acted in nine movies made by the man he called “Uncle Jack”—John Ford, winner of four Oscars and arguably the greatest director in Hollywood history. Carey could ride, shoot, and wear a convincing toupee—all of which were requirements for actors in Ford’s classic Westerns, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, and The Searchers. His memoir is affectionate, intimate, and critical, not just of the hard-drinking, physically and emotionally abusive Ford—“the man I loved and, at times, tried very hard to hate”—but also of John Wayne, the great man’s favorite actor and regular whipping boy, and other members of the cast and crew whom Ford mercilessly bullied and inspired in film after film, many of them shot in breathtakingly picturesque Monument Valley.          

Company of Heroes

By Harry Carey Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Company of Heroes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Harry Carey, Sr., died in 1947, director John Ford cast Carey's twenty-six-year-old son, Harry, Jr., in the role of The Abilene Kid in 3 Godfathers. Ford and the elder Carey had filmed an earlier version of the story, and Ford dedicated the Technicolor remake to his memory.

Company of Heroes is the story of the making of that film, as well as the eight subsequent Ford classics. In it, Harry Carey, Jr., casts a remarkably observant eye on the process of filming Westerns by one of the true masters of the form. From She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and…

Who am I?

I worked for 27 years at The Washington Post, where I won a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. But when I returned home in 2006, I wanted to write about my own country, and what could be more American than the movies? They’re a wonderful looking glass into the past, and my books explore the making of an iconic movie and the historical era in which it was created. My recent ones have recounted the making of The Searchers, starring John Wayne, and High Noon, the Gary Cooper classic and its connection to the Hollywood blacklist, a time of vicious conflict eerily similar to our own troubled era.


I wrote...

Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic

By Glenn Frankel,

Book cover of Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic

What is my book about?

More than 50 years after its release, Midnight Cowboy remains one of the most groundbreaking and memorable movies of the modern era. My book traces the origins of this bleak masterpiece and the gifted writers, actors, and filmmakers who made it. Set in a New York besieged by economic collapse and cultural ferment, the movie tells the story of two homeless loners—a male hustler from Texas and a tubercular petty con man from the Bronx, brilliantly played by Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman—who forge a wary friendship out of desperate circumstances. The movie was a surprise box office hit and the only X-rated movie ever to win the Best Picture Oscar.

Have You Ever Seen

By Sarah Mazor, Sigal Adler,

Book cover of Have You Ever Seen: Help Kids Go to Sleep With a Smile

I adore the Auntie Lily character who has a penchant for telling silly stories. Each of these stories composed in clever rhymes feature a silly animal doing something outrageous. Children become interactive partners visualizing and acting out the hijinks like a stork riding on a subway train or a fly that works for the FBI. The fun continues because readers get ten riddles to solve at the end of the tale. This book is fun for the whole family from preschooler to grandma!

Have You Ever Seen

By Sarah Mazor, Sigal Adler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Have You Ever Seen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Have You Ever Seen? is a perfect read right before sleep, as you lighten the mood with Auntie Lily's silly rhymes and thus guarantee bedtime with a smile :)Silly Auntie LilyWho’s tall and also smallImagines silly thingsThat make no sense at allShe tells us silly storiesAnd does so all in rhyme'Cause silly Auntie Lily Is silly all the timeHave fun and help your child develop with Have You Ever Seen? - the hilarious first in the READY TO READ children's books series about funny, silly, and nonsensical situations that will have you and your kids rolling with laughter.

Who am I?

As a parent, grandparent, retired educator, historian, and children’s book author, I am an avid reader and advocate for children’s literacy. My forty years of experience working with children and their families gives me the background and expertise to identify high-quality books and the types of subjects that children will want to read and adults in the family will enjoy sharing with them.


I wrote...

Little Miss History Travels to Mount Vernon

By Barbara Ann Mojica, Victor Ramon Mojica (illustrator),

Book cover of Little Miss History Travels to Mount Vernon

What is my book about?

Who was George Washington? Washington is best known as America's first president, but he was also a military hero. If you asked George Washington what he really wanted to be, he would reply, "a farmer." Seeking to revolutionize antiquated 18th-century farming methods, Washington experimented with crop rotation, fertilizers, plowing, and plants. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association began restoring his estate to its former glory in 1853. Today the buildings, grounds, and The Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center reveal the real Father of the United States of America.

Winner of a B.R.A.G. Medallion. Winner of the 2018 International Book Excellence award in children's nonfiction. Winner of the 2018 Reader's Favorite International Book Awards silver medal in children’s educational books.

Run Towards the Danger

By Sarah Polley,

Book cover of Run Towards the Danger: Confrontations with a Body of Memory

As if she were a forensic investigator, Sarah Polley digs deep into the many traumas that shaped her life exponentially from the scoliosis that brought about many surgeries she endured from childhood onward, along with the death of her beloved mother at a young age to becoming a mother in her own right, a surefooted story-teller, director and as always a gifted actress. Her collection of stunningly written essays made me want to protect her from herself and from the many others that profited from her being a child star: Carrying the daunting lead role of Alice-in-Wonderland, doubting her talent, doubting her stamina but showing up none-the-less night after night like a good soldier, even as she began unraveling. She doesn’t flinch as she searches for the truth with compassion, humor, and horror as she litigates her own memories.

As I read Run Toward Danger, I was in awe…

Run Towards the Danger

By Sarah Polley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Run Towards the Danger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A visceral and incisive collection of six propulsive personal essays.” – Vanity Fair

*A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice*Named a Most-Anticipated Book of 2022 by Entertainment Weekly, Lit Hub, and AV Club*

Oscar-nominated screenwriter, director, and actor Sarah Polley’s Run Towards the Danger explores memory and the dialogue between her past and her present

These are the most dangerous stories of my life. The ones I have avoided, the ones I haven’t told, the ones that have kept me awake on countless nights. As these stories found echoes in my adult life, and then went another, better way…

Who am I?

I am fortunate to have been blessed with a positive disposition. When my toast falls on the floor I like to believe it will land butter side up. I learned at a very early age that owning one's mistakes and airing them out loud could bring on laughter or a smile of recognition that many of us suffer the same fears as we navigate this often uncharted life with our fingers crossed or hands in prayer, that we will mostly get it right. This is why I write the books I write. By nature, I am a happiness ambassador… And humor is my weapon of choice.


I wrote...

Getting Waisted: A Survival Guide to Being Fat in a Society that Loves Thin

By Monica Parker,

Book cover of Getting Waisted: A Survival Guide to Being Fat in a Society that Loves Thin

What is my book about?

Getting Waisted is a vivid look at growing up fat. It's a hilarious and painful ride from chubby baby to a never really thin adult. Monica’s story is also a love story, one where she comes to love herself and in the process finds her true Prince Charming. Monica is an actor, writer, and producer. Most notably she co-wrote the beloved All Dogs Go to Heaven. One of her proudest achievements was creating her insightful one-woman show, Sex, Pies and A Few White Lies. Her latest memoir, the very funny but brutally honest Oops I Forgot to Save Money—(not a how to but a don’t ever!) came out in the fall of 2021. Currently, she is hard at work on her first novel.

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