Mary-Louise Parker, Actress
Favorite Book: “Somebody Loves you Mr. Hatch” by Eileen Spinelli
“I wasn’t a terribly social child and books were really my best friends. I pass that on to my children. I think it’s the best way to stimulate their imagination and their compassion and to help them focus.”
Books By Mary-Louise Parker: Double Vision and The Lost Angel with Mary Higgins Clark; The Dying Gaul and Other Screenplays with Craig Lucas
From Kalli: Not sure if this actress is the best role model ever in some ways at least… no one will argue that she’s not talented or sexy however. She’s a great spokesperson for reading to kids, though.
By Oscar Hijuelos
This book is easily the simplest and cleanest meditation on the act of forgiveness I can imagine. It’s about a horrific event—the murder of Mr. Ives’s son—and how a father’s heart is shattered. It’s like a Greek tragedy in the way it’s constructed: There’s a protagonist, his suffering and, finally, the benediction. I was so moved by Hijuelos’ writing—how his Mr. Ives is almost taken down by the loss and how, decades later, he’s brought back to life through his forgiveness of the killer.
By Robert Frank
I love photographs; I have a small collection of black and whites, but not a Robert Frank. If you gave me a choice between the Hope diamond and one of his images, I would take the Robert Frank. This is a book of pictures he took in the mid-1950s while traveling across America. I love the one of the men at a funeral in South Carolina, the picture of the man standing in front of the jukebox, the girl in the elevator and the one of the open road. I also go back to the image of a nanny—she’s black, very dark-skinned—holding this baby who is so white, and it almost seems as if the baby has an expression of entitlement on his face. Each of Frank’s photographs is like a little novella or little movie, and I get so lost in them.
By Mark Strand
I read mostly poetry, and Mark Strand is absolutely my favorite poet. His poems are economical, but they have such weight to them. I carry “Lines for Winter” from this collection in my wallet. It just explodes within me every time I read it; it gets right into my bloodstream. A good poem makes you feel as if you’ve had a shot of tequila or walked into a freezer. “Lines for Winter,” “The Story of Our Lives” and several others in this book do exactly that.
By Anne Michaels
A boy named Jakob is discovered hiding in the mud of an archaeological site in Poland by Athos, a Greek geologist. The child’s family had been massacred by the Nazis. The novel follows the pair to Greece, then Toronto. Athos’ rescue of Jakob, that one gesture, affects countless lives. To me the book is about the courage it takes to be generous. It’s about manifesting your compassion, and how that requires actual bravery.
By Lynda Barry
I’d hesitate to call this simply a collection of cartoons, because they’re so subtle and sophisticated and humane. Among other things, Barry is able to conjure up the colloquial rhythms of adolescent girls. That was such a tricky time in my life—I was not a happy 12-year-old. Barry is so unflinching with her own memories. There’s no romanticizing her younger self as anything other than awkward; she doesn’t gloss over the embarrassing incidents in her later life, like a bad boyfriend. She’s brought me to tears more than once.
By Edna O’Brien
The Irish have a gift for telling dark, rich stories with a sense of compassion, so you don’t feel like you’re drowning when you read them. O’Brien is one of those writers. Unlike some of her heavier novels, this one has some levity, some sweetness. It follows two Irish girls who move to Dublin, then England. More than anything, it’s the tone of this book—the romantic yearning of young girls—that really stayed with me.
By Peter Hedges
This book is a perfect little jewel. It’s about seven-year-old Scotty Ocean and the unraveling of his family as his parents divorce. I was blown away by it partly because one of my best friends wrote it (he also wrote the novel What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) and also by how spare, almost Chekhovian the writing is. It’s all about the natural cadences of these people, which he captures and which are so hilarious.
Reading is a favorite activity for Mary-Louise Parker and her kids
It’s the number-one activity I do with my children and have done since they were infants. Hours after my son was born, my brother was holding him and reading him poetry. Now he’s a little boy with a lot of energy, but he’ll sit still for a book and he has a great capacity to listen. With my daughter, I’m just trying to teach her how to turn pages!
We always read a lot before bed. Our record is 14 or 15 books. It’s at least five, even if my son’s tired. I love to hear the words, “One more book, Mom!”
With reading being a big thing in their family, the 43-year-old mom could go on and on about the books that she likes to read to the kids.
I love Cynthia Rylant; she wrote the Mr. Putter and Tabby books and the Henry and Mudge series. Patricia Polacco is a great author: ‘Chicken Sunday,’ ‘Thunder Cake,’ and ‘Thank You, Mr. Falker‘ are beautiful stories rich with humanity, and they teach lessons in a non-preachy way.
Another favorite, ‘Mama Panya’s Pancakes,’ about a village in Kenya, is a gentle way to introduce kids to other cultures and to the idea that everyone is not the same type of bunny or kid.
Mary-Louise is currently starting in The Spiderwick Chronicles and admits that it has always been a dream to star in a children’s movie.
I’ve always wanted to do a kids’ movie, and this one is somewhat atypical — the characters are finely drawn and complex. Even though my kids won’t be able to see it for a few years, I have lots of children in my life who’d love to see me in a movie.
Mary-Louise Parker on David Letterman
Mary-Louise Parker Talks About Weeds
The Tony®-winning actress goes for funny-sad cartoons, storytelling photos, wise novels and just-about-perfect poems.
I am such a book geek. I have been since I was young. My mother says that I used to stay inside and read in the dark. She would come into my room and open the curtains. I lived a lot in my head then.
Everyone in my family loves words. My father taught me to appreciate books. He still finishes three a week and retains everything. My niece and I have sat around on a Saturday night reading the dictionary and trying to find the perfect use of a gerund. We once spent a weekend on the word codify. We’re always writing some manifesto or other and asking the other to read it.
I hope my child enjoys reading, because I think books are important in the development of a person. They teach you on some small level a sense of empathy. They help you hear a different voice in your head; they reveal a different sensibility. They get you thinking about unfamiliar topics, in ways and rhythms that you wouldn’t normally encounter. A good book—it opens you up.
Mary-Louise Parker appeared in the play Reckless at Second Stage Theatre in New York City.