Exclusive Excerpt: Reese Witherspoon's Lifelong Love of Books
I love a great story—tales of adventure, historical fiction, mysteries. Reading is a relaxing escape to another world. Early on, Dorothea was the one who fostered a love of reading in John and me. Just as she’d done with my dad and uncle when they were young, she took us on outings to Nashville bookstores such as Davis-Kidd to browse the shelves and pick out a book. When I was really young, my grandmother read stories out loud to me in a very theatrical way.
She started with picture books, but by the time we were about four years old, she graduated us into chapter books. I would sit on her lap, and she would read in all the different voices and accents. She did A. A. Milne’s Now We Are Six and Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit with particular verve. I think watching her perform a book probably inspired me to become an actor. It also made me love reading, and fiction in particular.
Dorothea adored her book collection, and I’m fortunate enough to have some of her old first editions, including East of Eden. She read us some Jane Austen novels and a lot of southern literature, plenty of stories about little kids and their grandmas. She was a first-grade teacher, so she had all kinds of books around that were appropriate for kindergartners, but I just remember that she read and read and read to us. She always played music on her record player for us to dance to. And she had a lot of stories on the record player, so I could listen to Disney stories and follow along in the books.
Today, I consider books my friends. I love having them around, because they remind me of the times in my life when I was reading them. I organize my books by color. I take the dust jacket off, and then I know where it belongs. If it’s a white book, it goes in the white section. If it’s red, it goes in the red section. I find those rows of books so pretty to look at, and it’s also great because you do it once and then you’re done. No constant realphabetizing or anything like that.
My favorite book is Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. I just love that book. He’s such a beautiful writer. He’ll break your heart. I also love Lorrie Moore. Birds of America was a really important book for me in my early twenties, because it was so insightful about how women make decisions and how we all have different attitudes toward relationships. Similarly, I find Ann Patchett’s This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage endlessly inspiring. When I read it, I feel like she’s my smart, brilliant friend, and we’re just having a conversation about life, marriage, divorce—all the big topics.
Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, The Little Friend, and The Goldfinch. Authors who take the time and care to write about the details of life are so incredible to me. I have a deep appreciation for writers who are that observant and poignant.
The South has contributed a great deal to literature. I love Julia Reed’s books. They have hilarious titles, such as But Mama Always Put Vodka in Her Sangria! I’ve been lucky enough to meet her in person. She sure knows how to spin a yarn, both at dinner parties and in her books. She knows the exact right moment to whisper a secret or a dirty joke. Then she laughs this magnificent laugh.
I love small, independent bookstores, such as Ann Patchett’s Parnassus Books in Nashville. They create real community togetherness. There are also fantastic book festivals all over the South, such as the Southern Festival of Books in downtown Nashville, right in front of the Capitol Building. Small presses are represented there, as well as best-selling authors.
Books make the best gifts, too. For children and adults alike, I love the Penguin Classics books. I think they’re so beautiful, and they’re a nice keepsake.
Recently, I’ve taken my love of books online with an Instagram book club that lets me share some of my favorites. Here are a few of my selections:
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine
Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham
Offline, I get together with a group of friends for a regular Girls’ Book Club Night. I cherish these evenings. Not only do they give us an excuse to read the same book so we have something specific to discuss, but then when we (inevitably) digress to topics such as our families and work, it feels sort of like passing notes at school.
Excerpted selection of Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon. Copyright © 2018 by Reese Witherspoon. Excerpted with permission by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Reese Witherspoon's Whiskey In a Teacup is on sale September 18. Add it to your Want to Read shelf here.
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