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Two-time Oscar-winner Jodie Foster got her showbiz start as a child model at the age of three, and caught her big break at twelve – playing a teenage prostitute in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 classic, Taxi Driver. Before transitioning into adult roles, with career-making turns in The Accused and Silence of the Lambs, she took time off of Hollywood to study literature at Yale, where she wrote a thesis on Toni Morrison and graduated magna cum laude.
A lifelong lover of literature, Foster shared the six books that most influenced her life and work in a reading list for O Magazine. From Baudelaire’s poetry to the letters of Rainer Maria Rilke, find her favorites below. For a deeper look at her creative process – from storyboarding to shooting – check out her Masterclass on the art of filmmaking.
“I went to the French lycée in Los Angeles, and, like every high school student in the French school system, I studied the work of 19th-century poet Charles Baudelaire. At 15, the height of brooding and dark self-discovery, I recited his poems by heart and thrilled to the exotic language, filled with taboo ideas and strange metaphors involving death and decay. It’s a must-read for any depressed adolescent.” -JF
“I wrote my senior essay in college on this book, specifically Morrison’s relationship to the African oral-narrative tradition. My favorite passage describes a water stain on a wood table—how that stain takes on new life and meaning with the passage of time and family history. I think Morrison has the most deeply poetic voice in contemporary American fiction, and I have never missed reading anything she’s written.” -JF
Cathedral by Raymond Carver
“Carver is the king of minimalism, and these short stories are some of his leanest. He writes characters who are completely unaware of their own motivations or the significance of their actions. They just live and don’t ask why. As an actress and reader, I love the discipline of spare characterizations. You soak up the few details offered and do the work to figure out the characters yourself.” -JF
“When I was about 13, I became very interested in classic Greek tragedies, and I think these represent the best of them. They combine what we’d identify as modern psychology with the concept of destiny. It’s impossible to forget these characters—Medea, for instance, who kills her own beloved children when faced with her husband’s betrayal. These are stories of such passion.” -JF
“In this collection of autobiographical essays, humanity’s wicked little details are seen through the eyes of a truly strange man. Sedaris’s observations are sometimes weirdly funny and unexpectedly moving—including his trip of self-discovery to a nudist camp. I read Naked in one sitting and then bought five copies to give to friends.” -JF
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
“This is a collection of letters that Rilke wrote to a poet who’d asked for his advice. It’s clear that Rilke wants to encourage the younger man, yet he can’t help betraying his own disillusionment with the world and his feelings of insignificance. I love how humble Rilke is—how beaten down by the creative process yet hopeful. I’ve given this book to a few directors and wrapped each copy in a silk scarf. When I feel like a failure or have doubts about my work, this is the sacred book I take off the shelf and unwrap, very delicately.” -JF
(via O Magazine)