Over four decades as a Hollywood mainstay, John Cusack has gone from 80s teen heartthrob to one of the most offbeat performers in the business. Whether playing a stereo-blaring romantic in Say Anything, world-weary hitman in Grosse Pointe Blank, sarcastic record shop owner in High Fidelity, or struggling street puppeteer in Being John Malkovich, Cusack’s built a career on playing charismatic underdogs, antiheroes, and odd men out.
Long drawn to the avant-garde, Cusack founded the Chicago-based New Criminals theater group in 1988 (modeled after Tim Robbins’ Actors’ Gang in Los Angeles) to promote politically-driven material, and started a sister company for film four years later. Cusack’s been a vocal anti-war activist since the Bush years, and in 2014 brought Arundhati Roy, Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden together for a conversation on state, empire, and surveillance that was turned into the book Things That Can and Cannot Be Said.
Sharing a list of his all-time favorite books with O Magazine, it’s no surprise he’s drawn to the work of renegades and revolutionaries hell-bent on speaking truth to power. From Hunter S. Thompson to Harper Lee, find John Cusack’s reading list below.
John Cusack’s Reading List
“They say Hunter walked the surface of the Earth looking for an honest man and came up wanting. I’d never seen politics approached with this kind of candor or insight or capacity for looking at the underbelly of it. During the 1972 presidential campaign, he did a series of articles for Rolling Stone that are collected here. His mixture of artistic sensibilities with journalistic excellence, all to find the core of truth—I thought that was pretty incredible. Mostly, I admired the ferocity of Hunter’s mind. I got to know him as a friend in the ’90s. He was still reading everything, processing all this information, and seeing the patterns underneath. People forget—because of his Dr. Gonzo persona, which was so much larger than life—what a wonderful writer, thinker, journalist, and advocate he was for the truth and for the American dream. I think he was mourning its passing. Hunter had reason to be disillusioned, but his insights into people, his savage deconstruction of things, the precision, the honesty, and the courage to admit difficult things about himself, his country, and human nature—talk about influential. He sort of blew your mind.” -JC
“I really don’t know what I could say about this book that hasn’t already been said. I read it in high school English class, and it was the first time I went to school and was interested in what anyone had to say. The story leaped off the page; it made me confront my own fears and prejudices. I went home and started reading and didn’t stop until the next morning. I’d never had that experience. I’d never been moved that way, felt that sort of pathos or compassion. That moment—the first time you fall in love with art—it has a huge impact on you. In a sense, you’re always looking for those moments.” -JC
“When Bob Dylan’s memoir came out, I had a feeling similar to the one I had with Mockingbird, because I knew if I wasn’t careful, I’d read the whole thing at once. So I was like a drug addict—I would put it away, ration my supply, read ten or 15 pages, and then just stop. Here’s this guy who’s taking you through a history of pop culture and rock ‘n’ roll, giving you little glimpses into what it felt like to be looking from the inside out. As an extended piece of poetry, it’s wonderful. The book is an anti-narrative autobiography. It’s like one of his songs: a stream-of-consciousness bit of grace. The images and the memories seem to wash over you. Dylan said he was okay with being an icon but when people tried to turn him into a messiah, that was no good—I thought that was pretty great. He describes his creative process, what he was trying to do, and the things that moved him. I don’t have his genius, but I share the same impulses to search for things.” -JC
“Seldes had a fantastic integrity of character and was one of the great muckraking journalists; he wrote Witness to a Century. I put him with Studs Terkel or Howard Zinn, in that tradition of historians who speak truth to power. I read and reread this collection of quotes for years. It was a road map to the world of literature, to philosophers and thinkers, to poets and writers. If I saw a play or a film or a book about a certain subject and I wanted to know more, I’d go to this collection for what had been said on the same themes. That, in turn, would lead me to other books.” -JC
The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
“I’ve been friends with Naomi for a while, and I was lucky enough to read this as a galley, before it was published. I think that she has the same ferocity as Hunter—a much different aesthetic and different goals, but they are both people who are going to look at hard truths. This is an alternate history of the past 35 years. Her position is that there has been a very open ideological war against the New Deal. She explores how ‘shocks’ such as Hurricane Katrina or political upheaval in South America or Eastern Europe are seen as opportunities by some politicians and economists to engage in free-market fundamentalism. She calls it the disaster capitalism complex, and she shows how that actually rigs markets for the rich. What Naomi does so well is to put corruption scandals into a broader context. To see the world with that kind of clarity and courage and then to chronicle it, I think, is breathtaking.” -JC
“This book was my introduction to theology.” -JC
“I didn’t know you were allowed to write like that.” -JC
Rites of Spring by Modris Eksteins
“It’s probably got as much insight and wizardry as any book I’ve ever come across. If you read nothing else, read chapter ten, ‘Spring Without End.'” -JC
(via O Magazine)