Since kicking off his Hollywood career as a writer and producer on Dawson’s Creek and Freaks and Geeks, Mike White has built one of the most eclectic resumes in the business. He wrote and starred in the 2000 black comedy Chuck & Buck – winning an Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award for his portrayal of a manchild stalking a childhood friend – penned the screenplay of 2003’s box office smash School of Rock, and in 2011, served as co-creator, executive producer, writer, director and actor on the lauded HBO series Enlightened, starring Laura Dern. He currently helms HBO’s satire comedy anthology The White Lotus.

But White also harbors a long-standing obsession with reality TV – competing on two seasons of The Amazing Race and placing as a runner-up on Survivor. “As a writer of drama,” he told the New Yorker, “I aspire to do what reality television already does. To create characters that are surprising and dimensional and do weird shit and capture your attention.”

An avid reader as well, White shared ten of his favorite books to recommend with NY-based bookstore One Grand. From the transcendent despair of Fernando Pessoa to the spell-binding fever dreams of Rachel Cusk, explore his reading list below.

Mike White’s Reading List

Independent People by Halldor Laxness (also rec’d by Jonathan Franzen)

“What a masterpiece of a novel. I’ve recommended this book with enthusiasm to so many people and almost none of them have managed to get through it. I have no idea why. It’s funny and brutal and transportive. It’s about a crofter in Iceland putting his poor family through the wringer so he can prove he is an independent, self-sufficient man. A timeless fable with a very modern, sly sensibility.” -MW

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (also rec’d by Constance Wu & Sue Monk Kidd)

“Oh God, this book. It almost made me a believer in middle American Christian goodness. Talk about a feat of imagination and compassion. There’s something about the voice of John Ames that makes me cry just thinking about it. He is a fiction but I don’t care, I love him. Glory be to God.” -MW

The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard

“This is theory – and French, no less – at its best. It is not ‘deconstructing’ poetry – it IS poetry. Its radical but obvious thesis is that poetry is generative, enhancing our lives with feelings and thoughts that otherwise would not exist. It is alive to the haunting magic of childhood and the imaginative spaces of our youth.” -MW

Love and Death in the American Novel by Leslie Fiedler (also rec’d by Kim Gordon)

“If Bachelard is theory at its best, this is criticism at its best. So funny and inspired and bursting with ideas. I am jealous of anyone who has not read this book – because reading this for the first time is like going on a literary thrill ride through the tropes of our culture. Is it all true? Who cares? It will jiggle your mind and broom out the cobwebs in your brain.” -MW

In the Freud Archives by Janet Malcolm

“I think I have read every published sentence of Janet Malcolm. She is non-fiction prose at its sadistic finest. Talk about assuming the intelligence of the reader. She suffers no fools. I chose this book because I share her love for the writings of Freud – for Freud, like her, wanted to crack open the reader’s skull and leave a permanent mark on the brain.” -MW

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

“Like the voice of John Ames, the melancholy Bernardo Soares stays with you forever. I love the values of this book – inertia, passivity, confusion. What an antidote to most things we read. Following around this civil servant as he journals about his mundane, depressing life, I feel weirdly giddy with life’s possibilities. We should all have heteronyms like Pessoa. Transcendent work of imaginative despair.” -MW

Outline Trilogy by Rachel Cusk

“The most uncanny and sober of fever dreams. What the fuck are these books? Why did I chew through them – as if they were the most compelling of murder mysteries – yet nothing ever happens and I can’t remember a thing after putting them down?  Dissociative perambulations but written with such urgency. These books cast a spell on me. Maybe Rachel Cusk is a witch.” -MW

The Scorpion-Fish by Nicolas Bouvier

“There are so many travel writers I love – hard to choose one. But Nicolas Bouvier’s writing is unmatched and this book is a major freak-out. Stuck in Galle, Sri Lanka – he loses his mind as he watches strange tropical bugs invade his squalid hotel room. He is in a haunted colonial Hell and the whole time I’m reading, I just wish I could be there.” -MW

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul

“Speaking of colonial Hells! This is such a strange, grim, beautifully rendered book. Its nihilism about the human condition is so convincing! (And if that’s not a glowing recommendation, I don’t know what is – lol!) It’s hard to call this a ‘favorite’ book but it has stayed with me longer than most. Ugh.” -MW

My Lives by Edmund White

“So many gay writers have influenced me – Edward Albee, James Baldwin, Stephen Sondheim, Quentin Crisp, Oscar Wilde yadda yadda. I also wanted to include an autobiography. Edmund White is a great writer – so erudite, curious about all things, a great aesthete. And as honest as anyone can be about sex and the motivations of self. Honesty is everything!” -MW