In 2004, on the eve of his Oscar-winning turn in Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman gave a thoughtful interview with the Believer, detailing his lifelong love of literature. A voracious reader who exhausted shelf space in his apartment and had to stack books in the hallway, he described books as “kind of a compulsion for me. To find a great bookstore is a great thing.”

Comparing the act of reading to smoking, in its great solace and pure self-satisfaction, he said: “When you read, you think, and when you smoke, you think. It’s a pleasurable thing, and not a duty.”

And expounding on his immense respect for writers, he said, “I think writing is a mixture of craft, inspiration, and being incredibly, courageously explorative with yourself—and being brutally honest, too…It’s a very vulnerable position to be in.”

Perhaps most heart-achingly poignant were his thoughts on getting overwhelmed in bookstores: “It’s frustrating for me. I end up walking out with like six books under my arm that I know I’m not going to be able to read anytime soon. It’s kind of that fantasy of what life will be like when I get older. All I’ll have time for is reading all the books that I’ve collected through my life.”

Read on for the books Philip Seymour Hoffman listed as his favorites, along with the books that inspired many of his film roles.


The O. Henry Prize Stories

The Stranger by Albert Camus (also rec’d by David Bowie)

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (also rec’d by David Bowie)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (also rec’d by Gloria Steinem)

The Seagull by Anton Chekhov

Capote: A Biography by Gerald Clarke

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
“I was so caught up in that book and when I got off the bus I was beside myself. The book just wrecked me. I was like twenty-four years old. All that stuff with the tiger. People have a lot of opinions about Conroy, but that book is very, very moving. I remember being incredibly upset and moved and I had to go to work in two hours. It screwed me up so bad. All I could think about was this damn book, and I had to play this impressionable kid who could really give a shit about reading books.” -PSH

The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton

Independence Day by Richard Ford (also rec’d by Bruce Springsteen)

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford (also rec’d by Bruce Springsteen)

“These two novels are about Frank Bascombe, a middle-aged man living in New Jersey. The Sportswriter begins a few years after the death of one of his children, and by the end of Independence Day, you’ve followed him for the next eight or so years. These are two of the greatest books about grief. Bascombe doesn’t sit in a corner and weep, but you know that his life has been affected by that loss. He used to be married; he used to have a family. It’s also incredibly accurate and illuminating about how men think. At the end of the first book, Bascombe wonders if one effect of life is to cover you in a residue “of all the things you’ve done and been and said and erred at.” In that instant, the veil lifts, and he feels a sense of being free again. But he also realizes that this lightness won’t last. And, worse, that it might not come again.” -PSH

You Are Not a Stranger Here by Adam Haslett

“On set I did recently read You Are Not a Stranger Here. I just recommended it to Amy Sedaris. She’s a big reader, too, and she read it and just went bananas for it.” -PSH

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

“On the face of it, this is an account of what happened to Chris McCandless, a 20-something who made his way to the Alaskan wilderness. Krakauer admits he is also exploring something inside himself through the story of this young man’s life. He’s trying to figure out what makes certain people go to a place where there isn’t any protection. What’s so beautiful is the last anecdote: The parents travel to the spot where their son died, and it gives them peace. The mother leaves a box of food, with a note: “Call your parents.” This isn’t a book about someone looking to die; it’s about someone who wanted to live and had to test himself. I think everybody has some of that inside of them.” -PSH

Remembrances of Things Past by Marcel Proust

The Human Stain by Philip Roth

Pastoralia by George Saunders

“What I really liked about the story [Sea Oak] is that George Saunders was able to take his commentary on society—about the TV shows they were watching and the strip club the narrator is in and the different levels of success and if you’re lowered down you get fired in front of everybody … [laughing] But the whole thing in the end was very moving. Very moving.” -PSH

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

“I just love this book. When I was halfway through it—right around when one of the three daughters tries to talk to her father and he goes out into a storm—I was like, “Oh my God, this is King Lear.” I was so impressed with how Smiley was able to take such a classic tale and put it in rural 20th-century Iowa. It’s beautiful, it’s crushing, it’s everything King Lear is—and it’s effortless. I was blown away by the imagination, intellect and talent it must have taken to do that.” -PSH

Easter Parade by Richard Yates

“You gotta read Easter Parade. It basically starts off saying here are these two characters and their lives are miserable and I’m going to tell you why. It’s uncompromising. He’s not interested in entertaining you at all. He’s just trying to get at it.” -PSH

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

“Frank and April Wheeler are a young married couple who’ve moved from Greenwich Village to the suburbs. They consider themselves intellectuals, and they’ve left the city with regret. The way they justify it in their hearts is to assume that they are better than their neighbors. But one night, while with another couple, Frank tells a story, and in the middle he realizes he’s told it before. It’s an awful scene—a moment when Frank and April come to terms with what their life really is and how fully they’ve compromised their dreams. They try to reclaim one: to live in Paris. But that fantasy is only a reprieve, and when the moment passes, the reality sinks back down.” -PSH

(via The BelieverO Magazine)

Categories: Actors

Leave a Reply