Born in Pasadena, California in 1946, American actress and film producer Sally Field has been captivating the nation with her comedic chops, artistic range, and dazzling emotional depth for more than five decades. Now considered one of the most enduring and beloved actors of our time, she first rose to fame for her portrayal of boy-crazy surfer girl Gidget in the iconic ’70s television show, and as Sister Bertrille in the fantasy-comedy series The Flying Nun.
Field received widespread acclaim for her galvanizing performance as the titular union organizer in the 1979 film Norma Rae, for which she won her first Oscar for Best Actress. She went on to receive another for her role in 1984’s Depression-era drama Places in the Heart, and was praised for appearances in Smokey and the Bandit, Steel Magnolias, Forrest Gump, and Lincoln.
Alongside her acting career, Field is also a philanthropist and activist who’s lent her voice to numerous social and political causes, including LGBT rights, women’s rights, and environmental protection. Her 2018 memoir, In Pieces, charts her evolving identity as an actress, daughter and mother – painting an intimate portrait of a lonely childhood and the career that helped her find her voice.
In honor of its release, Goodreads asked Field to share some of the books that assisted in her writing. She notes:
“These five books are not obscure. They are, for the most part, well-known literary masterpieces by some of the finest writers who ever put pen to paper. I can only try to explain how they each served me, taught me, inspired me, day in and day out for the past seven years.”
Sally Field’s Reading List
“Besides revealing wonderful, intimate stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein in prewar Paris, this is a glimpse into the life of a struggling young writer, Hemingway, and a how-to manual for anyone who wants to fill an empty page with words. He reminds himself to look for one true sentence when he feels lost. To start with the first true, simple declarative sentence. Elaborate writing, like someone introducing or presenting something—the scrollwork or ornament—should be thrown away. I turned to this book and Hemingway, constantly trying to understand how he could say so much so simply.” -SF
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
“Having this memoir opened at my side was like looking at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and wanting to paint like that. It can’t be done. In the first chapter, McCourt transitions from past tense to present, talking with the voice of the child he once was, comprehending the world through the eyes of that little boy. He uses grammar—or the lack of it—to create the lickety-split rhythm of the Irish dialect, or the Brooklyn or Jewish cadence. It is a deeply moving tale of survival told with humor, raw honesty, and forgiveness. Never a hint of self-pity or bitterness, he stays the optimistic child, growing into the young adult as he sings his song, dances his dance, and tells his tale.” -SF
“Different from McCourt, Karr tells her story in retrospect. From the beginning, the reader gets the sense that she’s remembering the child she once was as the adult she is now, trying to find the traumatic events of her life, some that have remained hidden even from herself. Effortlessly, she moves back and forth, from childhood to present day to before she was born. It’s wonderfully funny, and brassy, and lonely. From the get-go this memoir was my example of how to allow your own voice to come through, to talk on the page. So much so that I had to hide it away for fear I would start sounding like that little East Texas girl and not the one from Southern California that I actually am.” -SF
Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick
“Vivian Gornick’s fierce attachment is with her intelligent, uneducated Russian Jewish mother, and throughout this glorious memoir they walk through the streets of New York, arguing and raging with each other in the present and loving each other in the remembered stories of the past. Masterfully, the detailed memories of her childhood, of the ethnically diverse women who filled the Bronx tenement where she grew up, women she ‘absorbed as if they were chloroform on a cloth,’ are woven together with the present-day conversations with her mother as they walk side by side. Every page is filled with longing, and humor, and with Ms. Gornick’s complicated need to feel both close to her mother and separated from her.” -SF
Darkness Visible by William Styron
“I first read this tiny, exquisite memoir many years ago while researching to play a character diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, or manic depression. Originally written in 1989 as a lecture, then expanded into an essay published in Vanity Fair, and finally into a book, it is a frank, almost unemotional, account of what clinical depression feels like from the inside out. Styron, whose work I’ve always loved, generously tells of his terrifying life-threatening battle with the chemicals in his brain while he struggles to live his life as an artist, a friend, and a husband. Not only is he openly revealing things that are excruciatingly raw and private, but because he was a middle-aged man when it was written, admitting to the shame of mental illness—and the first to do so—I have always thought it to be a magnificent work of great personal courage.” -SF
(via Goodreads; photo by Art Streiber)
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