Tilda Swinton has always carried a certain otherworldy quality, radiating an ethereal intelligence and beauty of spirit that isn’t quite of this earth. Describing David Bowie as her North Star and “the cousin [she] never had” – and reading a letter in tribute to the late artist at the 2016 CDFA Fashion Awards – she often brings a similarly chameleon-like presence to her roles, which run the gamut from 18th-century royalty to comic book characters, enigmatic vampires and modern day mothers in crisis. Ruminating on her taste in tales, Swinton said, “The stories I love most are about the benefits of being blown off course.”

And reflecting on the healing powers of art, she said, “I believe that all great art holds the power to dissolve things: time, distance, difference, injustice, alienation, despair. I believe that all great art holds the power to mend things: join, comfort, inspire hope in fellowship, reconcile us to our selves. Art is good for my soul precisely because it reminds me that we have souls in the first place. We stand before a work of art and our spirit is lifted by it: amazing that someone is like us! We stand before a work of art and our spirit resists: amazing that someone is different!”



Throughout her decades-long film career, Tilda’s gravitated towards a number of literary roles that reflect her eclectic and artistic tastes. A long-time friend of the late John Berger, she wrote, directed and produced a documentary on the writer in 2016, which she presented as a headlining guest at the Dhaka Lit Fest in Bangladesh. She has also participated in readings of Rumi’s Poetry, Moby Dick, and My Old Man, and has often mentioned her obsession with Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, for which she wrote an introduction in a 2012 reprint. On the inspirational nature of art, Swinton has said, “What I make in the world is shapes, atmospheres, stories. If what any artist makes inspires others to create, then that’s what I call a good, good thing.”

Below is a list of Tilda Swinton’s recommended books (many an homage to her Scottish heritage) and titles she’s done readings for, as well as the books that inspired her film roles. Complement with David Bowie’s Top 100 Books, Jim Jarmusch’s favorites, and the books Swinton’s character Eve packed in her suitcase in Only Lovers Left Alive.


Constantine (comic)

Doctor Strange (comic)

“I’m a Marvel fan and I think this particular world that Doctor Strange goes into is really, really, really exciting. I’m really interested as both an actor and a fan to see what’s done in this particular world. It’s all about creativity. It’s not about everything exploding at the end. It’s about something very different. The idea of playing The Ancient One is really just too tickling. I can’t say no to that!” -TS

Snowpiercer (comic)

Bento’s Sketchbook by John Berger

“A reflection by one great lens-grinding thinker and revolutionary humanist on another: John Berger — our contemporary — writes on Benedict Spinoza, the 17th-century philosopher so influential for the Enlightenment. But he also writes on drawing, on living, on life and on living life now. For those not familiar with one or both, this is a great introduction to the company of two seminal souls.” -TS

Gavin Maxwell: A Life by Douglas Botting

“For good measure, and because of its brilliance, I include Douglas Botting’s biography of Maxwell, as the Germans say, “in partnerlook.” An immersive portrait of a fascinating and haunting man, traveler, naturalist, shark fisherman, art historian, bon viveur, classical romantic adventurer and tragic hero of his own high drama. A great life story, written by a friend, of a life lived with legendary vigor, idealistic courage and a heartbreaking undertow.” -TS

Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems by Mahmoud Darwish

“Darwish, Palestinian poet of the Resistance, writes like breath. His passion for the essence of homeland is universal as well as painfully particular. A true master, a poet and a heart for the ages.” -TS

Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis

Swinton has been hoping for a film adaptation of this classic novel since 2016.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
“Faces you will never forget, and a lesson to treasure all your life: Be prepared to be surprised, [and] cherish life as it finds you. And love Joe Gargery with all your heart.” -TS

A Time Of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

“For anybody who has ever fantasized about walking across Europe with a backpack. Written by a great writer and a proper hero amongst men.” -TS

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Une Vie Exemplaire by Floc’h

“A succinct and comprehensive guide for living made up of irreducible bite-size wisdoms, exquisitely illustrated. From ‘Live the seasons’ through ‘Lose time in chatting’ and ‘Don’t be afraid to get wet,’ to the unassailable ‘Go from time to time to Scotland,’ there can be no better pocket of counsel for any of us at any age.” -TS

The Beach by Alex Garland

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
Swinton read a mesmerizing passage to help promote the book. Listen here.

The Operators by Michael Hastings

Modern Nature by Derek Jarman

“Joy and life, and more life and more joy, and making a garden out of stones, and making films, and love.” -TS

Owning Your Own Shadow by Robert A. Johnson

“A tiny, precious book on the balancing wisdom of the psyche. Hooray for that dark stuff!” -TS

Thumbsucker by Walter Kirn

My Old Man by Tedd Kessler

Swinton performed a reading from the book at the 2017 Dhaka Lit Fest. Watch here.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (also rec’d by Trevor Noah)

The Many Days: Selected Poems Of Norman MacCaig By Norman MacCaig

“Scotland’s preeminent poet of both the mountain and the capital’s pavement. Doubleness is a Scottish art: Passion and Calvinism; the west and the east; the highlands and the lowlands. MacCaig embraces this split with true affection and verve. (See also: Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.)”

Collected Poems Of Sorley MacLean by Sorley MacLean

“If these English translations are this beautiful, we can only dream of how exquisite the Gaelic originals might be. [MacLean is] Scotland’s preeminent poet of the islands.” -TS

Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell

“One of the greatest Scottish writers, probably the most affecting prose witness to the unique spirit of the Highland wilderness there has ever been. This book, chronicling life lived with otters on the remote west coast of Scotland, was made into a classic children’s film by Disney in the ’60s, but the book has depths and breadth untapped by the movie. Our Walden of the Hebrides. Beautiful.” -TS

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (also rec’d by Bob DylanBruce SpringsteenPatti SmithSteve Jobs)

Swinton read the first chapter of Moby Dick as part of the Moby Dick Big Read, a project bringing the classic to the masses through readings by famous personalities. Listen on Soundcloud.

Love In A Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

“Lady Montdore is one of the greatest creations in English literature; Uncle Matthew, another; Cedric, yet another. It’s the dottiness and passions of the English aristocracy pretty much nailed in one.” -TS

The Complete Essays by Michel de Montaigne

“This book should, in my humble opinion, replace Gideon in hotel bedside tables the world over. An examination of what it means to be alive, an essay for every possible constituent part of the human experience, built upon the endearing and radically joyous motto ‘What do I know?’ An uplifting and companionable fellow traveler for us all. A timely reminder of how toxic doubtlessness can be. Straight from the 16th century into the now. Forever and ever.” -TS

The Statement by Brian Moore

The Collected Poems Of Frank O’Hara by Frank O’Hara

“Joy and life, and more life and more joy, and street corners, and Coca-Cola, and love.” -TS

The Essential Rumi by Rumi

Swinton performed a reading of ‘Like This’ to celebrate the launch of her perfume collaboration with Etat Libre d’Orange. Listen here.

Light Years by James Salter 

“An urbane American marriage seen from above — a kind of exquisite horror story of the deathly chic of people having all their bases covered and somehow missing the point all the same. Very, very beautiful. Very, very sad.” -TS

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (also rec’d by John Waters)

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

“Completely sick. In all the right ways.” -TS

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi

The Child, The Family, And The Outside World by D.W. Winnicott

“The book to have by you when becoming a parent. And ever after.” -TS

The Essential P.G. Wodehouse by P.G. Wodehouse

“Sentences to eat with a spoon, and funny like nothing else on Earth.” -TS

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

“Like Orlando, I wrote poetry. In my adolescent fantasy I read this book and believed it was a hallucinogenic, interactive biography of my own life and future. For me, this trifle of phantasmagoria has always been a practical manual. A tourist guide to human experience, the best of wise companions. At least, it was my first: a message in a bottle from an imaginary friend.” -TS

(via The New York TimesRefinery 29)

Categories: Actors

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