Friday Five: Best Books to Inspire Actors

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Wait. You’re saying these are the best books for actors? Where is Uta Hagen? Where is a Right to Speak? Do you know anything?! I know, I know. Your formal training probably created a solid bookshelf of manuals on voice, speech, emotional prep and the like. The 5 books I’m recommending are for after you’ve worked on your instrument. You know how to prepare for an audition. You’ve been pounding the pavement and you’re at the point of wondering… how many more dollar slices of pizza can I eat before I just move back to the midwest? (P.s. this is a hypothetical conundrum. There is no limit to the pizza, ever.) OR maybe you’re in a situation like I am. I can’t go on several auditions at Ripley Grier a day because I no longer live in New York, and not because I was moving back to the midwest but because my husband is a stupid pilot for the stupid Air Force (that’s for another post). You might not live on a coast, so you need to be strategic about moving your career forward until you can live on a coast.

That’s where these books come in. Besides proving that if an actress is on a Michael Schur show, I will read her book, these books gave me huge bursts of inspiration, and the confidence to carve my own path.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (and other concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Listen. My love for Mindy Kaling knows no bounds. I have cried reading interviews with her, I fought with my sister’s ex-boyfriend to defend Mindy’s brilliance, and I re-read this book the way people read the Bible. I always get something new out of it. She is funny, she is smart, she is beautiful. And she is a go-getter. This book inspired me to write my play, Scribble Itch, and I’ve been writing parts for myself ever since.

The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer

Out of all of the books on this list, this is the only one that’s really explicitly written as a how-to. When I finally read it two years ago, I kicked myself for not reading it when it first came out, a month before I graduated an acting conservatory. She is clear and concise. There are plenty of anecdotes and inspiring moments to make you teary, but it truly is a practical guide to making a career as an actor.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Aw, Amy. A national treasure. Yes Please hits home the importance of finding your community. This can be a very isolating business, but theater and film are both collaborative art forms. As a creative, I have a tendency to want to work alone (a combination of stubbornness and countless group projects in middle school that ended with me saying “Forget it, I’ll just do it myself”, pretending it was by choice after the rest of the group slacked off). I can be precious about my ideas, and ownership. This book helped me fall in love with finding like-minded people and collaborating.

My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper

Full disclosure: a friend of mine recently told me she couldn’t finish this book. Out of all the actors on this list, Ellie’s story seems the most fairytale-ish. She went to Princeton to play lacrosse, interned for a late night show, her parents paid for her improv classes, etc. She’s pretty open about her privilege and fortune. While Ellie did get lucky in a lot of ways, she didn’t coast. I like an actor who makes their own opportunities. She was on an improv team, got involved in College Humor, and wrote multiple one-woman shows. Not to mention, Kimmy Schmidt is one of my favorite shows, and I think this book is funny.

Like Brothers by Mark and Jay Duplass

I have bought this book no less than 12 times. Every time I get a new copy, I end up giving it to someone, urging them to read it as absolutely soon as possible. If Mindy Kaling gave me the confidence to write my own parts, Mark and Jay Duplass inspired me to just make the whole damn thing. The Duplass brothers are filmmakers, actors, writers, and directors. They are also incredibly normal, nice guys. This book toggles between memoir about brotherhood and story about their filmmaking journey. I quote this book constantly, and while my husband hasn’t read it, he could probably quote it to, because every time I re-read it, I say, “hey. Listen to this-” and I read him several pages as he’s trying to cook dinner. Their advice is extremely practical. When I filmed my feature last November, I bought copies for the producers, the creative team, and several members of the cast.

I would be remiss to write a book post and not mention Thrift Books. I am a big time library-patron but for children’s books and books that I re-read often, I like to shop at Thrift Books, a huge online thrift store for books, DVDs, and games. These books are available for less than $10, some of them are less than $5. When you spend a certain amount of money, you earn points and can cash in for free books. It’s nothing out of reach, either. I’ve earned three free books since December. Now, do I spend too much money on books? I mean maybe. But still. Here’s the breakdown of their rewards programs:

Do you have any favorite books that inspired you as an actor? Drop a comment!

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