my life in books
Tavi Gevinson, actress and editor of online magazine Rookie, talks the books that have shaped her life and career
Tavi Gevinson on the reads that have shaped her.
FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON by Daniel Keyes ($22.99, Hachette Australia) I was obsessed with dark subjects as a kid; I read this when I was 12. It’s about a man called Charlie who has an IQ of 68 and undergoes an operation to increase it. It’s initially successful, but then he deteriorates. I cried – my dad explained that if the operation had worked, Charlie would have been living in a perfect world where you can just fix things. It was a radical concept for a 12-year-old. THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY by EL Konigsburg ($7.99, Simon & Schuster) I first read this book when I was 10. It’s about a group of four gifted kids who are involved in a competition at school. When it comes to the final question, they are all able to answer it, but for different reasons. I was hard on myself in school and this book taught me to let go. It was good for me to learn that there are other types of knowledge, not just academic. By the time I got to high school, I was getting a mix of grades – some weren’t good – but it felt okay because I’d discovered other interests, such as blogging and fashion, which required a different type of knowledge. MISSING OUT: IN PRAISE OF THE UNLIVED LIFE by Adam Phillips ($24.99, Penguin Random House) This book is about people striving to understand what art means. Phillips paints a picture of a world where “getting it” means you miss out on other experiences. I read this last year when I performed in The Crucible. When you do a play, you have an idea of how a story should be told – if I said my lines only one way, I’d miss out on all the other facets of the character. THE SELFISHNESS OF OTHERS: AN ESSAY ON THE FEAR OF NARCISSISM by Kristin Dombek ($26, Farrar, Straus And Giroux) Narcissism is a spectrum we’re all on. Dombek looks at the way the word is used to dismiss people, often to make the person doing the dismissing appear more virtuous – a symptom of narcissism. This book is about millennials, social media and the way that the term “narcissist” can be used to turn people into heroes or villains. It’s easy to list the reasons Trump is an incompetent President, but it’s more useful to ask, “What are the powers that created him?” ARE YOU MY MOTHER? by Alison Bechdel ($37.99, Penguin Random House) I emotionally lost myself in this book, which is about self-centred parenting. I read it at a time when I was in the habit of dismissing people too quickly, but the book was very humanising. It made me realise that people aren’t perfect; they’re a product of their circumstances and sometimes people cannot be there for you in a way you’d like them to be. GIOVANNI’S ROOM by James Baldwin ($14.99, Penguin Random House) This is about two men who have a romantic relationship in Paris. The passages about human behaviour are applicable to entire movements and eras. There’s a wonderful moment where Baldwin explains self-deception and why it’s easier than the alternative. I can’t think of any other essayist who is able to write fiction that feels so full.