I like Tom Hanks’ book choices

A By the Book column in the New York Times that made me think Tom Hanks and I would really enjoy talking about books.



Tom Hanks: By the Book

Tom HanksCreditIllustration by Jillian Tamaki

Tom Hanks, the actor, producer, director and author of a new story collection, “Uncommon Type,” has no desire to read novels of murder and conspiracy.

What books are on your nightstand now?

“Blue Mars” and “Green Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson; “April 1865” by Jay Winik; James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son.”

What’s the last great book you read?

Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens.” That fellow connected an awful lot of dots in that work. I thought the book would be a dense read, a slog, with a struggle for my brain on every page. I had a highlighter ready to mark the more pavement-thick paragraphs I’d have to go back and re-ponder. Instead, I flew through it like it was a nonfiction “The Thorn Birds.” Does that mean I’m getting smarter?

What influences your decisions about which books to read? Word of mouth, reviews, a trusted friend? Do you have fellow readers in Hollywood you regular trade recommendations with?


I only care about the subject. What do I know, and how little do I know, and is there more I want to know? That, and certain authors who never let me down: Sarah Vowell, Ada Calhoun, Bill Bryson, William Manchester, Dave Eggers. The great David McCullough.

I stack up the books, three columns six or eight books at a time, and just wear that pile down. And, when someone tells me they finally read a book they could never crack, I take a whack out of a sense of a challenge. That’s how I finally read “Moby-Dick,” the book everyone pretends to know …

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

This distillation of all that Buddhism says: “The person who craves nothing cannot suffer.” From Harari and “Sapiens.” That made me say “eek”, as there is nothing in there about God, or the indifferent universe, or our need to be part of a greater connected humanity. That is as simple as “if you don’t buy it you will never need it.” Turns out that Buddha was a sharpie.

If you could play one fictional character from a novel on stage or screen, who would it be and why? And one real-life figure you first encountered in a work of nonfiction?

I still am young enough to play Dean Reed, the American who, starting in the 1960s, was considered to be a big American singing star, but only to the Communist world. He was famous in the Soviet Union and East Germany and all over the Communist world. He was an actor, made movies, and was both beloved (by many) and dismissed (by many), was crazy-making good-looking and traveled in the upper echelons of the red world. That life, and all that attention made for an inevitable tragedy by the 1980s. But those that loved him as a friend loved him very much.


In the fiction world, I’d like a whack at James Ellroy’s Lloyd Hopkins character — a cop who is such a genius the only work for him is police work. He is so smart and off-world in his abilities, the L.A.P.D. just sort of leaves him to poke around. A brilliant creation from the oh-so-complicated typing of Ellroy.

You’ve already starred in many movie adaptations of novels. Among those, which source material was your favorite?

“The Green Mile” was a perfect adaptation from Stephen King. The screenplay folded into the six novellas hand in glove. “Forrest Gump” was a high-wire interpretation of Winston Groom’s book. And “Cloud Atlas,” for me, reached the high country — so different in form and function from the Mitchell book, but exact in every detail nonetheless.

Which classic novel did you recently read for the first time?

In 2011 I finally made it all the way from “Call me Ishmael” to “It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.”

Which novelists do you especially enjoy reading?

Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, Amor Towles, John Scalzi.

What do you look for in a novel?

Authenticity. I want to see the world accurately, and history examined is search of the detail of truth.

You just wrote your first collection of short fiction. Which short story writers do you most admire? What makes for a great short story?


The Cheever stories, the Vonnegut stories, the Salinger stories (especially those I had to find online, before he became THAT Salinger). Bukowski wrote short stories that were prose poems, yet I read them as the vignettes of life that, to me, rate as full-blown short stories.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever read about typewriters?

Can’t say I’ve ever read about a typewriter, but I did see one that made me sit up and take notice. Ray Milland walking up Third Avenue with his portable typewriter, looking for a pawnbroker so he can hock it to buy alcohol. The typewriter was valuable to him so he could feed his addiction, but he was a writer! He was going to go all O. Henry and sell the tool of his trade, like a samurai warrior trading in his sword for a cheap blade and a jug of sake. He was committing creative career suicide. As a writer, he had only his mind and his typewriter, the latter had value but was made worthless without the former. He had lost his soul and had no more use for his typewriter — and it was a beauty!!

What’s the last book that made you laugh?

Ada Calhoun’s “Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give.” I mean, underlining and yellow marker bust-out laughs.

The last book to make you cry?

“Hue 1968,” by Mark Bowden. Dear God, the horrors, and the waste. And I know some of the people who were there …

The last book that made you furious?

James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time.” Nothing seems to have changed. He tells the story of going to the NYC Public Library on Fifth Avenue when he was 10. A cop — as large an authority figure in the world to a 10-year-old — said to him as he was crossing the avenue, “Why don’t you people stay in Harlem where you belong.” Heart-breaking and maddening …

Which genres do you avoid?

Novels of murder and conspiracy.

How do you like to read? Paper or electronic? One book at a time or several simultaneously? Morning or night?

Paper. One at a time. Any time of day.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

Maeve Binchy! I love her stories and have since “Light a Penny Candle.”


We have to ask: What was the most interesting thing you learned about the book world while working on “You’ve Got Mail”?

That selling coffee in bookstores hooks buyers on a legal, addictive stimulant.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I was not a reader until junior high school when I read “Airport” and “Wheels” and “Hotel” by Arthur Hailey.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

“The Glory and the Dream” by William Manchester.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

David McCullough. Nora Ephron. Bill Bryson.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

I just gave up on a book about the Buffalo World’s fair and the Rainbow City as it did not have enough detail for me.

Who would you want to write your life story?

No one. That’s my IP.

What do you plan to read next?

“Homo Deus” by Harari.

An expanded version of this interview is available at nytimes.com/books.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page 8 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Tom Hanks. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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