The Actors Alternative Bookshelf
Seven books and audiobooks about more than just acting to provide inspiration and a different perspective.
By Niamh McEnhill
We can bury ourselves in copies of Respect for Acting and The Actors Thesaurus but sometimes taking a step back and reading other genres can help broaden your outlook, spark creativity or offer an escape. With that in mind, here is a selection of my favourite inspirational reads to help you identify obstacles, take action and shape your future.
1. The School of Life by Alain de Botton
Read when you want to take a step back and think.
Leading a creative life can be very rewarding. It takes a lot of effort and determination, which can result in a lot of exciting career opportunities. The other side of this is that we risk forgetting to take a step back.
A creative life can be somewhat encompassing and may result in you feeling overworked, drained and perhaps even burnt out. You might find that simple things are bugging you more than normal; did the last-minute self-tape you fluffed this morning really have to taint the remainder of your day? There are many reasons why we find ourselves carrying out certain behaviours and this book helps you to understand why things happen the way they do so you can hopefully find some solace.
2. Letters of Note by Shaun Usher
Read when you want to seek and explore.
Delving into the minds of others can be a regular activity for any creative. We want to know what fuelled their fires, what their path looked like and why they behave in a certain way.
The magnificent minds behind Letters of Note have put together collections of some of the world's most inspiring and powerful letters with art at their heart. Expect to read the penmanship of some incredible folk from Frida Kahlo to John Coltrane, Florence Nightingale and Clint Eastwood, all of which can ignite so many ideas, questions and nuggets of inspiration.
3. Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith
Read when you want to change up your mood.
It takes a lot of self-belief and curiosity to remain invested in your own creative pursuits. There are many aspects to any creative process, we often put together our own process based on a pick and mix assembly of others.
In this book, Zadie Smith breaks down her writing process in manageable sections of reading, being, seeing, feeling, remembering. Smith encourages readers to ask themselves questions around identity, art, love, and creativity that we so often miss.
4. You are a Badass by Jen Sincero
Read when you’re feeling low after a few knockbacks.
Actors and creative types face a lot of rejection and sometimes the advice from your agent, Mum or partner to 'take it on the chin' can get a bit old. It doesn’t help the self-sabotaging behaviour that comes along with it.
Rather than focusing on the results of what you did or didn’t get, remember what got you there in the first place and your abundance of talent and potential.
This refreshing guide opens you up to recognising your own brilliance and creating a life that you love. Sincero offers up 27 short chapters packed with laugh-out-loud stories, honest advice, and simple exercises that encourage you to approach life with tenacity and harness your talents.
5. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
Read when you feel like you’ve exhausted all options.
We all have a pal who seems to cruise through life with things falling magically into their lap. You know the one I’m talking about. The actor who seemingly sashays into auditions, without a care in the world and books three jobs in a week. How do they do it?
Frustratingly whilst we can’t control how the audition goes, how many jobs we book or how many casting directors we meet, we can control how we interpret our experiences and work on that. Manson's book helps us realise this process and hints that we can all be that carefree person.
6. Your Best Year Yet by Jinny Ditzler
Read when you have a clear day in the diary when you want to take action.
An actor’s life is a busy life, with each year looking entirely different from the next. We constantly push ourselves to succeed. We send off self-tapes, show up for auditions, attend workshops and are in a constant whirlwind of trying to find or create work. All that can sometimes feel like you don’t have a lot of control of your destiny.
If you want a clearer idea of how your future might shape up then give this handy little book a browse. It gives you a clear three-hour exercise that offers a transformational, goal-oriented program based on 10 simple questions. It’s straightforward and will supply you with the tools you need to shape the future you want.
7. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Read when you're in the middle of a creative project and need an extra push.
Many creatives will experience intense moments of self-doubt at times. For some of us, it's our biggest enemy. This straight-talking and enlightening book reassures you that you’re not alone and sets out the steps to let go of needless insecurities and find your way to creative relief. With suggestions like "be the weirdo who dares to enjoy", this might well give you the push you need to reconnect to the creative force within.
This is a true gem and a book I always return to. It was once gifted to me by a dear pal and fellow actor so it has a real sense of nostalgia for me. I promise you’ll find the magic in it too.
If you'd like to read some books about the creative industry, browse our book list about acting and the industry recommended by Spotlight staff.