Amber Tamblyn’s 10 Favorite Books

Bookseller One Grand Books has asked literary celebrities to name the ten titles they’d take to a desert island, and they’ve shared the results with Vulture. Below is the list from Amber Tamblyn: actress, author, poet, and film director.

Uncle Vanya, by Anton Chekhov
Chekhov is one of my favorite playwrights and this is my favorite of his works. It’s so demented and thrilling and morose. Chekhov has such a fantastic way of capturing a dysfunctional and emotionally abusive family dynamic, there’s never a dull moment in his plays. This play in particular — with its themes of love and desire and fears of growing old and being alone — are exactly the kind of catharsis I would enjoy while sitting on a beach in my own isolation.

Smilla’s Sense of Snow, by Peter Høeg
I read this every winter. It has one of the best female protagonists I’ve ever read in a book. There are very few books I can think of that start out so small and unassuming and end so big and heroic. The lead character goes from being an inquisitive, quiet girl to a violent, powerful force by the end of the book, all while solving a murder that keeps unfolding new twists and turns. This book makes me feel strong. Like I could fight a bad guy on a burning barge then jump into to arctic freezing water to swim to my safety as it explodes. Which she does, in the book.

Loba, by Diane di Prima
Diane di Prima is a legendary poet and feminist. These poems are the embodiment of a woman seeing herself both as feminine and animalistic all at once. Di Prima is considered the only woman who was part of the Beat movement of poets, but in my opinion, she is the strongest voice out of all of them, even more than Allen Ginsberg. She always wrote fiercely and violently, truthfully and potently. She is a wholly original voice and this book was the first glimpse of that.

Unfamiliar Fishes, by Sarah Vowell
Perfect for a deserted island, since it is basically the history of the Hawaiian islands and its people. Sarah Vowell’s morbid humor and tone make even the darkest and the saddest moments in Hawaiian history, dare I say, enjoyable. From its glorious days with Princess Ka’iulani to her culture-shattering dethroning under Western colonization, Vowell seems to know how to rip your heart wide open while suturing it back up at the same time.

Yes Please, by Amy Poehler
I mean, do I have to explain why I chose this book? Wouldn’t we all choose this book?

Satan Says, by Sharon Olds
One of the greatest poets alive and one of the greatest books by that poet. Sharon is our generation’s Diane Di Prima.

Mercurochrome, by Wanda Coleman
Wanda was my mentor and has such a sharp, vicious, lyrical voice, her poems almost come off the page and sing to you. I revisit this book often. Wanda was and is considered the voice of Los Angeles. She wrote about everything from growing up in the tough neighborhood of Watts to writing for a soap opera to the objectification and marginalization of not only being a woman, but a woman of color.

There Is No Year, by Blake Butler
This is one of the most bizarre, exhilarating, strange, intense books I’ve ever read. I mean all of this in a good way. The book’s chapters are fractured looks at an even more fractured family. The book feels less like a story about them and more like a lived experience inside their psyche. Each chapter reads like a short experimental film about each character. They are beautiful, poetic abstractions on the human condition.

The Book of Light, by Lucille Clifton
An extraordinary book by an extraordinarily powerful poet. Clifton writes about the body and the state of womanhood like no other. Like the other poets I’ve mentioned on this list, Clifton doesn’t suffer any fools in her writing and always goes straight for the jugular when talking about race, feminism, love, and anger.

Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson
The ultimate prose book. There is no one greater or darker than Carson. This book follows a creature named Red who is part boy, part winged monster. It’s a coming-of age-story about a Kafkaesque boy and the exploration of his body and sexuality. Absolutely brilliant from start to finish. I used a quote from it to open the last book I wrote, “What’s it like to be a woman listening in the dark?” That’s the million-dollar question.

Amber Tamblyn’s 10 Favorite Books