15 Books Chris Pine Thinks Everyone Should Read
Before he was a dungeon-pilfering rogue, a Starfleet captain, or a handsome prince, Chris Pine was an English major. And while he’s ended up—like many an English major before him—making a living in a different field, dude still loves to read. And he reads everything— when we met at his house in Los Angeles a few months ago, the volumes in his on-deck circle ranged from Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport—a stream-of-consciousness novel told in a single run-on sentence that stretches over 1,000 pages—to Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner’s page-turner Heat 2. Ahead of our meeting, he’d agreed to give us a top-five list of recent favorites; by the morning of the interview, he’d managed to narrow it down to around twenty. Here, he walks us through that stack.
Esquire: Show me some of these books.
Chris Pine: This is what I’m reading right now. Lady Joker, Volume 2, by Kaoru Takemura. She’s like the grande dame of Japanese detective fiction.
Pine: I bought this a long time ago at my favorite bookstore in London—Flights, by Olga Tokarczuk. She won the Nobel for Books of Jacob, which I have yet to read. I like the way her brain works—I want to explore it more. And obviously, if it won the Nobel, I want to get into it, figure it out.
I really wish I could speak intelligently about Flights. It’s super mosaic-y, and every time you start getting invested in one of these mosaic pieces, she kind of flips the subject. I found it pretty impenetrable until the end. It did land for me in the last bit.
Pine: It reminded me, oddly, of this book, Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes. He wrote a nonfiction book called What It Is Like to Go to War, which will blow your fucking mind. But Matterhorn is a seven-hundred-page novel about Vietnam, and the drudgery and the impersonalization of war. Essentially, it’s about how we live alone, and we die alone.
[Pointing to Tove Ditlevsen’s The Copenhagen Trilogy.] And that's the message of this one, too, right?
Oh my God…
I haven’t read it. I’ve heard it’s bleak.
It’s really an interesting story, until it just doesn’t end up anywhere you want it to end up. After spending some time with this protagonist, you’re like, “Please succeed, please succeed,” and then—no. It didn’t get me as angry as A Little Life, which left me apoplectic in my anger—it’s just so unrelentingly dark. Copenhagen—at least it’s shorter.
Pine: Michael Herr’s Dispatches is dark, too. But it’s a bit like Apocalypse Now.
Right. It’s Vietnam, the rock-n’-roll war. Herr’s book feels like a tour diary almost, like he’s on the road with the Stones.
Pine: I just went through a huge Norman Mailer phase. I read The Naked and the Dead, which he wrote when he was fucking twenty-five. His insight into the human mind and the psyche, and insight into a soldier, is profound. He definitely gilds the lily—sometimes you can really see him flexing his muscles. But God—I mean, a book about an unrequited homosexual love affair between a sergeant and a general in 1947, when the war's just ended? The fuck is that about? A complete existentialist takedown of war, the stupidity of war, sending men off to die for nothing. Fascinating.
When did the Mailer kick happen for you?
It was just a trip to Skylight Books, in Los Feliz. I found The Executioner’s Song. I saw that it won the Pulitzer. And I was like, well, I need that. It’s so tremendous in its depth, and the layers of these people's lives that it peels back. Mailer can't help but fall in love a bit with the protagonist, who’s a killer. He finds the strange brilliance and charisma and perhaps sociopathy of his primary character, and how he twists the lives of the people around him, and he becomes both tragic and awful and worthy of compassion and empathy, like any normal human being. So, it's really complicated. Brings up a lot as you read it.
Pine: And then Capote’s In Cold Blood. Which is a fucking masterpiece, in the same vein—it humanizes these awful people in a way that’s difficult for your brain, your moral brain, to deal with. So that was great.
Pine: I went from that to Underworld. DeLillo’s language is like a really, really dense luminescent spiderweb. It can go particular and then it can go into graphic abstraction in the course of a paragraph. The first forty pages, where they’re at the baseball game, are unbelievable. Maybe the best 40 pages I’ve ever read. Sinatra, Toots Shor, and fucking J. Edgar Hoover. It’s the weirdest trio.
Yeah. The one I love is Libra. His Lee Harvey Oswald book.
Oh my God.
Yeah. You gotta read that.
I’ll pick that up next.
Pine: Master of Souls, Irène Némirovsky. I think she was a Polish emigre to France, pre-World War II, and then got swept up in the camps and died. She wrote the Suite Francaise, these two novels that were rediscovered after her death. Master of Souls is a great parable about greed, the need for more, ambition. It’s beautiful and short and quite good.
Pine: And in the same vein, A Tale of Two Cities. I love Dickens. I read Bleak House when I was like 14, and it always stayed with me. I hadn’t read Dickens since. And Tale of Two Cities I thought was going to be some giant book—which it’s actually not. He’s the master of the run-on sentence and the parenthetical, but also, he’s so fucking funny—still. Just like Mark Twain. But also, Tale of Two Cities is so relevant to America right now. I think we all need to read this book, because this is about how revolutions happen and how ugly they are. What happens when the middle class dies.
Pine: And then Colm Toibin [points to The Master and The Magician.] I read these back-to-back. These are fictional accounts—one’s of Thomas Mann…
Pine:…and the other's of Henry James. They really took me for a ride, I loved them both deeply. Fucking Thomas Mann lived an extraordinary life. From the Austro-Hungarian Empire into Weimar Republic, into Fascist Germany, then he escapes to France. Then he lives in the fucking Pacific Palisades during World War II, in the expat German community. Then ends up in Switzerland, raises two flamboyantly unapologetic gay artist children in, like, Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin. God—just a fucking wild life. Wild life.
Pine: Berlin Noir I read a little while ago, but I fucking love it. Bernie Gunther—he’s a detective in Nazi Germany. It’s interesting to get a sense of what it’s like to be a normal person inside a fascist thing.
Might be useful information for a lot of people, going forward. We might need to know this.
Tom Hanks optioned it. If good ol’ Tom’s optioning it, you know it’s OK.
Pine: And all of John le Carre—I could read these for the rest of my life.
Where would you tell people to start with le Carre?
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold—fucking hands down one of the most gorgeous novels ever written, I think. And this is quite fun—The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life. It’s one of the last things he wrote—it’s just a beautiful tour through his life as a writer. But in terms of where to go after Spy, I would go for the George Smiley series, Honorable Schoolboy, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley’s People. So nuanced, so complicated, just stunning.
From: Esquire US