All kinds of celebrities have shared their love of reading, but for a few of them, reading has truly proven to be a transformational or essential practice in their professional and personal lives. Here's how reading has had an impact in the lives of five well-known figures.
1. Tom Cruise
As we wrote in out recent blog, How Famous People are Shining a Spotlight on Reading, Tom Cruise suffered greatly from dyslexia as a child and young man, leading him to state that he was functionally illiterate when he graduated high school, having relied on his intelligence and other methods to get by in the absence of adequate reading skills. He has also shared that he became serious about fixing this skill deficit when it became clear that his career as a movie star would suffer if he could not read the scripts and other materials for roles. Since becoming a Scientologist, and using founder L. Ron Hubbard’s literacy education program “Study Technology,” he has been cast in movies like Days of Thunder, Mission Impossible, Jerry Maguire, Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia, and Minority Report, to name a few. Cruise would be the first to say that reading and literacy contributed to that success, and he has since become a major advocate of literacy, backing projects like the Hollywood Education and Literacy Project (H.E.L.P.), a nonprofit organization offering free tutoring in 26 communities around the world. Not only that, Cruise has said that learning to read gave him the ability to finally go out and learn anything he wanted, allowing him to fulfill his lifelong dream of piloting airplanes.
2. Lebron James
During the 2012 NBA Playoffs, King James, famously made headlines for reading books in his locker room to find focus before games. Game after game, Lebron was seen reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, The Pact, and other books. Lebron might have skipped college and went right from high school to playing professional basketball for the NBA, but he knows the value and power of books in his own life. Before those playoffs, which he and the Miami Heat dominated to become NBA champions, Lebron decided that rather than watch game film or browse Twitter before games he would try to shut off all the noise that might distract him from his game. So he decided to read books instead. As ESPN’s Michael Wilbon reported, James called his friend Maverick Carter and asked him for recommendations. James told Wilbon that "reading has given me an opportunity to, just for those couple hours of the day or those 20 minutes, 25 minutes before the game, an opportunity just to read and think about something else and get a sense of what else is going on besides the game of basketball. It's made me comfortable.”
3. Daniel Radcliffe
Daniel Radcliffe, who skyrocketed to fame through his role in the beloved Harry Potter movies, has a story about books and reading that will actually make you feel good about the rise of online stores like Amazon, despite their impact on the local book stores we love and cherish. As he told oprah.com’s Naomi Barr, he stumbled on Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita by accident through Amazon. ”I was reading Louis de Bernières's trilogy on Latin America and this book came up as something I might like, so I bought it.” The novel captivated Radcliffe’s imagination so thoroughly that for his 21st birthday he took the trip to Russia to visit Bulgakov’s apartment in Moscow. At the launch of Scholastic’s Read Every Day Campaign, which he threw his support behind in 2012, Radcliffe called The Master and Margarita his “favorite book in the world ever,” going on to say that, “to me it’s the greatest exploration of the human imagination, and it’s about forgiveness and life and history, and it’s just the most incredible book that I’ve ever read; I read it once and then I read it almost immediately again.” What an impact a lucky Amazon recommendation had!
4. Pharrell Williams
Pharrell Williams is known as an ever-evolving artist, and we aren’t just talking about his unique sense of style. As a singer-songwriter, rapper, record producer, activist, philanthropist, fashion designer, and general inspiration to us all, Pharrell has left an incredible mark on our cultural landscape. So what gives Pharrell the vision, power, and courage to make art and gift it to us? He credits the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, with changing his life entirely. Recommended to him by one of his managers, Pharrell gushed about the book to none other than Oprah Winfrey -herself a voracious reader who believes deeply in the power of books - telling her that he holds it as his personal bible. What is the book about that it could be so impactful? Coelho’s best-selling story is about finding and following your destiny or "personal legend,” breaking free of prejudice, guilt, and fear to embrace the things that you truly love. "That book confirmed what I always thought in my heart and felt in my mind,” Pharrell said to Oprah.
5. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey, to whom Pharrell gushed about his love of books, is one of America’s most loved and celebrated personalities. Recognized around the world for The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was the highest rated television talk show of all time, and for her work as a news reporter, actress, producer, and philanthropist, Oprah is also likely America’s most famous lover of books. Oprah started Oprah’s Book Club in 1996, creating a world-wide phenomenon of millions of people reading the same book together each week. This project was so influential that writer Kathleen Rooney wrote an entire book, Reading with Oprah: the Book Club That Changed America, examining the effect that Oprah has had on the American public and their reading habits. Rooney describes Oprah as a pioneer of "the use of electronic media, specifically television and the Internet, to take reading—a decidedly non-technological and highly individual act—and highlight its social elements and uses in such a way to motivate millions of erstwhile non-readers to pick up books.”
Oprah’s promotion of reading comes from a deep love of books that she has held her whole life. Growing up she split between living with her mother in Milwaukee and her father in Nashville. She took refuge in books and became a voracious book worm - feeling that she had a true home in the paper she held when there was no stable home in her real life. As a child, she has said, her mother frowned upon her reading, and that she was “treated as though there was something wrong with me because I wanted to read all the time,” but as an adult no one person has done more to ensure that reading is held in esteem in American homes.
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