Natalie Portman's Favorite Books Prove She's One Of The Smartest People In Hollywood

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When it comes to celebrities, it's hard not to love Natalie Portman. Not only is she an Oscar-winning actress, but an outspoken feminist, animal rights activist, co-founder of the National Women's Soccer League team Angel City Football Club, and a Harvard graduate. Portman has shown time and again that she's whip-smart and tends to be on the right side of history. She's simply impossible not to love.

Although so much of Portman's life is inspiring, to really get into her brain, it's best to start with her favorite books — it's a very long and impressive list. Portman is such an avid reader, she even has an Instagram account called Natalie's Book Club where she talks about what she's currently reading, what books she loves, and posts quotes about writing and reading. She's also an author. "I was frustrated with the classic stories ... For both boys and girls, it's important to be relating to female stories," Portman told Bustle in 2020 when discussing her book, "Natalie Portman's Fables," adding that reading is essentially practicing empathy.

No matter how you slice it, Portman is a phenomenal woman from whom we should all take a page. While we may not all be Oscar winners, we can improve our empathy and humanity through reading — and Portman's favorite book list is the perfect place to do so.

E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems

To promote her own book, "Natalie Portman's Fables," Portman sat down with Elle in March 2021 to talk about all things book-related. When asked what book she considers "literary comfort food," Portman said "E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems," 1904 to 1962 edited by George J. Firmage. If you've never read any of Cummings poetry, this is the best place to get started because everything is right there, perfectly bound for hours and hours of consumption. 

No matter the topic that Cummings writes about, his words are always beautiful — sometimes sad, erotic, and even a bit happy — but more than anything, his verses are stunningly crafted and tug at the heartstrings. Cummings, unlike a lot of poets, also makes good use of blank spaces in the way his words and lines bounce around the page in a way that's both meaningful and playful. It's a total delight for the eyes, ears, and lips. 

A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz

Although "A Tale of Love and Darkness" by Amos Oz isn't the only book by Oz on Natalie Portman's favorites list, this is the one she turned into a movie in 2015 — it was her directorial debut. In this memoir, Oz writes about his early childhood with his parents in Jerusalem and the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. 

Portman, who wrote the screenplay, has such a deep love for the story, that she cast herself as Oz's ill-fated mother in the movie version of the book. "His mother killed herself, and he's spent much of his life creating scenarios of why that happened," Portman told Oprah in 2008. "The process of meditating on her life makes him into a writer. The book is also about the birth of a language ... It's so interesting to think about what comes before the process of naming something — how you struggle when you don't have the words to say what you feel." 

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Portman loves "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell so much that, as she told Oprah in 2008, she gave it as a present to everyone she knew for three years — now that's adoration! Of the book, Portman said, "It's one of the most beautiful, entertaining, challenging books — something that takes all your attention. I think the stories are meditations on violence, specifically the necessity of violence. The book ends with a beautiful exchange: '...only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean! Yet what is an ocean but a multitude of drops.'"

"Cloud Atlas," which was turned into a movie starring Tom Hanks in the lead role, is a massive undertaking of six stories that take place over different times and places, and they're even written in multiple genres throughout the book. While some of it is historical fiction, other parts are science fiction, metafiction, and contemporary fiction. From a dystopian future in Korea, to 1931 Belgium, and 1975 in California, this novel is all over the place and great for people who want to get lost in the stories they're reading.

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

True to her activist soul, Portman told Elle in 2021 that the book she recommends over and over again is "Lost Children Archive" by Valeria Luiselli — and considering the topic, it's easy to see why. Although a novel, the inspiration for this book comes from the heart-wrenching American policy of separating parents and children at the Mexican-American border. It details the story of one family — none of them have names, giving it that "any family could be them" feel — and their cross-country journey, as well as the childlike belief that everyone can be saved. 

What's interesting about this is that we'll never know all the stories of the families who were separated at the border. Yes, some will come to light, but tragically not enough of them will be given their due. According to Northwestern Now, as of September 2023, about 1000 children are still separated from their family members, and that doesn't include everyone. You'll need tissues for this.

The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander

"The Ministry of Special Cases" by Nathan Englander takes place during Argentina's Dirty War, which lasted from 1976 to 1983. During this time, the dictatorship of Argentina sought out their left-wing political opponents so they could silence them — something they did through either murder or kidnapping. As many as 30,000 people simply disappeared during those years and have yet to be accounted for. 

As Portman told Oprah in 2008 regarding the book, "It's about a mother and father dealing with the disappearance of their son. It's a moving book that also has a lot of dark comedy in it ... It also captures the comic absurdity of the bureaucracy of a dictatorship. What's most interesting to me is, as one character makes clear, the truth tellers in life are so often written off as crazy." While the story is fiction, it does give keen insight into what life was like under President Jorge Rafael Videla.

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

When Portman talked to Elle in 2021 about her favorite books and was asked which one she believed should be on every college syllabus, she said "Sister Outsider" by Audre Lorde — and, honestly, it should. In addition to being a writer, Lorde played a pivotal role in the intersectional feminism we have today. The 15 essays and speeches in "Sister Outsider" are about that as well as sexism, homophobia, ageism, classism, and race. It's essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how these topics affect all of us every single day of our lives.

Of course, this is just the very tip of the iceberg of Natalie Portman's favorite books. But if these piqued your interest at all and you want more, then consider following Natalie's Book Club on Instagram. It's amazing that she's able to read as much as she does with her busy schedule.