Bette Midler Is Still in the Thrall of 19th-Century Novelists

“I love Dickens and Twain above all,” says the actor and singer Bette Midler, whose latest children’s book is “The Tale of the Mandarin Duck.”

What books are on your night stand now?

A better question is “What’s NOT on your night stand?” There are things I’ve been hoarding, things I don’t have the courage to tackle just yet, gifts, books I buy on impulse, and P. G. Wodehouse, a perennial. One year, my family gave me the entire Penguin Classics library and some of it is rough sledding, like “Gargantua and Pantagruel.” Politics, race, acting, history, religion, arts, the environment, detective stories, whatever the new fiction is, plus poor old Auden and Walt Whitman, who have been patiently standing by for years.

What’s the last great book you read?

I recently reread “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Hands down, one of the greatest I’ve ever read. Yesterday I finished “The Parade’s Gone By,” by Kevin Brownlow, and it finally fell apart; it’s about the silent movie era. I bought it in the ’70s, and finally got around to reading it. Unforgettable.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

Hanging over the side of the bed with the book on the floor and a box of Ritz crackers nearby.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

“Southern California: An Island on the Land,” by Carey McWilliams. A history of how Los Angeles was marketed to the unsuspecting in the Midwest, and the various scandals and horrors the local scalawags visited upon them when they arrived, as well as crimes against minorities and the land. Published in 1946.

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