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What celebs are reading: ‘The Hobbit,’ the Bible

Librarian compiles star-studded list to celebrate Library Week
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gregg Allman acknowledges that he doesn’t read as much as he should. But when a friend gave him a copy of “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” the rocker couldn’t put it down.

“I’ve had it three days and am almost finished, at which time I plan to read it again,” the singer and songwriter from The Allman Brothers Band told a retired Maine librarian who asked him what his favorite book is.

Allman joins actors, authors, politicians, a Supreme Court justice and a Harvard astrophysicist who responded to Glenna Nowell’s queries for her annual “Who Reads What?” list in time for National Library Week, April 2-8.

Their responses ranged from the nice — Rosalynn Carter’s favorite is the Bible — to the naughty: dirty joke books favored by writer Piers Anthony.

Nowell, a silver-haired retired librarian, started writing to celebrities in 1988 for her annual list. She searches the Internet for her eclectic collections of names, based on suggestions from friends and people who e-mail her.

A sizable share of responses come from writers, who are voracious readers by nature. A few contact Nowell out of the blue. Nowell tries to mix up her lists, getting people of all political parties and from varied backgrounds. She even seeks names that are scattered about the alphabet.

With an impish smile, she said she chose Allman because she wanted someone with a last name starting with A.

This year, she got responses from two Hollywood veterans: Jane Russell and Eva Marie Saint.

Russell, who played opposite Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 movie “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” looks to the heavens these days for her literary inspiration, citing “Hearing God” by Lory Basham Jones. While Saint, who won an Academy Award for her 1954 film debut in “On the Waterfront,” lists “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion and “Elia Kazan: A Biography” by Richard Schickel, about the director of “On the Waterfront.”

Many of the titles deal with more mainstream material. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed her joy in reading a biography of a giant of the high court’s past, “John Marshall: Definer of a Nation,” by Jean Edward Smith. But she also recommends retired justice Sandra Day O’Connor and H. Alan Day’s “The Lazy B,” the story of a girl who grew up to become a Supreme Court justice.

Writer Sue Grafton was amused by the “dry and sly British observations” in Julian Fellowes’ “Snobs.” Writer Nadine Gordimer wrote that “In Search of Lost Time” by Marcel Proust, which she first read at age 15, “has been a revelation of human relationships and literary genius, all my life.”

Medieval murder mystery writer Michael Jecks replied with a variety of favorites but found too little space to mention all of them.

“Yes, sadly there are so many good books that picking one or two is almost criminally shortsighted,” the English writer wrote. Some of Jecks’ favorites: “The Hobbit” by J.R.R Tolkien; “Pickwick Papers” by Charles Dickens and “The Day of the Jackal” by Frederick Forsyth.

Harvard University astrophysicist Margaret Geller, who sees the world from a truly universal perspective, is down to Earth in her choices for literature. Geller lists “The End of Poverty,” Jeffrey Sachs’ book about the possibilities for a poverty-free future, and “A Bed of Red Flowers: In Search of My Afghanistan” by Nelofer Pazira as her favorites.

Politicians often turn out to be eager readers, as evidenced by this year’s list. New York Gov. George Pataki, who likes to end his day by reading biographies, historical volumes or best sellers, said he was engrossed in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack recommends “The World Is Flat” by Thomas Friedman.

Over the years, two consistent favorites have been the Bible and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Mark Twain’s classic is one of three favorites listed this year by biographer Kitty Kelley, who also lists “Gentleman’s Agreement” by Laura Hobson and “Strange Fruit” by Lillian Smith.