Mike White

When HBO, desperate to feed the pandemic TV appetite, asked Mike White if he wanted to create a new TV show, the veteran actor, writer, and director didn’t need to be asked twice. “The filtration system of getting something on the air is aggravating and time-consuming,” he told The New Yorker recently. “I thought, If they go with this, it’ll be like a boulder they can’t stop. I can do exactly what I want to do.” The “this” was his runaway hit, The White Lotus, a veritable Trojan Horse–a spiky critique of class and privilege dressed up as a murder mystery. A second season was greenlit before the first season–six episodes each written and directed by White–concluded with what was among the most satisfying TV finales in recent memory. White has one of Hollywood’s most eclectic resumes, running the gamut from the comedy musical, School of Rock, to the lauded HBO series, Enlightened, starring Laura Dern, to, well, The Emoji Movie, but his not-so-secret passion is competing on reality TV. He has been a contestant on The Amazing Race, twice, and on Survivor. “As a writer of drama, I aspire to do what reality television already does,” he told The New Yorker, “To create characters that are surprising and dimensional and do weird shit and capture your attention.” When he’s not writing, directing, acting, or competing, White is a reader, as this list of books reflects. “These may not be my 10 favorite books, that’s impossible,” he writes. “But these come to mind and are ones I’m always recommending.”

Below are Mike Whites’s books, available to purchase individually or as a set. Photo: Courtesy of Jason Yokobosky


Independent People

Halldor Laxness
What a masterpiece of a novel. I’ve recommended this book with enthusiasm to so many people and almost none of them have managed to get through it. I have no idea why. It’s funny and brutal and transportive. It’s about a crofter in Iceland putting his poor family through the wringer so he can prove he is an independent, self-sufficient man. A timeless fable with a very modern, sly sensibility.
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Marilynne Robinson
Oh God, this book. It almost made me a believer in middle American Christian goodness. Talk about a feat of imagination and compassion. There’s something about the voice of John Ames that makes me cry just thinking about it. He is a fiction but I don’t care, I love him. Glory be to God.
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The Poetics of Space

Gaston Bachelard
This is theory - and French, no less - at its best. It is not “deconstructing” poetry - it IS poetry. Its radical but obvious thesis is that poetry is generative, enhancing our lives with feelings and thoughts that otherwise would not exist. It is alive to the haunting magic of childhood and the imaginative spaces of our youth.
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Love and Death in the American Novel

Leslie Fiedler
If Bachelard is theory at its best, this is criticism at its best. So funny and inspired and bursting with ideas. I am jealous of anyone who has not read this book - because reading this for the first time is like going on a literary thrill ride through the tropes of our culture. Is it all true? Who cares? It will jiggle your mind and broom out the cobwebs in your brain. [Please note: currently out of print; we ship used copies in good condition]
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In the Freud Archives

Janet Malcolm
I think I have read every published sentence of Janet Malcolm. She is non-fiction prose at its sadistic finest. Talk about assuming the intelligence of the reader. She suffers no fools. I chose this book because I share her love for the writings of Freud - for Freud, like her, wanted to crack open the reader’s skull and leave a permanent mark on the brain.
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The Book of Disquiet

Fernando Pessoa
Like the voice of John Ames, the melancholy Bernardo Soares stays with you forever. I love the values of this book - inertia, passivity, confusion. What an antidote to most things we read. Following around this civil servant as he journals about his mundane, depressing life, I feel weirdly giddy with life’s possibilities. We should all have heteronyms like Pessoa. Transcendent work of imaginative despair.
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Outline Trilogy

Rachel Cusk
The most uncanny and sober of fever dreams. What the fuck are these books? Why did I chew through them - as if they were the most compelling of murder mysteries - yet nothing ever happens and I can’t remember a thing after putting them down?  Dissociative perambulations but written with such urgency. These books cast a spell on me. Maybe Rachel Cusk is a witch. * Note the price is for the first volume, Outline, only.
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The Scorpion Fish

Nicolas Bouvier
There are so many travel writers I love - hard to choose one. But Nicolas Bouvier’s writing is unmatched and this book is a major freak-out. Stuck in Galle, Sri Lanka - he loses his mind as he watches strange tropical bugs invade his squalid hotel room. He is in a haunted colonial Hell and the whole time I’m reading, I just wish I could be there.
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A Bend in the River

V.S. Naipaul
Speaking of colonial Hells! This is such a strange, grim, beautifully rendered book. Its nihilism about the human condition is so convincing! (And if that’s not a glowing recommendation, I don’t know what is - lol!) It’s hard to call this a “favorite” book but it has stayed with me longer than most. Ugh.
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My Lives

Edmund White
So many gay writers have influenced me - Edward Albee, James Baldwin, Stephen Sondheim, Quentin Crisp, Oscar Wilde yadda yadda. I also wanted to include an autobiography. Edmund White is a great writer - so erudite, curious about all things, a great aesthete. And as honest as anyone can be about sex and the motivations of self. Honesty is everything!
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