Disclaimer: I do NOT know Tom Hiddleston. All the information is taken from various interviews and could potentially be outdated.
Welcome to the first of hopefully many installments in this brand new feature! I’ve already teased this “little” reading experiment in my May Wrap-Up post and am so excited to finally share it with you. When I was trying to think about something new and fresh that would fit well into the theme of the blog and also be a very me-thing to do, this was the very first thing that came to mind.
It basically boils down to me picking an actor or actress of my choice (Tom Hiddleston in this case), doing a little deep dive on their favorite books and then comparing how I feel about them. I think that a person’s taste in books reveals a lot about them and turning it into a sort of compatibility test felt like a neat idea. So, I hope you will all enjoy reading this as much as I did creating it!
Tom Hiddleston has been on my screens for well over a decade now. Aside from his good looks, he seems like an intelligent, funny, kind, well-spoken man with interests that range from tennis to William Shakespeare and language in general (to probably much, much more). I’ve always enjoyed listening to him in various interviews, especially when he talked about the things he was passionate about, so, finding a list of poems and books he likes was surprisingly easy.
My process in picking what to read was fairly simple. If you look up “Tom Hiddleston + books”, you’ll find plenty of results and now it was just a matter of narrowing it down. I know he has a special fondness for Shakespeare’s writing, but that body of work was just too much to tackle for me. I’ve read quite a few of them, learning that I appreciated his comedies the most, but mostly wanted to check out new-to-me stories for this feature. Regardless of the fact that I appreciate what Shakespeare has accomplished and how many generations he inspired with his tales, I do prefer seeing them performed rather than reading them myself. I’ve also been able to catch a live theater performance of Coriolanus in cinemas with Hiddleston as the lead. It was quite the experience, so I’d like to keep it at that.
Therefore, I went for two books and two poems I saw mentioned as favorites or works he revisits frequently aside from William Shakespeare. I settled on the following:
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
- Any Human Heart by William Boyd
- The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
- Love After Love by Derek Walcott
I’m going to level with you, I was a bit skeptical about how all of this would go down. It’s not so much a judgment of Tom’s taste, but rather me knowing that I struggle with classics and heavy literature at times. Tom Hiddleston just has a way with words. He knows how to articulate himself, he can interpret and analyze the texts he reads critically and even took Latin at university for some reason. Me, on the other hand, not so much.
Aside from the fact that I mostly seek out retellings or modern interpretations of classics, I often just go with my gut when it comes to reviewing books. I don’t think I’ve ever done an in-depth analysis of anything on here, be it a TV show, book or movie. My style is very much “just ramble and hope you get your point across”, because I seem to have difficulties with expressing my thoughts in a sophisticated manner. In general, I just don’t believe I’m a very eloquent person or someone who really tries to decipher every sentence they come across. If a text makes me feel something, anything really, that’s all I really care about.
So, while I’m often impressed with the thought process and the great care with which some people, like Tom Hiddleston, treat their reading material, I’m a much simpler gal. This should be very interesting!
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
I don’t read classics often, because I consider them a challenge. That fact in itself is obviously not something bad, but most of the time, when I’m reading, I want to have an easy escape. I like devouring a book in a day and I like writing that feels effortless to take in. Anna Karenina, however, was a whole freaking journey and not an easy one at all.
To put it simply, Anna Karenina felt like watching a soap where you aren’t initially interested in all the characters, but you keep watching to get to the episodes/chapters with those you care about. After a while though, you notice that you don’t actually like any of them anymore, because they are terribly self-absorbed, but by now you are in too deep, so you just keep going, because you must know how it ends. All of that sounds pretty bad, but I didn’t hate reading this book. Although I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters, they were beautifully grey in their depiction. Their moods often changed from one second the other, which made them seem erratic, but every one of them had redeeming qualities that reeled you in at one point or another.
The short chapters and nice flow of the writing definitely helped, but then there would be a six-chapter-tangent about agriculture, politics, aristocracy, society, science or religion, which did not move the story forward in any way and felt endlessly tiresome. I understand that it was a snapshot of life in late 19th century Russia, but it unfortunately didn’t add value to my personal reading experience. Instead, I really had to weather through those chapters and paragraphs, wondering what was even the point.
I think it’s curious that the book is named Anna Karenina, because the title figure’s storyline truly only plays second fiddle to those of other characters. Despite her standing up to conventions pertaining to women back in the day, I found that especially Levin’s POV took up a lot of space. This makes sense if you think about him being Leo Tolstoy’s self-insert character. He is extremely preachy and his thoughts often go in tiring circles, but then again, this entire novel just feels incredibly self-indulgent, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that his story dominates.
Tom Hiddleston has named this book, along with the next one in this post, as his favorite novel several times. I understand the intrigue as it is a really in depth exploration of human emotions, predominantly love, familial relationships and fidelity. It’s not always pretty, but it was good that the author didn’t shy away from those more horrible thoughts. You won’t be shocked by the patriarchal views, considering when this was written, but a lot of it still makes you sad. Maybe, in the end, I just took it all too seriously, which is entirely my bad (although it was very tragic in part), because when I saw Tom and Zawe Ashton perform part of it for the Dickens vs. Tolstoy debate (hosted by Intelligence Squared) it was an actual comedic masterpiece.
Kitty, my fellow namesake – we are both such a mess.
Having this much lighter view on it actually explains why I liked the modern day young adult retelling of this story called Anna K. Set in New York City, with an Asian-American main character and a certain Gossip Girl vibe to it, I had such a fun time reading. The inspiration coming from the classic novel is evident and definitely involves a similar cast of characters, but I enjoyed it ten times more than the original. I think I will just always favor “simpler” versions, which, in my humble opinion, don’t negate an equal emotional impact, instead of paragraphs upon paragraphs of descriptions that lead nowhere.
Click here to read more about Anna Karenina on Goodreads!
Any Human Heart by William Boyd
I have no real insights as to why this is another book listed as one of Tom’s favorites, other than the many times he has mentioned it as such. Am I a bit concerned that he seems to be drawn to books with the recurring theme of infidelity and incredibly emotionally detached or warped parent-child-relationships? Maybe, but I’m going to chose to ignore that part.
This is not my first time picking up a William Boyd book, but I have to stay that I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it. Previously, I had attempted to read Waiting for Sunrise (a Benedict Cumberbatch recommendation, let’s not talk about that), which was set in my hometown (Vienna) and which I never finished. I’m not even sure I still own the book, because I either sold it or gave it away to charity, hoping someone else would have a better time than I did. So, obviously, there was some trepidation when it came to Any Human Heart.
Despite everything in me, I really enjoyed reading this book. In fact, I would go so far as to say I might love it too. Formatted like a diary, annotated by what looks like a fact checker, it truly feels like you are reading someone’s personal history. In parts, I wondered if this was far too intimate an information for me, that’s how much I believed it to be a real person’s journal. However, that, by no means whatsoever, means I always liked our main protagonist.
I don’t mean to be rude, but Logan (the main protagonist and the one writing down his life story) was just such an idiot and a real dick. He was careless, rarely empathetic to the people around him and really had the most disastrous romantic relationships. I was so angry at him at times, because he kept making the same mistakes, hurting everyone around him, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit to loving the juicy story regardless. He met all these famous real life people such as Virginia Woolfe, Ian Fleming, Picasso and many more and that’s what made Any Human Heart feel so authentic. Add to that the sheer humanity oozing off the pages, the tragic and heartbreaking moments and you really have a literary winner on your hands.
Click here to learn more about Any Human Heart on Goodreads!
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
You can find the full poem here!
Tom has mentioned on several occasions that this is his favorite poem. I’ve come to especially enjoy listening to his recitation of it (although many known performers have recorded it, if you are interested in different versions), but am not sure I fully understand it. I very much believe it is intended to be read or listened to several times to grasp the different meanings and I also know that some people talk about it in school. All of this means, I should be able to get it, but even now, I think some of it is just beyond me. I’d have to actively look up an analysis to comprehend it. And yet, I keep revisiting it on my own, just allowing myself to experience it as is.
If I had to describe my feelings while reading/listening, I’d say … predominantly sad, like something was ending. Despite Eliot still having been fairly young when he wrote The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, I think he captured age and growing old really well.
Love After Love by Derek Walcott
You can find the full poem here!
Reading this poem felt like coming home. There’s really no other way to describe it for me.
Love After Love is on the shorter side, but no less impactful because of it. Instead, it manages to convey something in very few lines. When I read it, I couldn’t help but think about how distracted we get by others and the world, trying to compete for love/attention/success, how all of that sometimes takes us farther away from ourselves than it should. In the end, you always have yourself though, can come home to yourself, and you can find peace and calm in knowing that. It made me strangely emotional.
Now, color me surprised by the fact that my interpretation of the poem was not so far off from what Tom thought of it.
“I read this poem often, once a month at least. In the madness and mayhem of modern life, where every man seems committed to an endless search for the approval and esteem of his fellows and peers, no matter what the cost, this poem reminds me of a basic truth: that we are, as we are, “enough”. Most of us are motivated deep down by a sense of insufficiency, a need to be better stronger, faster; to work harder; to be more committed, more kind, more self-sufficient, more successful. But this short poem by Derek Walcott is like a declaration of unconditional love. It’s like the embrace of an old friend. He brings us to an awareness of the present moment, calm and peaceful, and to a feeling of gratitude for everything we have. I have read it to my dearest friends after dinner once, and to my family at Christmas, and they started crying, which always, unfailingly, makes me cry.”Tom Hiddleston on Love After Love in Poems That Make Grown Men Cry
I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think Tom Hiddleston and I would be a great match (in terms of books).
This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading the material and I 100% think you could have absolutely fantastic and engaging discussions with him, but I simply cannot see myself doing this on a regular basis. I like being challenged in my views and being confronted with more demanding content, but not all the time. While I can easily see myself picking up a book he recommends when my mood is right, because I ended up really adoring Any Human Heart, something tells me, I will always prefer a more modern and compact Anna K to an epic Anna Karenina. Throughout this entire experiment, though, I had a hard time picturing Tom Hiddleston doing the same. Maybe I’m completely wrong and he would love this take as well, but that’s what all of this was about, which was really me making assumptions based on a handful of books and words found on the internet. And, if I only take those into consideration, I think his taste is more sophisticated than mine?
I will say that I’m terribly fond of his poetry recitations (you can find many online). I don’t know how much of a hand he had in picking which ones to perform, but aside from the two above, which I both love, he also made me appreciate Strawberries by Edwin Morgan and May I Feel by E. E. Cummings. There’s certainly more, but those were the first that came to mind.
Hence, my verdict remains that I would love to have a discussion about whichever book or text he currently reads or feels passionate about, but I don’t think I have the same intellectual capacities and talent for words. I need more easy-going reads on a day-to-day basis and am just not sure he would like them the way I do.