Jorge Luis Borges said, that he was all the writers he’d ever read.
I agree. I’m all the writers I’ve ever read, too. But I’m also all the plays I’ve ever watched, all the music I’ve ever listened to, and all the films I’ve ever bawled over.
I am, in the end, all the art I’ve ever known.
But the nature of life, is that some things change you, more than other things.
That in mind, here are the works, and the people, that have changed me most.
Let’s start with the works, shall we?
Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius (Gregory Hays Translation)
This book was my introduction to Stoicism, and it’s the work I recommend to the people I love most. I credit most of my life philosophy to the Meditations, and I’ll be reading this as early as possible to my future children. Among other things, this book gave me a healthy relationship with death, a solid perspective on life, and it’s proof that absolute power doesn’t always corrupt absolutely. Not to gloss over Rome’s problems at the time, but if he’d been my emperor? I would’ve been a happy camper. Extra thanks: Marcus was my gateway to Seneca, and Musonius Rufus.
Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo (Fahnestock and MacAfee Translation)
For all its greatness, not even Stoic philosophy managed to make me care about my fellows, the way this book did. Sure, I understood cosmopolitanism, and being a citizen of the world, but it was all intellectual knowledge, until I got to know Enjolras. Sure, I love Jean Valjean, but the leader of Les Amis de l’ABC will always hold my heart. Special mention to Grantaire: his cynical quips were the opposite of Enjolras’s fervor, but they made me think like you wouldn’t believe. The 50+ index cards I used, hand-writing lines from this book? They were well worth it.
Deathless, by Catherynne Valente
Oh, this book. If you ask me for a non-classic work, this is most likely the one I’ll recommend. The language is beautiful, so it’s a joy to read, but the ideas in Deathless are worth every ounce of attention you can pay. The plot also demands that you think, as it’s complex. But I promise you: when it all clicks? When the characters and the plot and the language come together? That moment is indescribable. Bonus points: Deathless was what got me interested in Russian literature. Oh, Koschei. You fascinating devil, you!
Sea Wall, by Simon Stephens
This is a monologue of astounding beauty. 34 minutes of pure art. Considering how hard it is to hold anyone’s attention these days, Sea Wall is a powerhouse when it comes to keeping you riveted. And yes, all you see is a single man, relating a single story, but I dare you to care about anything else while it’s happening. This is the work that cemented my eternal love for Andrew Scott. His masterful acting, plus Simon Stephens’s work? You’d be hard-pressed to find a better match.
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
When I say I adore Hamlet, I mean that I adore one specific staging of it. Specifically, the Almeida Theatre performance, with Andrew Scott in the title role. Honestly, I never much liked Shakespeare until this version of his work came out. Sure, I liked the Donmar’s Coriolanus staging, and I’d read Julius Caesar, and the Henry IV-V-VI triad, but I never truly appreciated the Bard, until Andrew Scott played the Prince of Denmark. This version of Hamlet is thoroughly modern, amazingly acted, and it does great justice to Shakespeare’s play.
And now, after the works, the people.
Andrew Scott (Actor)
If I had to name the one actor I’ve learned from most, it’s Andrew Scott. That’s probably evident, judging by the fact that two of the five works I love most involve him. When you see Andrew do anything, you always get the sense that he’s leaving everything on the line, in that moment. That besides, his skill level is amazing. Have you seen the control this man has, over his face? It’s shocking how much he can express, and with such fine timing, and nuance, too. His performance as Jim Moriarty, in BBC’s Sherlock? Well. Consider the fact that I’ve always adored Sherlock Holmes, and yet in the BBC series, I was desperate for Jim to win instead.
Ramin Karimloo (Musician, Actor)
I’ve lost count of the hours I’ve spent listening to this man. It’s come to the point where I’ll always choose his take on a song, if I have to pick between two versions. His voice is unrivaled in its versatility, and expressiveness. It can carry longing, show you power, speak to you of love—whatever’s most needed in the moment. If you’re asking me, his take on Phantom of the Opera is one for the ages. Don’t even get me started on his versions of Enjolras, and Jean Valjean. By now, I no longer care what he sings. I’ll listen to anything, so long as he’s the one singing.
Ryan Holiday (Writer)
I have a simple heuristic these days. If Ryan Holiday puts out a book, I’m buying it. He could write about building desk chairs, and I’d still read it. As with the Meditations, many of my principles in life come from ideas he’s espoused. And when you consider the sheer breadth of the topics he’s tackled, it becomes starkly evident—this man’s mind is teeming with ideas of worth. I’ve read his books on Stoicism, marketing, ego, the media, creating art, and guess what? I’ve loved every one of them deeply. Plus, this man’s taste in books? Top-of-the-line.
Simon Sinek (Optimist)
God, who doesn’t know Simon Sinek? If you’re in that unfortunate group, you’ve missed out. I promise you—knowing his work will change your life. It certainly changed mine. Because of Simon, I figured out my life’s core direction. Because of Simon, I relate better to others, than I ever have before. And his ideas on leadership, business, art, and work? 20 out of 10. Also—if you’re wondering why I marked him as an optimist, it’s because he prefers to be called first by that epithet. When you read his work, and hear him speak, though? You’ll find that he’s one optimist with sharp-as-hell skills. Our little planet? It’s better because he’s on it.
Gary Vaynerchuk (Entrepreneur)
I’m damn lucky I managed to walk the Earth at the same time as this man. Some have called him crass, or harsh, but he’s brilliant. Straight-talking, hard-working, and always well-intentioned, Gary’s one of the reasons I found the courage to work in the arts. His emphasis on self-awareness, hard work, and patience? I’ve carried those lessons with me all these years. You want an idea of his work ethic? Jesus. I’m in my twenties, he’s twice as old as me, and yet I still feel like he outworks me thrice over. However you encounter him, just listen to what he says. It works.