Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?
A few years before my dad died in 1978, he wrote a book called “Families: A Memoir and a Celebration.” It is about the family in Mississippi he was born into and the family he made with my mom. I read it every year. I was 10 when he died, and most of my memories of him come from that book. It’s like a letter from him. I can hear his voice in its pages. It makes me feel closer to him and one day my son, who is named after my dad, can read it and feel closer to him as well.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
That Neanderthals and humans were alive at the same time. Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens” was a revelation. I also read a new book that is just coming out called “Never Silent: ACT UP and My Life in Activism,” by my friend Peter Staley. I wrote the foreword. I learned so much about the heroic work he and other activists did to save lives in the worst years of the AIDS epidemic.
Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, except if it’s something someone has recommended to me, but when I find a great novel I love nothing more than just losing myself in it.
How do you organize your books?
My books are organized according to the personal connection I feel to them. The ones that are most important to me are in my library and are divided into categories: books I’ve read that I love; books written by family members or about my mom’s family; books that belonged to my mom, dad, brother or grandparents that have their names or notes in them; books about artists that I like or collect. In other rooms I have all the other books I’ve read over the years as well as books that belonged to my mom, dad and brother. We are probably talking about 3,000 or 4,000 books in all.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
I don’t know about surprised, but the book I am always delighted by is a copy of “Don Quixote” with illustrations by Salvador Dalí. It belonged to my mom and she wrote down the year she read it on the inside cover — 1949.
What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
A few years ago I was given a scrapbook my dad made when he was a child growing up in Quitman, Miss., during the Depression. It’s full of ticket stubs to the local theater and other mementos of his childhood.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
I had difficulty reading as a child. I think in third grade I started weekly visits to someone I was told was a “reading doctor.” Her name was Jeannette Jansky and it wasn’t until years later I realized I had a mild form of dyslexia and she was a well-respected expert on child learning disabilities. She made a huge difference in my life. She taught me to type without looking at the keys, and I started really enjoying reading. I had a book called “Handmade Houses” as a child that I was obsessed with. I still have it. It’s a photo book of all sorts of shacks and homes made by hippies in the forest — this was the early ’70s. As a kid, I was very concerned about how people made a living and so I tended to read biographies. I read one about Helen Keller that I loved. I also loved the Fonz and read a book when I was around 8 called “The Fonz: The Henry Winkler Story.” I actually keep it in my office at CNN. Henry Winkler was very important to me when I was a child. Meeting him as an adult — and discovering what a kind and gracious person he is — was amazing.