Bette Midler Is Still in the Thrall of 19th-Century Novelists

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Of all the characters you’ve played across different media, which role felt to you the richest — the most novelistic?

I have played several characters who began their lives as characters in actual novels, but I guess I’d have to go with C. C. Bloom, in “Beaches.” I know it’s sentimental, and yet the span of years, the highs and lows, this relationship, the brilliant performances of Mayim Bialik and Barbara Hershey — you can’t deny it certainly struck a chord.

What character from literature would you most like to play?

Any woman of a certain age in anything by Shakespeare, Dickens, Congreve, Dryden or Sheridan.

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What’s the last book you read that made you laugh?

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” The scene in church, where a woman gets the spirit and rushes the pastor, is one of the funniest things I have ever read.

What’s the last book that made you cry?

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

What subject do you wish more authors would write about?

Race and Reconstruction. The villainy of the impeached Andrew Johnson should be common knowledge, but it is not. Our children should be made aware that we are still living with the consequences of Reconstruction. I’m 75, and it was news to me.

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

I speed read memoirs, diaries and biographies. James Beard’s memoir, “Delights and Prejudices,” Alex Haley’s “Malcolm X” made a huge impression on me, Andre Agassi’s memoir was fantastic. “Chronicles,” by the greatest actor of them all, Bob Dylan, is stunning, Keith Richards’s “Life”? I went out the next day and bought a guitar. “M Train,” by Patti Smith, Levon Helm’s “This Wheel’s on Fire” is great, both Aretha books by David Ritz, Rosanne Cash’s book “Bodies of Water,” Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber’s autobiography, “Hound Dog.” The Duc de Saint Simon, three volumes at the court of Louis XIV, is superb. I recently received a copy of the unedited diaries of Chips Channon, YIKES. Still, my favorite is Quincy Troupe’s book with Miles Davis, “Miles: The Autobiography.” And I’m going on record to say I LOVED Mariah Carey’s autobiography, “The Meaning of Mariah.” She sent it to me with a box of Kleenex. I never, ever read horror.

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