8 Non-Fiction Books Every Actor Needs to Read



Engage the Artistic Work


Contributed with intelligence by staff writer Russell Sperberg



Class work is vital for artists; however, supplementing that work with reading can be monumentally helpful in the development and focus of your craft


It’s important to be constantly learning. At TK Studio, we get questions all the time about what we should be reading. Here is a list of Terry Knickerbocker’s recommendations to get started on the wonderful world of non-fiction books every Meisner actor needs to help you get to work.


Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke

The cover of Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet", a book recommended by Terry Knickerbocker Studio

What starts as a response to fan mail turns into some of the best darn artistic advice you’ll ever get. Rilke’s responses to an aspiring poet are stupidly stunning and quite simply beautiful. What is the most important thing to have as an artist, according to Rilke? Patience. Take your time to live truthfully as an artist and a human being. Finding your own artistic voice takes time. You have to be patient and let it ripen.


The Prophet – Kahlil Gibran

The cover of Kahlil Gibran's book "The Prophet" recommended by Terry Knickerbocker.

This book has somehow only increased in popularity since it was published in 1923. And there’s a reason for that. The story follows Almustafa, a prophet talking with his fellow man about the human condition. The book handily divides its prose poems into all kinds of sections. Going through a bad breakup? Read the section on love. Tough time at the job? Look at the “Work” chapter. Come back to The Prophet again and again, whenever you need it in your life to help with challenges or inspiration, both personal and professional.


Zen and the Art of Archery – Eugen Herrigel

The cover of "Zen and the Art of Archery" by Eugen Herrigel, a book recommended by Terry Knickerbocker Studio

Millions of books have riffed on this title but few have replicated its insightful account of Zen Buddhism, a term this book popularized. Herrigel struggled studying Japanese archery for years before realizing he himself was his greatest obstacle. When he learned to clear his mind of effort (to aim by deliberately not aiming), his body knew what to do. This combination of technique and unconscious action is incredibly freeing and an especially important practice for actors. It’ll help you see the spiritual beauty in everything, including…motorcycle repair.


The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron

The cover of Julia Cameron's book "The Artist's Way" recommended by Terry Knickerbocker

The dozens of people sitting across from you on the subway holding this book can’t be wrong. Many have turned to Cameron’s book to overcome internal blocks and make creativity a habit. With Cameron’s guidance and tips, you gain self-confidence and learn skills to unleash your creative spirit. Most importantly, she tells you that you can’t find inspiration in yourself; just like in acting, you have to connect to something greater than yourself (God, nature, dealer’s choice, your partner). Learning to connect is the key to creativity. Sounds kind of like acting class right?


The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

The cover of Steven Pressfield's "War of Art" recommended reading from Terry Knickerbocker Studio

Pressfield doesn’t only riff on Sun-Tzu’s famous book’s style – he basically creates a “battle plan” for making art. With tactical precision, he outlines a plan for how to overcome resistance in any kind of project. The War of Art emphasizes persistence, courage, planning, and tough love. There’s no “greater being” to connect to here: just your wits and abilities. This is a straightforward book useful for everyone from artists and athletes, to businessmen and parents.


The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp

The cover of Twyla Tharp's book "The Creative Habit" recommended by Terry Knickerbocker.

Tharp has spent forty years bringing pop sensibilities to ballet. Her ballet Deuce Coupe, set to the music of the Beach Boys (??!!) was the first crossover ballet. Needless to say, she knows about innovation. In The Creative Habit, she provides practical exercises for changing the way you think about creativity. As you follow the steps and begin to open your mind to the possibilities, creativity is no longer a mysterious force – it’s an everyday habit.


Catching The Big Fish – David Lynch

The cover of David Lynch's book "Catching the Big Fish" recommended by Terry Knickerbocker

No, Lynch is not a master angler (or maybe he is – honestly, would you be surprised?) The titular fish are actually artistic ideas. According to Lynch, the key to diving deep and harnessing these ideas is Transcendental Meditation. Meditation unleashes the imagination and connects people with a greater consciousness. Not only will you get the rare behind-the-scenes tale from the crazy Eraserhead guy, you also get this invaluable piece of advice: You don’t have to torture yourself to make good art.


Bird By Bird – Anne Lamott

Cover art for Anne Lamott's book "Bird By Bird" recommended by Terry Knickerbocker.

Lamott’s “how-to” guide tries to demystify the act of writing. Where others (David Lynch, see above) may propose a meditative / quasi-mystical solution, Lamott says, “Screw that, do the work.” The joy of writing, or any art really, is not the parties or contracts. It’s the doing. Setting a schedule, solving problems, making something – that is the real work of the artist. Whatever comes after, Lamott argues, is incidental. Being an artist means being committed to the process itself.


Want to learn even more?


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