Bette Midler : The actor, whose latest children book is ''The Tale of the Mandarin Duck,'' is still in the thrall of the 19th century and early 20th centuries. I love Dickens and Twain above all.''

.- What books are on your night stand?

A better question is ''What's NOT on your night stand?'' There are things that I've been hoarding, things I don't have the courage to tackle just yet, gifts, books I buy on impulse, and P.G. Wodehouse, a perennial.

One year, my family gave me the entire Penguin Classics library and some of its rough sledding, like  ''Gargantua and Pantagruel.''

Politics, race, acting, history, religion, arts and the environment, detective stories, whatever the new fiction is, plus poor old Auden and Walt Whitman, who have been patiently standing by for years.

.- What's the last great book you read?

I recently reread ''I know Why the Caged Bird Sings'' Hands down, one of the greatest I've ever read. Yesterday I finished ''The Paradise Gone By,'' by Kevin Brownlow, and it finally fell apart; it's about the silent movie era. I bought it in the '70s, and finally got around to reading it. Unforgettable.

.- Describe your ideal reading experience.

Hanging over the side of the bed with the book on the floor and a box of Ritz crackers nearby.

.- What's your favorite book no one else has heard of?

''Southern California : An Island on the Land,'' by Carey McWilliams. A history of how Los Angeles was marketed to the unsuspecting in the Midwest, and the various scandals and horrors the local scalawags visited upon them when they arrived, as well as crimes against minorities and the land. Published in 1946.

.- What book should everybody read before the age of 21?

W.E.B. Du Bois's ''The Souls of Black Folk,'' '' Personal Finance for Dummies'' and Jane Jcobs's ''The Death and Life of Great American cities.''

.- Which writers - novelists, play wrights, critics, journalists, poets.- working today do you admire most?

I'm embarrassed to say that I am still in the thrall of the 19th and early 20th centuries. I love Dickens and Twain above all, but there are a lot of writers working today that I admire:

Michael Lewis, Jonathan Franzen, Michael Chabon, Michael Lewis, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hilary Spurling, Matt Taibbi, bell hooks, Michael Lewis, Naomi Wolf, Eleanor Cotton, Bryan Stevenson, chael lewis? And she is not working today, but the extraordinary Nora Ephron meant the world to me.

.- Who are your favorite actor-writers? Your favorite Hollywood memoir?

I devour oral histories on movies and music : Peter Bogdanovich's ''Who the Devil Made It'' ; ''People Will Talk,'' by John Kobal; '' She Always Knew How,'' Charlotte Chandler oral history of Mae West. Frank Capra, Preston Sturges, Ben Hecht, Gloria Swanson.

Marlene Dietrich, by her daughter, Maria Riva. Joan Crawford's book on entertaining is hilarious. Tina Fey's book is killer. Tiffany Haddish's book, a must read, and I loved Amy Poehler's.

Candy Bergen, Sally Fields,Eve Baitzand, of course, Joan Didion have allwritten brilliantly about their Hollywood lives. R.J. Wagner's memoir on Hollywood, surprisingly very moving. I cried.

.- 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.

.- 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.

.- What book people might be surprised to find on your shelves?

'' The Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide.'' And the Bible.

.- What's the best book you've ever received as a gift?

A first edition of ''Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.''

.- What kind of reader were you as a child? Which books stick with you most?

My mother taught me to read when I was 4, and I became a compulsive reader. My parents left us kids in the Honolulu public library every Saturday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. while they did their shopping. I wandered all over.

I read Grimm's, Hans Hans Christian Andersen, the Betsy-Tacy and Tib books, '' Freddy the Pig,'' '' The Borrowers,'' '' The Boxcar Children,'' '' The Secret Garden''. [ very important ], a lot of boys' adventure and magazines.

Especially Life! It showed me the world. When I was 12, I read ''The Last of the Just'' and I never got over it.

.- You're organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Charles Dickens, Fran Lebowitz and Vladimir Nabokov.


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