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Mary-Louise Parker's 6 favorite contemporary books

The award-winning actress recommends works by Leslie Jamison, Mark Strand, and more

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (Graywolf, $16). Reading Jamison's remarkable book is like opening the private journal of a woman who's able to reproduce on the page the hilarious, brilliant inner monologues that run through her head in a slew of situations. In these fully original essays, many about personal experiences, she pulls apart the concept of empathy while weaving in philosophy, politics, and reality television.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs (Scribner, $16). Hobbs thoughtfully brings to life his college roommate — a genius who deservedly landed at Yale despite all odds, but was unable to use that education as a path away from the poverty and violence he grew up with.

Collected Poems by Mark Strand (Knopf, $30). This book gathers the work of a Pulitzer Prize winner and former poet laureate who wrote the gorgeous poems "Blizzard of One" and "Reasons for Moving." Strand, who died in 2014, was peerless in his ability to lay himself bare. He was a giant.

The Art of the Memoir by Mary Karr (Harper, $25). In her latest book, the author of The Liars' Club proves that the truth is infinitely sexier and more gripping than anything we could invent. You'll cackle out loud reading this book and get the best required-memoir-reading list ever compiled. If you ever want to tell your story, this book may be the only tool you'll need other than Kleenex and an arsenal of apologies.

Book of Hours by Kevin Young (Knopf, $17). Young's collection is worthy of the kind of praise heaped upon the classic poets, but don't let that keep you away if you don't normally gravitate toward poetry. These glorious verses put me in some kind of trance.

Body of Water by Susan Bruce (Finishing Line, $14.50). Bruce, a former New York actress, set out to learn to surf and wrote a beautiful book of poetry along the way. She crawls out onto the waves, literal and otherwise, in this soulful, often funny book, and delivers the thrill of being flogged by the water as well as the penitence you feel as you tumble under, only to find yourself flying up again.

—Mary-Louise Parker, the Tony- and Emmy-winning actress, has just published her first book. Dear Mr. You is part memoir, part meditation on the masculine — ​a collection of letters addressed to various men she's known and sometimes loved.

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