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Juliette Lewis Shares Her Favorite Book

You know Juliette Lewis as a movie actress and a musician, who released her first album, …Like a Bolt of Lightening, in 2004 with then-band the Licks. Recently, Lewis has changed gears, forming a new band called the New Romantiques, hiring a new producer in the form of the Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, and forging a new, more explorative sound on her fourth record, Terra Incognita.

For her selection in our ongoing series featuring rockers talking about their favorite literary works, Lewis is touting the influential book Letters to a Young Poet, a terse collection of letters poet Rainer Maria Rilke sent to a student in 1903 and 1904. Here she explains how the book helped her understand the creative process and how she hopes it will come to the aid of other creative minds.

How did you come across this book?
A friend gave it to me. The funny thing about book is that they’re like old archives that you can pass on. The papers get worn and loved. So Letters to a Young Poet, this painter gave to me. He’s this young artist with a beautiful spirit who lives in Los Angeles. I got it one year ago on my birthday.

What attracts you to the book?
There’s something about the correspondence Rilke had with a student. The student is asking questions about writing and exploring how to deal with problems in writing. The language of the letters is so poetic and so profound that it’s almost philosophical. It tells you a lot about the creative process and living more artfully. But it’s not highbrow or pretentious. It’s very human. I’ve only read it once, but as an artist you pick up things that you keep with you as your reference points and your Bibles almost. It’s comforting that they are there, whether you read them again or not.

Is there anything specific that has impacted you as an artist?
The understanding the writer has about the feelings of alienation you have when you’re creating. Creating, whether it’s songwriting or painting or building something, there can be this solitary feeling. The book has moments where he just snaps you into the here and now and motivates you to keep going. Sometimes when you’re creating you stop before something is completely realized because you’re judging yourself too much and doubting yourself. He forces you to break through that and stay true to your original intention. He teaches you to value and trust your instincts.

Did that help you while you were making your new album?
Oh yeah. It was so helpful. I was looking to get in a space where I was uncomfortable and trying new things. That’s why the record is called Terra Incognita, which literally means “unknown territory.” My old band was based on rock riffs and I was just craving new sounds. And how I wrote songs was different. I allowed myself to not have a genre. I just explored the songs.

Do you find that books and movies and art influence how your music turns out?
Definitely. Everything is inspiration. It was so fun working with Omar because he uses characters in movies to write songs. I’m a little different. I work more with visions. Omar played this riff and this whole story came out about a bull and my relationship to this bull and the forest and it became the cover of my record.

So rather than a book inspiring a song, you use music to create literature.
That’s exactly it. This whole story came out of one guitar riff and just grew and expanded. But I also reference things I’ve read, like The Little Prince.

To whom would you recommend Letters to a Young Poet?
I’m not well read or intellectual. I recommend it to other freaks of nature like myself who like to be moved and want to see a story unfold. It’s food for thought and for life. Books are such a fun medium and you don’t have to be an intellectual to enjoy them. It’s about your imagination blending with that of the writer. I bring a dictionary with me to make sure I understand what I’m reading. A little pocket Webster’s. I hope that encourages people who might not otherwise read.

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