What Book Changed the Lives of Our '40 Under 40'?

When you ask our '40 Under 40' honorees what's worth reading, you get a substantial list.



The Advocate: What is the single most important must-read book of the last decade?

Justin Simien: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It created a profound shift in me that took me to a place of wanting and wishing for dreams for my life and then making them happen.

Calvin Stowell: For me, this is a personal answer, but I’m Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell of The Fabulous Beekman Boys. It was his memoir about his relationship with his ex, and for me, I read that as a “gayby.” I was 18 and not out of the closet yet. I read that book, and it was so transformative for me. I go back and try to read it once every couple years. It’s so personal, and it really helped me come to terms with so much stuff in my life.

Carmen Carrera: I’m more of a movie person. I like when a book goes to the movies… like John Carter… Oh my god, I love that movie. That movie is everything. I believe it’s true. I’m obsessed with aliens and extraterrestrials.

Erica Anderson: This Day in June by Gayle Pitman. It's a children's book about queer history and diversity. I love that it teaches tolerance and acceptance and makes pride something everyone can celebrate. The book also includes a reading guide for parents.

Bria & Chrissy: No Time To Say Goodbye: Surviving the suicide of a loved one

Will Shepherd: Life of Pi is my favorite novel.

RJ Aguiar: America (The Book), by Jon Stewart

Chris Mosier: With my schedule of training and work, I only get through four to five pages before I fall asleep. I couldn't tell you!

Lena Waithe: Diahann Carroll’s memoir, The Legs Are the Last to Go. I am a big fan of Diahann Carroll, and I actually got this book signed by her. Her story and her journey has been pretty amazing. She is a pioneer in the industry… a legendary actress, and her memoir is a must-read.

Cameron Esposito: The most important book of the decade? Good gravy! I'm reading something awesome right now. It's called, Men Explain Things to Me. I'm trying to figure out the author's name. It's an awesome book about gender politics. It's really short, you could get through it on a plane ride. It's going to make you very angry and very happy. It's like, rocking my world.

B. Scott: The most important must-read book of the last decade — and ever — for me, is the Bible. I know it might be shocking to some, but I was raised in faith. My faith is what has helped me become the person I am today.

Gregory Varnum: A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski (or Gay America: Struggle for Equality by Linas Alsenas for younger readers) — or really any quality LGBT history book. I think we must have respect for our history. I believe to be effective at this work, you need to at least try to understand what our movement has done, what worked, what did not work, why things happened the way they did, and what should be taken from that for the future. There is no need to reinvent the wheel or repeat our mistakes when there are so many new challenges to face and mistakes to make.

Janet Mock: 1937’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Masterpieces — like Zora Neale Hurston’s seminal work — have no time stamp. This novel had the audacity to center a woman of color’s quest for identity, self-revelation and love — and has served as my blueprint for living, creating and loving.

Jack Andraka: I really liked Peter Diamandis’s Abundance, because it’s filled with such optimism for the future and it really is uplifting. It looks at all the different technologies and brings them together in this one really amazing picture.

Kate Fagan: My favorite book that has changed the way I think was Several Short Sentences on Writing. 

Zack Ford: I would have to say Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. He's not the perfect atheist spokesperson, but he breaks down the irrationality of religion in a compelling way that was incredibly meaningful to understanding my own identity.

Heather Cronk: The Collected Works of Bayard Rustin. It was just really amazing to read his actual words.

Richard Carlbom: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I think it just really illustrates in a very effective way how hard work and persistence can ulitmately pay off.

JoCasta Zamarripa: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, about an immigrant family in New York City. It will bring you to tears. I related to it on so many different levels.

Gabriel Blau: This isn’t a fair question. Reading is an essential activity for me and no one book is most important. I loved Giovanni’s Room and The Front Runner. So when I picked up Two Boys Kissing a few years ago I was incredibly moved by the change in our narrative, the hopefulness and ease that we can now imagine if not all experience.