By Richie Bowman
Before starting my career as a bookseller, I worked as an actor for 15 years. Because of this, growing up, I was obsessed with celebrities. I wanted to know the movies they watched, the books they read, the food they ate; it was all in a quest to become like them, to further my career by latching onto the smartest people I knew of as a teen. Now, as an adult, I can finally pass by a gossip rag without feeling the familiar twitch in my fingers. But coming up with article ideas isn’t always easy! So, a decade clean of my celebrity obsession, I decided to dive right back in and read five celebrities' favorite books. Just to see what they’re up to these days!
Now, the requirements for picking these books were pretty simple: I had to find an actual quote from a celebrity talking about the books in question. I can only talk about one book per celebrity, and only one celebrity per book (you would actually not believe how many celebrities say that Crime and Punishment is their favorite book!) The celebrites, despite my personal taste, can’t all be actors (there’s still a lot of actors.) And, finally, I actually had to sit down and read (or reread) the books– no Cliff’s Notes, no vague memories from a high school English class. We’re working in cold hard fact here, folks. Sort of.
Without further ado, here’s what the past month of my life has looked like as I read the favorite books of five different celebrities.
BOOK ONE: PETE BUTTIGIEG (THE ODYSSEY, HOMER)
WHY I PICKED THIS: Honestly, this name is just a wild way to start this list. The secretary of transportation has quoted many different books on his favorites list, but I was fascinated to see The Odyssey among the bunch. I read a condensed version of the Odyssey in my freshman year of high school, and I remember enjoying it, but I’d never sat down to bust out the entire epic. So off I went to my local library to pick up a copy and see what I’d been missing all these years. I think the only thing that Buttigieg and I have in common is that we’re gay, but maybe that’ll be enough for us to share a reading taste?
WHAT IS THIS BOOK: We follow Odysseus, king of Ithaca, on his decade-long journey to return home after the Trojan war. In a simultaneous storyline, we follow his wife Penelope as she attempts to stave off a second marriage and waits for her husband to return to her.
MY REACTION: You know what? Pete’s correct. This book is still fantastic, and even more so as an adult (special thanks to my fully-formed frontal lobe.) One of the things that’s really striking about The Odyssey is how undeniably funny it is, even when dealing with dark materials. In between his desperation to get home, we get so many glimpses into Odysseus’ sense of humor that lighten the load of the epic. I think it’s interesting that Buttigieg would say this is his favorite book– I wish I could sit him down and ask, specifically, why this one rose to the top. But the older I get, the more I enjoy it, and I think it’s one that people should give another shot.
BOOK TWO: QUESTLOVE (SILVER SCREEN FIEND, PATTON OSWALT)
WHY I PICKED THIS: I will confess: I already loved this book. In the middle of my “film buff” phase in my early 20s, I kept a handwritten list of all the movies Oswalt mentions, just so I could have ideas. Why did I handwrite it when he has a typed list at the back of the very book I love? I honestly couldn’t tell you. Overall, the big reasoning behind this pick is that I’ve never heard anybody else talk about Silver Screen Fiend, and I was excited to reread it, especially since I’m halfway through Questlove’s own book Music is History. This was probably the book I was most excited for on the list, and I’m hoping it lives up to my memory!
WHAT IS THIS BOOK: Oswalt’s memoir is not as much about his career as it is his love of movies, and how it nearly destroyed him. It follows the years in his life where he constantly turned down business opportunities, relationships, and basic self-care so he could continue watching movies at his favorite theater. Much darker than you’d expect, it’s a memoir about finding your identity outside of your obsessions.
MY REACTION: Unsurprisingly, this book is still a favorite of mine. It’s darkly funny and surprisingly vulnerable, and I’d recommend it to any Oswalt fan. I’d also, maybe more pertinently, recommend it to any movie fans who want to learn more about film. The one gripe I have is that, throughout all the brilliance, you don’t get a lot about Oswalt’s life outside of the theater. Obviously that’s the point, but if you’re looking to hear about what it was like voicing Remy in Ratatouille, this isn’t the place to go. Regardless, I was left with one question: why is this Questlove’s favorite? Do you think he’s a film buff? I wouldn’t doubt it, but I’d love to pick his brain.
BOOK THREE: KAZUO ISHIGURO (RIGHT HO, JEEVES!, PG WODEHOUSE)
WHY I PICKED THIS: Growing up, my uncle was absolutely obsessed with PG Wodehouse. I’ve read a few titles in the Jeeves series as a child, but never this one! Since Never Let Me Go and Klara and the Sun are two of my favorite books, I wanted to see what their author was into.
WHAT IS THIS BOOK: The second book in the Jeeves series, it follows Bertie’s insecurity that his friends (namely the awkward Gussie) think Jeeves is the smarter of the pair. He attempts to take on the role of mentor, and gets his comeuppance as his plans fall apart around him.
MY REACTION: I had an okay time with this one, to be honest. It didn’t surprise me in the slightest that Ishiguro would enjoy it– it has the same dry and funny tone that so many of his own characters display. A lot of people find that Ishiguro is weaker on plot, but I find that his set-ups are absolutely off the wall, and I was hoping to see more glimpses of that in this book. Instead, it’s a relatively straightforward novel that’s a great beach read, but I don’t know that I’m running to buy a copy. I’ll still keep reading Ishiguro, though.
BOOK FOUR: JEANETTE MCCURDY (A FEMININE ENDING, SARAH TREEM)
WHY I PICKED THIS: Finally, I found a play! I’m much more comfortable reading these than I am reading classics. I love Sarah Treem already (back in my theater days, I took part in a reading of Mirror, Mirror,) I grew up watching McCurdy on iCarly, and McCurdy’s memoir is a stellar piece of writing, so obviously I wanted to see the inspiration she draws from for her work.
WHAT IS THIS BOOK: The play follows Amanda, a 25yo composer who has put her successful music career on hold in order to write jingles to support her boyfriend. When she goes back to her hometown, she meets up with a former boyfriend and they share a night reminiscing.
MY REACTION: I love this play. Oh, my Lord, I love this play. The dialogue is a bit elevated for normal conversation, but it adds a dreamy essence to the whole work, which feels so true to heading back to your hometown. It’s a quiet little drama, but if these are the kinds of plays McCurdy likes to read, I cannot wait to see what she does if she ventures further into playwriting. It was a quick read that packed a punch, and I’m so glad I got to read it off of her recommendation!
BOOK FIVE: WILL SMITH (THE ALCHEMIST, PAULO COEHLO)
WHY I PICKED THIS: Not only is this Will Smith’s favorite book, it’s also one of my good friend’s favorite books, and I’ve been telling him I’d read it for months now. Killing two birds with one stone is a rarity on my TBR, so I wanted to get this done immediately.
WHAT IS THIS BOOK: After young shepherd Santiago dreams of finding treasure, he sets off on a quest to find its location, finding himself along the way.
MY REACTION: I don’t know that I’d even call this a novel, and I mean that as the highest compliment. It feels more like a parable or fable with its messaging at the forefront and the rest of the set dressing just enveloping you in the journey. I was never bored, I was often tearing up, and I’m so glad I could finally knock this one off of my list. This makes sense as a book Will Smith would like– with all he talks about identity in his interviews and his own memoir, this fit right in with my picture of him.
And there we have it! This was honestly a really positive experience. Of the five I read this month, Silver Screen Fiend stayed at the top of my favorites list. I think my least favorite was Right Ho, Jeeves!, although none of the titles I read were bad. If nothing else, I’d highly recommend building a TBR off of other folks’ recs– it broadened my scope and let me try some titles I wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise. Additionally, it let me reread some books I shouldn’t have overlooked in the first place. I hope you found something interesting, and next time you can’t figure out what to read, maybe google your favorite celebrity and see what they think!