By Richie Bowman
We are back! A while ago, I wrote an article where I discussed reading some celebrities’ favorite books, just to see what I thought of them. It went relatively well, so I’m back with another five famous folks who have publicly said their favorite books.
The requirements for picking these books are the same as last time: 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 (last article I revealed that Crime and Punishment was the book I saw most often; the second most popular book, if you were curious, is Malcolm X’s autobiography.) 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 SIX: ANYA TAYLOR-JOY (THE INTERESTINGS, MEG WOLITZER)
WHY I PICKED THIS: I’ve actually owned The Interestings for almost a decade, but have never read it. I love Taylor-Joy in The Witch, Thoroughbreds, and The Northman; she always picks fascinating characters, so I hoped this book would be the same level of… well, interesting.
WHAT IS THIS BOOK: The book follows a group of six friends who meet at an arts summer camp at age 16, mainly focusing on the awkward and “less interesting” Jules Jacobson. We then flash forward to them as adults, to see how their lives have changed and how interesting they remain.
MY REACTION: I can’t believe I’m saying this: I hated this book. Oh, my Lord, it was such a slog! 500 pages of a full grown adult complaining about how all her middle school friends are more interesting than her. I hated, hated, hated the treatment of the one queer character. I hated the way the women were portrayed. I don’t mind a woman who’s terrible– I just mind a woman who waffles. Indecision is a pretty common thing, but to be so indecisive that you’re frozen in place makes for one of the dullest protagonists I’ve sat with. I was absolutely baffled as to why any of these people continued to hang out with each other for 40 years– I couldn’t handle them for the week it took me to read this book! Maybe I’m the wrong demographic for this one. I’m still watching Taylor-Joy’s movies, but I couldn’t recommend The Interestings in good conscience. I don’t know if I’ll be looking further into Wolitzer’s backlog.
BOOK SEVEN:TARANA BURKE (THE COLOR PURPLE, ALICE WALKER)
WHY I PICKED THIS: I am deeply embarrassed that I’ve never actually read Color Purple; I’ve seen the movie and the musical, and my best friend in 8th grade described the plot to me in detail when she read it back then. Beyond that, I’m lost. I love Tarana Burke’s own memoir, so this one was a no-brainer.
WHAT IS THIS BOOK: An epistolary novel (that means it’s all letters/diary entries) following Celie, who starts the book as a 14-year-old girl with a dangerous home life. As she moves from an abusive father to an abusive husband, we watch her grow, change, and gain a self-confidence she never knew how to display.
MY REACTION: Am I doing anything at all by telling people to read this book? I’m probably the last person on earth to read it at this point, so it seems moot to recommend. But I persevere! Read The Color Purple! What a fantastic story, told in such a brilliant way by Walker. I loved the relationship between Shug and Celie, I loved following Celie’s inner monologue. There was so much more to this than I ever expected, and I’m already planning for my next reread.
BOOK EIGHT: EMILY RATAJKOWSKI (HOW TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL, ALEXANDER CHEE)
WHY I PICKED THIS: I adored Chee’s first novel Edinburgh, which is the novel referenced in the title of this essay collection. Additionally, Ratajkowski’s own My Body was a fantastic read, especially given that she didn’t make her name in the writing scene. As one of the world’s most famous models, she really showed her multifaceted talent through her memoir. It made sense that she’d be inspired by a great writer like Chee, so I wanted to check it out for myself!
WHAT IS THIS BOOK: Not quite what it says on the tin, Autobiographical Novel is a collection of essays following Chee’s life as he works to become a published author, showing his work life as well as his personal growth throughout the years that led him to writing Edinburgh.
MY REACTION: The only reason I put this book down is because I didn’t want it to end. This is another book that lines up with what I know about the celebrity– I was genuinely shocked by how good My Body was. Now, it’s clear that she’s done her research on the writing world. I would recommend this book to any aspiring writer, but also anyone who wants a funny, compelling portrait of a man growing up and trying to accomplish his dreams.
BOOK NINE: RUPAUL (ANIMAL FARM, GEORGE ORWELL)
WHY I PICKED THIS: I haven’t watched Drag Race since All-Stars 3, and I haven’t read Animal Farm since middle school, so I thought this would give me a nice chance to play catch-up on both. Frankly, I find it completely off the wall to host a very popular reality competition show for 15 years and then say that Orwell wrote your favorite book. Big Mother is watching you, I suppose.
WHAT IS THIS BOOK: An allegory for the rise of Stalin in 1917, Animal Farm follows a group of animals on a farm who strive to make a better life for themselves and to overthrow the farmers keeping the animals under their thumb.
MY REACTION: Yeah, I still don’t get why RuPaul loves this one in particular. It holds up, and I think on this reread I found that I like Animal Farm more than 1984. This is my only reread of the five, so I think that probably adds to how underwhelming it was. It’s Animal Farm. It’s a cogent discussion of early fascism and I think it’s important to read, but I honestly felt the same way in middle school the first time I read it, so I learned the least from this reading experience.
BOOK TEN: LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA (FLEABAG, PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE)
WHY I PICKED THIS: I loved the TV show version of Fleabag. Additionally, one time when I was a teenager LMM tweeted me and I cried, so this seemed like a reasonable one to add. I wish it was deeper than that, but they can’t all be winners!
WHAT IS THIS BOOK: This script was originally produced as a one woman show at the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Written by and starring Waller-Bridge, the show is a monologue from the character Fleabag. Fleabag is a messy woman coming to terms with her involvement in her best friend’s untimely death, while struggling to keep their guinea pig-themed cafe open.
MY REACTION: Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing is stunningly good. I adored the pacing, the dark comedy. I loved that it made me laugh in one breath and sob in the next. Every detail is perfectly in place, and it differs largely from the TV show, so I was thrilled to find new content and characters. I’d recommend anyone read this! Watch the production (I think it’s streaming somewhere!) Watch the TV show! Physically, I am writing this article, but mentally I am throwing roses at Waller-Bridge’s feet. It’s no surprise at all that someone who loves theater (and knows as much about theater) as Miranda would enjoy a genuinely well-done play like this.
I think it’s pretty abundantly obvious which was my least favorite here (sorry to Meg Wolitzer,) but I have to say that Fleabag shone above the others to be my favorite of the five. This go around was significantly more fun than the last time, as there were fewer rereads and more celebrities I didn’t understand in here. Mostly I’m worried if I ever meet any of these celebrities the only thing I’ll be able to ask is “why this book?” But regardless, I always recommend making your TBR out of other people’s favorite books! It’s an easy and fun way to broaden your horizons while still feeling (relatively) confident you’re taking some good advice. We’ll see you in the next five, and happy reading! (Also, if you’d like some reading recs from me personally, I’d recommend my own article Top 10 Sapphic Picks You Probably Haven’t Read)
“Remarkable . . . With this book [Wolitzer] has surpassed herself.”—The New York Times Book Review
Read the original inspiration for the new, boldly reimagined film from producers Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, starring Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, and Fantasia Barrino.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award
Named a Best Book of 2018 by New York Magazine, the Washington Post, Publisher's Weekly, NPR, and Time, among many others, this essay collection from the author of The Queen of the Night explores how we form identities in life and in art.
75th Anniversary Edition—Includes a New Introduction by Téa Obreht
George Orwell's timeless and timely allegorical novel—a scathing satire on a downtrodden society’s blind march towards totalitarianism.
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Adapted into the Hit TV Series, Winner of Six 2019 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series