What's Your Favorite Character Reading?
Rory Gilmore has a glorious Dave Eggers poster on her dorm room wall
If you ask me, one of the quickest ways to learn more about another human being is to ask what they’re reading. I guess I have a larger theory that our reading habits can actually kinda reveal our whole personalities. Books are a lens through which we discover more about the world around us, so asking someone about their favorite genre or how they organize their bookshelves can end up telling you quite a lot. (Alphabetical is the way to go, y’all — just my two cents!)
If you’re a writer, determining your characters’ favorite books can be an easy way to flesh out their personalities. For everyone else, turning to your favorite characters’ libraries can be a fun way to add some new books to your TBR.
Gilmore Girls and Dave Eggers. Is Rory Gilmore the patron saint of millennial book nerds? We certainly learn a lot about her reading habits over the course of seven seasons. (Here’s a spectacular 500+ title list if you feel led to participate in something called “The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge.”) To date my absolute favorite revelation has to be the Dave Eggers poster on the wall in Rory’s college dorm room. Y’all. I have so many questions about this thing. Why “David” and not Dave? Where are the man’s shoes? Why is his first name in one font and his last name in another? Was this poster designed expressly for the show, or was he at some point signing these alongside copies of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius in the aughts? Can I buy one?
Memento and the act of rereading. Memento is probably my second-favorite Christopher Nolan movie after The Dark Knight, and that’s primarily due to its structure — the narrative unfolds in a fragmented and reversed chronology that reflects the perspective of its protagonist, a man who suffers from anterograde amnesia. There’s a flashback scene in Memento where Leonard gets into a bit of an argument with his wife, who’s rereading one of her favorite books.
(The front and back covers are ripped off, but a little internet research reveals the book is Robert Graves’ Claudius the God and His Wife Messalina.) Leonard feels that enjoyment of a story comes from wanting to know what happens next. I’ve always loved the irony of this exchange, because it serves as a commentary on the viewing experience of Memento itself. Given the reversed structure, we begin knowing all along how the narrative concludes. But Memento proves that the pleasure of a truly good story isn’t purely its mystery. It’s in the art of the telling.
Me Without You and the unlikely bedtime story. Sandra Goldbacher’s films are criminally underrated and this one is my favorite — an incredibly nuanced depiction of female friendship. (Melanie Laurent’s Respire and Yoon Ga-eun’s The World of Us are two more films I love in this vein.) One of my favorite parts of the whole movie is the scene where Marina’s brother, Nat, curls up in bed with Holly to read her a bedtime story. The title of choice is, hilariously, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I come back to this film over and over because the relationships feel so real and lived-in, and I think it comes down to moments like this. You can almost see a lifelong inside joke solidifying in real time; the whole scene feels so cozy and genuine. Great stuff.
The Drowned Woman and moments of quiet. I am a BIG fan ofand the way she explores her characters’ interiority. One of my favorite scenes in The Drowned Woman follows our protagonist, Jeanette, over the course of a quiet afternoon whiled away at the library, where she listens to audiobooks and soundtracks on the headphones meant for music majors, drinks the free coffee, and people-watches. I love how Stewart explores the ways we passed time in the pre-smartphone era (and interviewed her about it here!). Jeanette happily cultivates a small collection of books in her new home — everything from The Diary of Frida Kahlo to Moby Dick. We learn just as much about her through her solitary activities as we do her interactions with other characters. It’s a really thoughtful and nuanced character portrait that’s lingered with me ever since I read it.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the teachers who shape us. I hope to write a longer piece someday about how much this book has meant to me. I love Perks for a million reasons, but one is that I’m a big ol’ sucker for the passionate humanities teacher trope (think Dead Poets Society and Speak). Charlie’s English teacher, played in the film adaptation by Paul Rudd, identifies Charlie’s love of literature early on and starts giving him extra books to read, such as A Separate Peace and Naked Lunch. (Full list can be found here — a lot of banned books, you might note! This guy rocks but might get fired in today’s world, which is a sobering thought on reread.) I think if we’re lucky, these kinds of characters reflect our own mentors back to us. I’ve been grateful over the years to have had a few teachers who encouraged me on my path to writing, and books like Perks offer a feeling like reunion.
10 Things I Hate About You and Sylvia Plath. It’s interesting how reading Sylvia Plath has become a cultural shorthand for a certain kind of personality. Sometimes this characterization can come off a little lazy in the wrong hands — liking sad lady poets is not any girl’s only personality trait — but Julia Stiles’ character in this pitch-perfect ‘90s teen rom-com is far from a caricature. The moment we see her reading The Bell Jar bookends flawlessly with the confessional poem she reads in class at the end of the movie. I think this YouTube comment nails why the scene works so well:
Kat was always a favorite character of mine, and it’s a real bummer Stiles never got to move forward with her own Bell Jar adaptation despite the years she spent trying to get it funded. (Please someone tell me WHEN we are going to get the Plath adaptation we deserve?!)
Big news: I am VERY excited to share that I’ll be writing about The Killers’ iconic bop “Mr. Brightside” in the 2024 March Danceness tournament! If you’re not familiar, March Xness is a yearly essay competition in which 64 writers pen essays about a song of their choice and the internet gets to vote for their favorites. If you’d like to play along, I’ll give y’all a heads-up in March when it’s time to vote. (You can also subscribe tofor updates!)
More reading recs! The contributors for the Autofocus anthology How to Write a Novel: An Anthology of 20 Essays About Writing, None of Which Ever Mention Writing put together a list of books that influenced us as writers. (Mine is Haruki Murakami’s Novelist as a Vocation!) Check the list out here if you like, and be sure to grab your copy of the anthology here if you’re interested in reading my essay on Tom Cruise’s sprint and perseverance.
Lastly, big thanks to Justice for reminding me of M. Night Shyamalan’s director cameos last month. Here’s a really comprehensive rundown over on ScreenRant (spoilers ahoy!).
See y’all in September!