Olympic athletes spend most of their time readying to compete for one glorious moment on the world’s biggest stage. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be book nerds like the rest of us. Meet Tom Shields, the 25-year-old UC Berkeley swimmer who not only scored a spot on Team USA for this year’s Olympics in Rio, but who also happens to be an avid reader.
Before Shields competes in the 100m butterfly heats on Thursday, the Olympian shared his Must List of pop culture favorites, telling EW how Scrubs helped raised him and which great works of fiction he cozies up to in his spare time.
1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
“East of Eden was my favorite book growing up. The concept really inspired me to study religion and old languages. I haven’t read it in a while, but I was actually just thinking that I would go pick it up again.”
2. “Caress Me Down” by Sublime
“Sublime is my favorite band, so ‘Caress Me Down’ just kind of represents where I’m from, to me, and connects me to my roots.”
“Scrubs was my second parent when I was [a teenager]. I love comedy, and I think that’s an under-appreciated artform, because it kind of speaks to the human soul, in a lot more ways than drama can. So I really connected to Scrubs and that was very emotional show.”
4. “The Kids Aren’t Alright” by the Offspring
“Whenever I hear that song, I appreciate how lucky I am to have missed a couple steps along the way that could’ve led me afoul or astray from the path that I’m on, and how fickle life is. It grounds me, to be appreciative of the things I have.”
5. Diary by Chuck Palahniuk
“Diary is a really cool story. I think I just didn’t pick Fight Club to prove I’ve read other Chuck Palahniuk books, but I think, as an author, he should just take that spot. I’ve read a lot of his work and, I don’t know if he would appreciate this, but I feel like he’s the modern continuation of Kurt Vonnegut. Using description to create the feeling, and short narrative.”
6. Black Hawk Down
“My dad flew F-15s. I’m the first son of my family not to serve, but I have a lot of respect for what those guys do. I have a couple friends who are in the military, and the sacrifice they make is extreme and I think that movie really conveys that well.”
7. “Game Grumps”
“I watch ‘Game Grumps’ almost daily, which is a YouTube show. The put out a lot of content, and Dan [Avidan] and Arin [Hanson] are really funny. They’ve helped me normalize a lot of things. It’s kind of a new phenomenon in my life.”
8. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
“I like the – I don’t even know if it is post-modern – but that kind of outlook. Semi-nihilistic, or whatever, the approach he has.”
9. Game of Thrones TV series and A Song of Ice and Fire book series by George R.R. Martin
“Game of Thrones is a really interesting TV show and book series I’ve recently gotten into. I think it’s exciting and very well written. I only started reading [the books], but from what I’ve read – having watched all of the show – there’s a lot of thematic foreshadowing, which is cool. There’s a lot of calls ahead, which for him [Martin], was like a decade in advance.”
10. Funny People
“I think Judd Apatow is genius, obviously, and that movie speaks to me. It’s very telling and cool.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.