Taylor Jenkins Reid: The Books of My Life
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Across seven novels now, Taylor Jenkins Reid has become a one-woman industry of books you want to sink into: Plush, character-driven stories of Golden Age movie stars (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo), '70s rock sirens (Daisy Jones & the Six), and '80s surf goddesses (Malibu Rising).
Her eighth, the tennis-pro saga Carrie Soto Is Back (Aug. 30), she promises, "will be the last in this series of books about famous women," though you haven't seen their final acts yet: Malibu arrives in paperback May 17, and Daisy is currently being adapted as a limited series for Amazon, starring Riley Keogh and Sam Clafin. In the meantime, Jenkins took a moment to look back at the books that shaped her, from bad bunnies to American Psychos.
The first book I remember loving as a kid
"I was not a big reader as a kid, which I have talked about before. But in school they assigned us Bunnicula, which is the story of a vampire bunny who sucks the juice out of vegetables. I loved it! Oh, I could not get enough of it."
The first book I bought with my own money
"I was in my early teens, and I'm pretty sure it was High Fidelity. Huge Nick Hornby fan. I got really into Bridget Jones around that time, and David Nicholls — all that Brit lit that was so cool in the '90s. And I loved, and I mean loved, the Zoe Kravitz adaptation [of Fidelity]. I could not believe it didn't get picked up [for a second season]. I was so sad. I thought it was fantastic."
The book I had to sneak to read growing up
"My mom was really supportive of me reading anything and not super controlling over what I could or couldn't do. She trusted me to make my own decisions. But I was a really, really big Christian Bale fan from Newsies, and when he starred in American Psycho, I was like, 'Well, I obviously have to read the book first.' I was only 14 or 15, and I did finish it and ended up more or less liking parts of it, but there was a lot that went over my head. I wasn't ready for it both in terms of understanding and reading comprehension, but then also just the complete depravity of it. Yeah, I don't think being a fan of Newsies is a good entry point for that. [Laughs]"
A book I've pretended to have read
"I have read a number of retellings and I've watched versions of Anna Karenina. And because of that I go around acting like I've read it, but I have not read the whole book. So I am an imposter."
The book that changed my life
"I didn't read it as a kid, not being a bookworm, but The Little Prince. I read it as an adult I think either right before or after my grandmother had passed away, and it felt like it changed my relationship to the idea of loss, that there was more hope in it, and more beautiful ways to think about loss that made me feel less bleak. I've read it probably more than any other book. I open up parts of it and I just... It's obviously a very childlike view of the world, but I find it really moving. And one of only times that I can truly tell you that without any work on my part, this text itself moves me to a place where I feel better.
I have another one I read over and over for a different reason, which is The Color Purple. I'm not saying anything anyone doesn't know, but it's spectacular on a number of levels. On a sentence level, there are certain sentiments — 'I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice...' It's just beautifully rendered. But also, it's such an example of what you can do with a very limited perspective and scope. These are just [written as] letters, and yet she's rendered a whole complex world here. Just in terms of craft, I think it's spectacular."
The book that always makes me laugh
"Samantha Irby has just never written anything that is not hysterical. You can pick up any book of hers and you're going to have a great time. And what I appreciate is, I think being funny in a book is harder than any other format. And yet you know that Sam Irby is going to bring you there every time. I mean, Wow, No Thank You is the perfect title."
The last book to make me cry
"Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. What I loved about it in particular was obviously she renders this story of her mom and the complexity of their relationship very well, but by the time you get to the end, even though you understand what it's going to be, you have become so invested in this relationship. I just sat there and cried as I finished it. I normally can cruise through stuff, but what will happen is when I close the book, when I start reflecting, then my heart is a bruise.
"Have you read The Editor by Steven Rowley? I thought it was fantastic, but I didn't cry during any of it. My husband was like, 'Oh, you finished the book. Did you like it? What was it about?' And I started to say, 'It's about this son,' and I just started bawling. In the moment, I was fine. But then once I closed the book and tried to explain to someone, it just shredded me... So I don't normally cry in the moment, but Michelle Zauner got me on the page crying."
My literary crush
"I'm going to do this one as a character, which is Jay Gatsby. And I'm defining 'crush' as you can't rationalize it. You're just drawn. Jay Gatsby, it's not a like or dislike thing. It's just I am drawn to him and that sense of naivete and corruption at the same time. And the thought that maybe if you do all the things right, you might get where you want to go is just never going to work."
The screen adaptation of a novel that I love
"Normal People. I thought the book was absolutely fantastic. Loved it. And watching that adaptation, the casting, it consumed me the same way. So in terms of in tandem with each other, I think they're both just A++. No notes!"
What I'm reading now
"I'm loving are Kazuo Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun, which I'm about 100 pages into, and just... No one's surprised by this, but just what a master of being able to tell so much with so little.
And also When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole. I had a friend of mine who was like, 'You have to read this. It's my favorite book of the year.' And I trust her a lot. This is such a stupid thing, but I normally don't read books that come in a mass market paperback. But it is so nice to just hold that tiny little book. It's the best feeling. I want all books in mass market paperback now."
The book I want to be remembered for
"Let me tell you this — I hope I haven't written it yet. The one that people think is the best thing I've done, I think it's ahead of me. I am very much hoping that I'm just getting started."