Everybody loves an all-time favorite book, even as our towering TBR piles threaten to suffocate us in our sleep. Sometimes, either when life gets you down or you’re just not in the mood to invest in something new, we need to turn to an old favorite that has always had our back. In that spirit, I’ve compiled this list of books that I have read at least more than once, and why I love them so much. Every reader is different, so not all these titles may be your cup of tea, but I hope to inspire some new additions to everyone’s overflowing list.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Find me an introvert under the age of 30 who doesn’t love this book. That’s right, you can’t. (Okay, you probably can, but I don’t want to be friends with them.) Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan… But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fanfiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend; a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world; a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… and she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
Fangirl is the ultimate bible for being a fan of something in the 21st century, and it’s still popular nearly a decade since it was first published because it’s that good. It hits home for a lot of people, and it hits right where it hurts. Rainbow Rowell knows what she did. I read it for the first time during my first semester of college, which was a complete coincidence, so I found myself relating to Cath oh so very much. I returned to it a few years later in the woes of university, and while it didn’t magically cure my mental illness (shocker!), it still made me feel less alone. If you’re an introvert and a bookworm and you haven’t ever read this book, please change that.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Speaking of taking a knife to the heart, hold onto your hats! It’s 1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood 14-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life — someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart. At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.
Another must read for highly sensitive and creative introverts, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a love letter to them, highlighting and illuminating all the ways society tends to cast us aside or leave us behind. It’s also a striking portrait of the AIDS crisis, which is seen more and more now, but wasn’t so much in 2012, and gives voice to the idea that your first love sometimes isn’t who people expect it to be. My best friend and Gilmore Girls podcast co-host Eleni first gave me this book years ago, which I’ve since read twice because it’s just so beautiful and I relate far to it far too much. (I recently wrote a bit about my first love, similar to June’s, in this article.)
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
If everyone will allow for another emo moment… In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she’d never seen before, 18-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele — Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles — as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary. Kaysen’s memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. It is a brilliant evocation of a “parallel universe” set within the kaleidoscopically shifting landscape of the late sixties, and a clear-sighted, unflinching document that gives lasting and specific dimension to our definitions of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.
Girl, Interrupted means so much to me, I don’t think anything I will ever write about it will do it justice. As someone who has suffered from mental illness of different proportions for the better half of the last decade, I started watching the movie all the time. Like, a lot. I’d already seen it once before and had read the book a first time out of curiosity, but it was only during my college and university years that it transformed into the lifeboat it’s been for me ever since. In bad times and in good. I’m pretty sure I’ve read it three times, but it could be more. I wrote an essay on it in college, as a matter of fact, and the teacher told me to “read The Bell Jar,” because “it’s the original.” Girl, Interrupted is a memoir, so it belongs solely to those who experienced it. Similar to those in real life.
Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
Listen, don’t look at me like that. I know everyone has a reason for hating Lena Dunham, but her book is actually good and one of my all-time favorites, OK? OK. In Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham illuminates the experiences that are part of making one’s way in the world: falling in love, feeling alone, being ten pounds overweight despite eating only health food, having to prove yourself in a room full of men twice your age, finding true love, and most of all, having the guts to believe that your story is one that deserves to be told. It’s a series of dispatches from the frontlines of the struggle that is growing up. “I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you,” Dunham writes. “But if I can take what I’ve learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine will have been worthwhile.”
She’s not for everyone, and I’m not here to defend some of the more controversial public statements she has made over the years. But if you haven’t noticed a trend so far, a lot of books that I’ve loved and chose to revisit have been ones that have touched and helped me personally during times of vulnerability. And that’s exactly what effect Not That Kind of Girl had on me both times that I read it. I even went into it the second time expecting to pick up on more of the elements that received criticism, but I still loved it just as much. It made me feel less alone during a time after I’d turned 18 and felt very lonely, for which I am grateful.
The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
Pretty sure I’ve never met another person who loves this book that isn’t a woman from my mother’s generation. Let me know if you’re out there. The Bridges of Madison County is the story of Robert Kincaid, a world-class photographer, and Francesca Johnson, an Iowa farm wife. Kincaid, 52, is a photographer for National Geographic. A strange, almost mystical traveler of Asian deserts, distant rivers, and ancient cities, he is a man who feels out of harmony with time. Francesca Johnson, 45 and once a young war bride from Italy, lives in the hills of south Iowa with flickering memories of her girlhood dreams. Each of them is content, yet when Robert Kincaid drives through the heat and dust of an Iowa summer and turns into her farm lane looking for directions, their illusions fall away, and they are joined in an experience that will haunt them forever. As the photographer Kincaid uses light to reveal not objects, but rather his own kind of truth, what occurs by the old bridges of Madison County becomes a prism transforming the ordinary emotions we think we understand into something rare and brilliant. The result is a passionate, deeply moving experience in lyrical prose.
I committed what some readers might consider a mortal sin by reading this after I’d seen the movie starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. And not only is the movie one of my all-time favorites, this one just gets me every single time. The book and the movie slightly differ in many areas, but the end result is the same. One day I might write an article on the queer subtext of those damn bridges in Madison County, because no way were there any other teenage boys bawling their eyes out on the couch watching Robert drive away in the rain. But if there were, please, hit me up.
Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
It’s January 1995, and Franny Banks has just six months left of the three-year deadline she set for herself when she came to New York, dreaming of Broadway and doing “important” work. But all she has to show for her efforts so far is a part in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters, and a gig waiting tables at a comedy club. Her roommates ― her best friend Jane, and Dan, an aspiring sci-fi writer ― are supportive, yet Franny knows a two-person fan club doesn’t exactly count as success. Everyone tells her she needs a backup plan, and though she can almost picture moving back home and settling down with her perfectly nice ex-boyfriend, she’s not ready to give up on her goal of having a career like her idols Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep. Not just yet. But while she dreams of filling their shoes, in the meantime, she’d happily settle for a speaking part in almost anything — and finding a hair product combination that works. Someday, Someday, Maybe is a story about hopes and dreams, being young in a city, and wanting something deeply, madly, desperately. It’s about finding love, finding yourself, and perhaps most difficult of all in New York City, finding an acting job.
I won’t say too much about this one, because I’ve already written an entire article about how I’ve read it three times and how each time meant something specific to my life’s journey. But I will say that you mustn’t believe the shockingly low reviews this book has on Goodreads. I feel like everyone likes to be snobby when a celebrity decides to try their hand at writing fiction and automatically assumes it’s bad, which is far from the case here. Lauren Graham is a damn good fiction author, and I wish she’d write more of it.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
A cliché to even include this on here, since BookTok loves Taylor Jenkins Reid so much. And while the author does tend to be a hit or a miss with me, I can honestly say that Daisy Jones & The Six is worth all the hype, even three years later. Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the real reason why they split at the absolute height of their popularity… until now. Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go-Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things. Another band getting noticed is The Six, led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road. Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.
I love a juicy pop culture tell-all with actual people, so I suppose it’s no surprise that I would love one with fictional people. The prose and storytelling is also just very on point throughout, so much so that I almost forgot these people were fictional both times that I read it. I know the bookish algorithm always seems to recommend the same titles, but trust me, this one is worth your time.
Nobody Cares by Anne T. Donahue
This book is a religion. It’s a lifestyle. Nobody Cares is a frank, funny personal essay collection about work, failure, feminism, and the messy business of being alive in your twenties and thirties. As she shares her hard-won insights from screwing up, growing up, and trying to find her own path, Anne T. Donahue’s debut book offers all the honesty, laughs, and reassurance of a late-night phone call with your best friend. Whether she’s giving a signature pep talk, railing against summer, or describing her own mental health struggles, Anne reminds us that failure is normal, saying to no to things is liberating, and that we’re all a bunch of beautiful disasters — and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
I know Anne is so tired of hearing how much I love this book of hers, and all of her writing (hi Anne!), but it’s sincerely just one of those books that will bring a smile to your face and motivate you to stop feeling down on yourself. I read it for a second time just in hopes that it would have the same effect as the first, and it absolutely did. Last I heard a second essay collection from her was on the horizon, so fingers crossed that our lives all get blessed with that someday soon.
If we aren’t already, let’s be friends on Goodreads! What are some books you love that you’ve read more than once?