We thought we were Gilmore Girls superfans, but then we saw some pioneering Rory Gilmore wannabee compiled a list of 339 books referenced on the bibliophilic WB series for the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge, a hodgepodge of everything from Candide to Carrie. We don't have the time or money or desire to read all 300+ novels in Rory's library — shockingly, Beowulf never made our list of must-reads — but after a glorious rewatch of the original series, we've found Rory's twenty favorite books for a more compact list of recommendations. We're choosing to ignore the revival, as we do on the daily.
Harper & Brothers
Rory Gilmore spends her days strolling down Swann's Way and committing absurdities with Ignatius J. Reilly, but she's not above easy reads like Charlotte's Web, E.B. White's profound children's book about a young pig named Wilbur who's moved to a new farm, where Wilbur teams up with a spider called Charlotte to avoid being slaughtered for Christmas ham. Rory called Charlotte's Web one of her favorite books on season seven, episode three, "Lorelai's First Cotillion," and this story of true friendship (and a veiled call for vegetarianism) is one for the ages.
Barnes & Noble Classics
Elle called Dean the Count Karenin of his relationship with Rory, which is a reference you'll understand once you read Rory's favorite realist classic, Anna Karenina. Dean rightfully deemed Leo Tolstoy's chef-d'oeuvre "depressing," but that didn't stop his then-girlfriend from including it in her graduation speech a few years later. You *could* try the Keira Knightly film adaptation but in the spirit of the youngest Gilmore, crack open this gigantic tale of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage who begins an affair with a mischevious young count.
There was a time during Gilmore Girls' first season when Dean was a city boy who actually knew how to read. His character was retconned into a farm boy who would rather sand down some wood than hunker down with a good Bukowski when the Palladinos decided bad boy Jess had to be Dean's moody intellectual foil, but during season one, episode eight, "Love and War and Snow," Dean and Rory debated the merits of Hunter S. Thompson vs. Jane Austen before school in the morning. Even Dean admitted Rory's suggestion, Emma, was worth a read, and any fan of the classic '90s film Clueless will enjoy Cher Horowitz's literary inspiration.
Dean might not have been completely illiterate, but nothing matches Jess and Rory's bookish meet-cute. On the season two episode "Nick & Nora/Sid & Nancy," Rory offers to lend Jess her copy of Allen Ginsberg's Howl during an ill-fated family dinner, but Jess responds that he doesn't read much. Imagine our surprise when the sullen, chain-smoking New York teen steals Howl off of Rory's bookshelf and returns it with a well-read man's notes in the margins — the first hint that there's more to the Artful Dodger than meets the eye.
Libertarian Philosophy Book
Speaking of Jess, Rory's best boyfriend (literally, fight us) questions her love for The Fountainhead because Ayn Rand is a political nut. Ayn Rand *is* a political nut, but Jess's alternate suggestion of Ernst Hemingway isn't much more appealing. Rory first read The Fountainhead when she was ten, but gave it a second try five years later because she hadn't understood a word. If Rory can read The Fountainhead twice, we'll consider giving the surprising favorite about an individual architect battling against establishment elites a chance.
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Pushkin: A Biography by T.J. Binyon wasn't mentioned by name within the series, but it made enough of an impact on Amy Sherman Palladino for the auteur to include the book in Rory's stack of "Books To Buy" while working at Andrew's bookstore on season five, episode 16, "So... Good Talk." ASP also named season five's tenth episode after the famous gambler and philanderer, "But Not as Cute as Pushkin." Aleksandr Pushkin was one of Russia's greatest poets before dying in pursuit of his hedonistic lifestyle, making him a legend in literature and life.
Martino Fine Books
The Holy Barbarians' cameo on Gilmore Girls' second season was upstaged by Jess's run-in with a swan, but their banter about Lawrence Lipton's exploration of the beat generation gave an entire generation of nerds unreasonably high expectations for casual dating conversations. Rory ended up lending The Holy Barbarians to Jess before she finished reading it in exchange for Jess agreeing to meet Emily and Richard at Friday Night Dinner, but we're assuming she got it back after his less-than-stellar first impression on the Gilmore grandparents.
Rory herself didn't mention Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa on the show, but Lorelai felt confident recommending that Luke's long-lost love Rachel read the novel after expressing her love for the movie because Rory had told Lorelai the memoir was amazing. Out of Africa looked back at Isak (real name: Karen Blixen) and her life on a Kenyan coffee plantation in the early twentieth century, back when the area was still called "British East Africa." The 1985 film version, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, so Rachel clearly had good taste in men *and* movies.
Gogol is more than just a funny word. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol is a book so intellectual, even Rory uses it to look smart. On season three's "Application Anxiety," Rory and Lorelai agree to lie and say that Rory was reading Gogol's Russian classic when her Harvard application arrives instead of what Rory was *actually* doing when the mail came that morning — watching The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. Dead Souls is celebrated as an insanely realistic portrayal of provisional Russian life while antihero Chichikov trades deceased serfs who are still accounted for in property registers. The novel is well-known for ending mid-
If it's depressing, old, and has a movie adaptation starring Keira Knightly, you can assume it's a Rory Gilmore favorite. On season four's "The Hobbit, the Sofa, and Digger Stiles," Rory reads Ian McEwan's romantic war tragedy Atonement to pre-game her first college class. In classic Rory fashion, she arrives early enough to get some light reading done, and classmate Marty happens to fall in love with her in the process. When jealous little sh*t Briony sees her older sister hooking up with handsome Robbie, a simple lie ruins everyone's lives forever.
Simon and Schuster
Season one's Intellectual Dean fell for Rory after seeing her read Madame Bovary with such intense focus that even an impending frisbee to the head couldn't distract her from Gustave Flaubert's masterpiece of provincial existentialism, excess, and misplaced infatuation. When the pair finally meet a week later, Rory has already moved on to Herman Melville's whale book, Moby Dick, but Rory hadn't decided how she felt about her first Melville yet. Ironically, neither Madame Bovary or Rory ended up with the best luck in the romance department.
Rory Gilmore Lesson Number One: Don't go anywhere without a good book (or two). When Dean and Rory leave the Chilton dance on season one, Dean discovers that Rory brought The Portable Dorothy Parker for a little light reading in case of a literary emergency. Although this Best-Of compilation of Dorothy Parker's 1920s wit and wonder is anything but dull, when Dean and Rory stop at Miss Patty's for an impromptu reading, we learned Rory Gilmore Lesson Number Two: Don't fall asleep in a barn with your teenage boyfriend (especially without calling your mother).
Rory referenced at least three William Faulkner classics in her high school valedictorian speech, marking them as the novels that most shaped her into the Ivy League student she had become. Sound and the Fury also appeared as one of Rory's bus books on season two, episode seven. Naturally, Rory needed both a biography, a novel, and a collection of short stories for her twenty-minute ride into the city, just in case she wasn't feeling one that day.
Rinehart & Company
Norman Mailer was one of the first people to learn of Sookie St. James's pregnancy during his cameo appearance on the show, one of the only stunt-casting moments on the seven-year series. Norman famously detested sitcoms, but when his actor son was tapped to appear on the show alongside the literary legend, the secret softy caved and showed up at the Dragonfly Inn. Apparently, Rory read The Naked and The Dead as a small child, so hopefully, we can get through it in our old age.
Season six, episode 15, "A Vineyard Valentine" was a painfully out-of-character episode for Luke Danes (a harbinger of revivals to come?) but at least Rory's reading choice was characteristically on-point. During the world's most awkward Valentine's Day couples weekend, Rory cozies up in the Huntzberger's house on Martha's Vineyard with The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Thinking a double-date with Luke and Lorelai would go ~well~ was magical thinking in and of itself, but Joan's heartbreaking memoir of her daughter's fatal diagnosis only a year after her husband's death had much higher stakes. An interesting choice for a romantic weekend away, but strangely befitting of the episode's grim tone.
Living legend Kenny Ortega directed season five's twelfth episode, "Come Home," where Logan plays it hot and cold with Rory's emotions and Emily intervenes in Lorelai's personal life yet again. Rory hopes that Logan will invite her to a book signing party for Seymour M. Hersh when she helps him with an article for the Yale Daily News, and even though he's shocked to learn she read the investigative journalist's book on the My Lai massacre when she was twelve, he still swerves her. Meanwhile, we're in our twenties and had no idea what the My Lai massacre was until we saw this episode of a TV dramedy, which speaks volumes towards our school system.
Little, Brown and Company
Jess proves that he actually cares about Rory's well-being when he returns her Dean bracelet (after stealing it) after seeing her stressed and sad about its loss. His excuse for being in her room, where he stashes it under the bed, is to check if Rory owns a copy of J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey, which she obviously does. Jess always had a bit of a Holden Caufield, existential hermit-by-choice vibe, so the future couple's shared Salinger affection makes a lot of sense.
Oxford University Press
The first time Christopher comes into town, he doesn't have the funds to buy Rory her dream book, the $400 Compact Oxford English Dictionary. We're assuming whoever was in charge of the title had a solid grasp on irony. The book is a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary such a small font, the entire dictionary fits into one volume. It's giant and usually comes with a magnifying glass so you can actually read the text. Rory's dream eventually comes true, when Christopher returns a changed man with the gift in tow.
Swann's Way has no less than seven references on Gilmore Girls, and even though Rory tells her mom that she had to renew it ten times from the library before she could finish it, we think we're up to the challenge. The Marcel Proust novel, which is the first of a seven-volume series, was part of Rory's graduation speech, but it's mostly included in the show as a symbol of Lorelai's relationship with Max Medina. Max loans Swann's Way to Lorelai early in their relationship, and she tries to give it back to him the first time their relationship "ends." We probably should've written this blurb in one long run-on sentence to prepare you for Proust's weird prose.
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is Lauren Graham's IRL favorite book, which she shared on a PBS special The Great American Read, but Rory's mentioned the Betty Smith classic in the fantasy utopia of Stars Hollow according to the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge, although we couldn't find exactly where on the show A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is name-dropped. And, frankly, we don't care. When it comes to classic novels, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is at the top of our most-recommended list, Gilmore Girls or no Gilmore Girls. The book follows an impoverished, precocious Brooklynite not too unlike Rory and her family's struggles as first-generation immigrants.