1. Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
If I hadn’t read Self-Help—the debut short story collection by Lorrie Moore—I’m not sure if I would be doing what I do today. A friend of mine recommended the book to me when I was in a post-grad slump and interning at a fashion magazine. I had no idea what I was doing and where I was going. I also sort of hated my writing style, which is a big problem if you ever actually want to write for a living. As corny as it sounds, I really felt like I hadn’t found my voice yet. Everything I had written in college was unreadable—melodramatic musings about Los Angeles and gay boys—and when I finally sat down to read Self-Help, I instantly became engrossed with her use of the second person. I had never really written in that style before and was intrigued on how you could adapt it into a voice that made sense for Millennials. I read the book in one sitting and immediately wrote what was to become my first piece for Thought Catalog. Composing a how-to felt like I was writing with training wheels on because I could be distant and removed while still writing about something very personal. It’s a good place to start with your writing and it really helped me gain confidence in myself. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so while in a park or on a beach somewhere this summer. And then write your own how-to or call your mom and cry. I’ll be real with you: Self-Help is not a fluffy beach read but the second person makes it easy to follow and very accessible. I want you to spend the summer melting your brain, reading chick lit and listening to Top 40 but just consider this book to be your one required serving of vegetables.
2. Any Celebrity Memoir Ever
I’m one of those writers who has never really been into the classics (can’t you tell?) but I have read practically every trashy celebrity memoir that has ever been written. Jezebel has written a handy list but I’m going to add a few of my own personal favorites. First of all, it should be noted that only weird celebrities have written a memoir. In fact, the more irrelevant you are, the greater the chance that you will “write” your memoir. Jodi Sweetin, for example, from Full House wrote a memoir called Unsweetined in which she described her glamorous descent into meth addiction. Apparently, she would just check into the Roosevelt Hotel for a month even though she owned a house that was 25 minutes away and do drugs with the sketchiest freaks. She also details a night she got wasted with the Olsen Twins in Malibu, which is honestly an anecdote that makes the book worth reading alone. Some other great celebrity memoirs include Little Girl Lost by Drew Barrymore (homegirl wrote it when she was 15!), Official Book Selection by Kathy Griffin, Storitelling by Tori Spelling (why do celebrities love incorporating their name in the book title?), Scar Tissue by Anthony Keidis, and The Truth About Diamonds by Nicole Richie, which is technically a work of fiction but…you know. Don’t worry about actually liking the celebrity or even following their career. As long as they have a history of drug and/or sexual abuse, you’ll be entertained. One celebrity memoir you should stay away from is Just Kids by Patti Smith. I know, I know, it’s so critically-acclaimed and has won so many awards, but it’s not necessarily the best read for summer. It’s super serious and artistic (Patti talks a lot about being a starving artist and feeding her soul through her work), which means that it’s best to read in the winter when it’s cold and you want to read something smart in bed.
3. The Fran Lebowitz Reader by…Fran Lebowitz
Even though I find it ridiculous that Fran Lebowitz has been suffering from writer’s block for the past thirty years, it’s mostly just misdirected anger because her stuff is so good. Her book of essays are like little funny Jewish snacks for your brain. They’re pretty short so you’ll never get bored and her social commentary will have you LOLing in the park alone like the weirdo freak that you are! If you’re reading this Fran, I would like to ask you to please give me your career. You wrote two books a million years ago and managed to make “writer’s block” really lucrative. If I’m not mistaken, I think you get paid more to suffer from writer’s block than you do to actually write.
4. Valley Of The Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
I love books about drugs. Reading about a character’s downward spiral is what really makes something a page turner for me. Today books are very graphic in their depictions of drug abuse, which is great but what makes the Valley Of The Dolls so amazing is that it was more subtle about the fact that every character was high. The entire book is a melodramatic soap opera but when it comes to pill-poppimg, what more can you say than “They popped a pill and went to sleep?” I love Valley Of The Dolls partially because it has a really chic cover but also because it captures my ultimate definition of glamour: Beautiful women getting drowsy in their nightgowns and screaming at each other.
5. Cat Power: A Good Woman by Elizabeth Goodman
I usually pass on biographies about a musical artist unless they’re actually written by the artist themselves. Cat Power is so insane though that A Good Woman actually makes for a gripping read. I’ve always felt kind of “WTF?” about Cat Power. She has all those meltdowns on stage, battles an addiction to booze and coke, lives in Miami for some reason, and still manages to get her albums sold at Starbucks and become the face of Chanel. I’ve always felt like she was the ultimate contradiction. On one hand, she’s this tortured indie songwriter who hails from the South. On the other, she’s this crazy glamourpuss who hangs with a fashion crowd and has a ton of money. Writer Elizabeth Goodman explores this tension that exists within Chan Marshall and also calls bullshit on a lot of her behavior without coming off as a spiteful biographer.