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Historically speaking, I am a wild time. As in, never miss a party, always up for a day-drinking adventure, and happy to sneak into a hotel pool. So no one would fault you for assuming that I was the queen of spring break back in the day, but weirdly, that was never the case. Since I was a kid, I have always taken this lovely time of year to indulge in… books. I know, I know, it’s a little sad-trombone. But for me, the absolute height of luxury has always been reading a book in the sun, preferably on a beach or next to a pool.
These days, I would officially categorize myself as a mild time—for now. I retain the right to evolve into a new festive self at some point in the future, but the spring break book bonanza of my youth still holds strong. And while I always adore a new novel or nonfiction option, I often find myself returning to some of my tried-and-true favorites during this time of year.
If you have any vacation planned or simply are looking for a book to get lost in, I’m happy to share a selection of my favorites. Some are old, some are new, and all of them are absolutely juicy. They’re loosely organized into a few categories, but I feel pretty strongly that if you like one, you’ll like them all.
PPS: When it comes to books, my preference is always libraries and local independent bookstores, followed by vintage and independent websites, and then the usual two-day shipping places. I try to link in that order, depending on availability.
-Vintage Glamour + Drama-
Do I talk about this book all the time? Yes. Is it insane? Absolutely. Does it have problematic themes, especially around women’s weight? Sure does. So why am I recommending it? Well, it was written in 1978, and if you can view it through that lens, it is decadent. The main plot is irksome: plump, shy, blue blood gone broke teenager moves to Paris, turns into a thin, stunning, super-stylish woman who acquires a fortune through marriage and then opens basically what was Barney’s New York. Ignore that. Read it for the incredible fashion details and the moderately raunchy sex.
Did you enjoy Mad Men but wish there was more from the female point of view? Well, this is the book for you. Published in 1958, it follows three young women who work in Manhattan as secretaries in the typing pool of a publishing house and is equal parts funny, horrifying, charming, and deeply frustrating. It’s dishy and will entertain you, even while it’s breaking your heart over and over again. And if my word’s not enough, The New Yorker did call it “one of our sharpest portraits of female desire” just a couple of years ago, so maybe that will convince you. (Link to vintage copies!)
Like many liberal white women of my age and vibe, I worship at the temple of Rumours, Fleetwood Mac’s brilliant 1977 studio album, which I of course own on vinyl and force my children to listen to weekly. The songs from that album are incredible, but honestly, I love the exceedingly messy backstory just as much, which was fueled by illicit lovers, cocaine, and complications galore. So naturally, I was glued to the extremely tell-all book Storms, written by Carol Ann Harris, who dated Lindsey Buckingham during the making of that singular record, after he and Stevie Nicks broke up. How much of it is true? Who knows. But it’s a compelling story of rock’n’roll excess, horrific male behavior, and an abusive relationship. I read it in one night.
-Suspense for Scaredy-Cats-
I am the most chicken-y of chickens. As in, I read the spoilers for every episode of Yellowjackets before I watched it because it was the only way I could get through the show. So trust me when I tell you The Paris Apartment is very, very suspenseful but not officially straight-up scary. And also, please trust me when I say that it is delicious and a rollicking good read. Reminds me a bit of The Last Thing He Told Me in that I felt highly compelled to read it as quickly as possible because I was desperate to put all the pieces together. No wonder why it was an instant New York Times #1 best seller and is already optioned to become a movie.
This book has everything: Berlin sex clubs, Law & Order references, queer romance, Amanda Knox vibes, art-world narcissists, complicated female friendships, shades of Single White Female, Britney Spears, and that’s just the beginning. I felt vaguely uneasy whilst reading it, like I had a case of existential jet lag, but I was utterly hooked from the jump. I realize I’ve told you nothing, but honestly, if you’re interested at all by now, just buy it. The final page made me gasp.
Do you remember what you were like at 14? How important your friends were? How much you wanted to belong to something, anything? How susceptible you were to magical older girls and the way they could bewitch you? Take all of that but set in 1969 California, and imagine that spellbinding older girl was part of a Manson-like cult, but you didn't know it. Beautifully written, at times a little slow, it feels like it could be a distant cousin of Sofia Coppola’s film The Virgin Suicides (which, yes, I know is based on Jeffery Eugenides’s novel, but the cinematic version feels closer to the essence of The Girls). I am fully obsessed with the late ’60s and early ’70s, so this really hit the mark for me, but it’s definitely not a feel-good read, so be prepared.
-Truth Is Stranger-
Writing about fragrance is like dancing about architecture—practically impossible to convey the spirit of the medium through words—yet Burr is an absolute master of the former. The book offers an in-depth, behind-the-scenes portrait of how two perfumes were created. The first is Hermès’s Un Jardin sur le Nil, which was crafted by the storied French fashion brand’s first in-house perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena. The second is how Sarah Jessica Parker and Coty developed her first fragrance, Lovely. As someone who is rather ambivalent about fragrance, I couldn't put this book down. It’s stuffed with fascinating details, over-the-top personalities, and subversive humor galore. I’m currently reading it for the fourth or fifth time and find myself delighted anew on nearly every page.
I know we are eating the rich these days, but I confess I still find stories about their excess entertaining, especially when it comes to real estate, and Gaines really delivers on that front. Full of petty wars, huge egos, bigger bank accounts, historical references, cutting judgments, intimate stories, and pecking-order explainers, it had me captivated from the start. This book came out in 1999, so some of the storied homes have changed hands since then, but their backstories are still crazy interesting.
While I am not personally religious, it’s a topic that’s always interested me, but no faith-focused story has ever captivated me quite like this one. I first read this book nearly two decades ago, and it’s one I have returned to several times since, as it offers a richly detailed look at the origins and history of Mormonism, as well as a true-crime story that follows a double murder committed by Mormon fundamentalists. The level of detail in Krakauer’s reporting is astonishing, and he is a deeply excellent storyteller. If you haven’t read the book, I suggest doing so now before it comes out as an original limited series on FX next month, starring Andrew Garfield, Daisy Edgar-Jones, and Sam Worthington. The book is astonishing, through and through. You won’t be able to put it down.
So those are my top nine, but there are many more on my list, like Valley of the Dolls, The Anglo Files, Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye, Eve’s Hollywood, Story of My Life and Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. If you have any go-tos, please let me and this lovely community know in the comments below.