My Life in Books: Molly Ringwald

“A bookshelf is a tangible autobiography,” a reader once wrote. “Reading its titles, no matter how haphazardly arrayed, one can follow through time the contours of one’s thought, learning, and fancy.”

In this debut entry of My Life in Books, a new Review feature, we asked actress and author Molly Ringwald to tell us her life story in ten books or less. Here’s the autobiographical shelf she collected and shared with us, in her own words.

Nine Stories

By J. D. Salinger

“It’s nearly impossible to pick which Salinger book meant the most to me. I read The Catcher in the Rye first, when I was fourteen, and then proceeded to re-read it for years. “For Esmé – with Love and Squalor” was my favorite of the Nine Stories. Later, I moved on to Franny and Zooey. For better or worse, I hold J. D. Salinger responsible for shaping my personality since I fell in love with his characters during my formative years.”

Tender is the Night

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I started reading F. Scott Fitzgerald during my older teen years and quickly became obsessed with all things “twenties.” Although I read This Side of Paradise first, Tender is the Night remains my favorite of Fitzgerald’s books. I remember relating to the young actress Rosemary when I first read it and then going back years later and identifying with Nicole. One summer, when I was sixteen, I attended a camp in the south of France and wandered around trying to find something lingering there from Fitzgerald. I think, in many ways, Fitzgerald enkindled in me the desire to become an expatriate American living in France — something that I later did.”

War and Peace

By Leo Tolstoy

“I tried War and Peace on the recommendation of my bookish brother. I bought the novel in two parts and took the first volume with me to a film festival that I was attending in the Hamptons. I figured there was no way that I would actually get through the book, so I wouldn’t need to bring both volumes. To my surprise, I fell in love with the story and ended up finishing part one by the time I had arrived. I then proceeded to spend the rest of the weekend hunting through every bookstore in the small town searching for volume two. Apparently Tolstoy is not chosen beach reading of the Hamptons set because it was not to be found anywhere! I had to wait three tortuous days to get back to Pierre and Natasha. War and Peace is the most well written soap opera ever conceived. Once you get past all of the long Russian names and their even longer diminutives, you’ll be hooked!”

King Solomon

By Romain Gary/Émile Ajar

“I discovered Romain Gary after I moved to France in my early twenties. He is relatively unknown in the U.S., but hugely famous in France, having won the Prix Goncourt twice (once under his own name and once under his pseudonym, Émile Ajar.) He was also the husband of the American actress Jean Seberg. While they lived together in the Hollywood Hills, where he was given the title of “French Consul,” he watched her become entrenched in the Black Panther movement. He wrote a book about it, Chien Blanc, for which I have tried (unsuccessfully) to find an English translation for years.”

Song of Solomon

By Toni Morrison

“I read Toni Morrison after watching her on a talk show discuss how she wrote Beloved. I was mesmerized by her voice and intelligence. Her writing is just unbelievably rich and beautiful. I find myself reading her novels first for the music and the poetry and then going back and re-reading them for meaning. An extraordinary, singular voice.”

A Feather on the Breath of God

By Sigrid Nunez

“Sigrid Nunez is the kind of writer that I aspire to be. Her voice is so clear and measured. I bought her first book, A Feather on the Breath of God, because of its compelling title, and was happy to find that the book is as good as its title. As much as I love this book for introducing me to her, I think her masterpiece is The Last of Her Kind, the story of a friendship between two women who meet in college and how their lives change as one of the women becomes swept away by a radical counter-culture movement. Nunez also wrote an entire book from Virginia Woolf’s monkey’s point of view (Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury), which is admirable both in ambition and execution.”

The Corrections

By Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections is a masterful book. Deep, funny and heartbreaking. The scene on the boat with the father absolutely broke my heart; it was so beautifully written. Franzen writes about the American family in such a truthful and relatable way. I will read anything and everything the man writes.”

Me Talk Pretty One Day

By David Sedaris

“I started reading David Sedaris some time in the nineties when I was living in Paris. I love Me Talk Pretty One Day especially because it mirrored my experiences living as an expatriate in France — specifically, learning French at the Alliance Française. Sedaris is the one writer who can actually make me laugh out loud, guaranteed. I find him to be a sort of subversive Mark Twain for our generation.”

I Married a Communist

By Philip Roth

“How can I choose my favorite Phillip Roth book? I started with Goodbye Columbus and have now read almost everything. Fiercely intelligent and sexy. (No small feat!) I can’t understand why Phillip Roth is sometimes branded as a “misogynistic writer.” He writes smarter women than almost any writer I can think of. I am constantly amazed at how he constructs an argument for one character, then turns around and presents the counter-argument, rendering it equally valid and compelling. He is a national treasure. Come on, Stockholm — let’s give him the Nobel Prize already!!”

The Stone Diaries

By Carol Shields

“Carol Shields is an American who has been adopted by Canada (and actually did win the Pulitzer Prize for this book), I discovered her while traveling overseas and was surprised that I had never read her before. The Stone Diaries is a remarkable book, the fictionalized biography of an ordinary woman from her birth until her death. Shields’s literary flourishes are breathtaking and moving. She also happens to write about nature and gardening in a way that I admire, using the names of the flora — to help the reader visualize the setting of the world she describes — in a seemingly effortless and nuanced way. I consider her to be a very female writer in the best sense.”

Click here to see our interview with Molly Ringwald.