13 Reese Witherspoon-approved books to read this summer
For almost her whole life, actress and producer Reese Witherspoon has loved reading. Some of her earliest memories are of her grandmother reading her entire novels; from there, a love of books blossomed. Now, she turns books into media projects, runs a book club, and still sets aside plenty of time to read.
With books in her blood, it just made sense that the star would chat with Jenna Bush Hager (who has her own book club, too) about her favorite summer reads, how she chooses what books to put on film, and which books she’s always loved.
Read on for some of the picks Witherspoon shared in the latest episode of “Open Book with Jenna Bush Hager.”
“The Cactus” by Sarah Heywood, $19, Amazon
This book is Witherspoon’s June book club book, and it’s one that she completely loves. With a huge dose of humor, a sweet love triangle, and a great twist at the end, it’s a thrilling read, one that Witherspoon particularly recommends for those who loved “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.”
“It’s a character who has a very similar voice, but what happens to her in the story is very different,” Witherspoon said. “It’s really fun.”
“Daisy Jones and the Six” by Taylor Jenkins Reid, $16, Amazon
Everyone has been raving about this novel from Taylor Jenkins Reid, and Witherspoon is no exception.
“It’s so good,” she gushed. “It’s great, sort of going back in time to the 1970s, the rock-and-roll scene. Imagine Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac and the Allman Brothers, all seen behind the scenes of their experience writing those amazing albums.”
“From Scratch” by Tembi Locke, $16, Amazon
Witherspoon’s final recommendation was this heartfelt memoir from Tembi Locke. After she fell in love in Florence, Italy, she found out that his deeply traditional Sicilian family didn’t approve of her — so they went back to California, building a life for themselves and finally reconciling with his family before a startling event throws their carefully-constructed life into chaos.
Witherspoon said that many of the stories — often full-length novels! — that her grandmother would read her focused on Southern literature. And she’d even do different voices for all the characters!
“I just remember loving storytelling, because she would do all the different voices for me,” Witherspoon said. “It made me fall in love with books. She came alive while she was reading.”
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, $21, Amazon
One of the books that Witherspoon recalled was Harper Lee’s classic. Set in ’30s Alabama, the story has been the subject of a film and multiple plays, but none are so enduring as the original print version. Its heart-wrenching coming of age story is the kind that readers remember long after the final page.
“The Optimist’s Daughter” by Eudora Welty, $11, Amazon
Witherspoon mentioned Welty as an author that her grandmother would frequently read from. This Pulitzer-Prize winning novel takes place in the South and tells a tight-knit, compact family story in less than 200 pages.
“The End of the Affair” by Graham Greene, $13, Amazon
Graham Greene’s lyrical, moving novel wasn’t one of the stories that Witherspoon heard from her grandmother — instead, she read it in high school and fell in love with it, naming it as one of her favorite books of all time.
“Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, $12, Amazon
Witherspoon expressed a general love for Donna Tartt’s books — and so did Jenna! A high-stakes drama that leads its characters into the underbelly of the art world, this Pulitzer-Price winning piece is on the movie track as well. It’s expected to be released later this year and includes actors like Ansel Elgort as the lead role, and Witherspoon’s “Big Little Lies” collaborator Nicole Kidman.
“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt, $13, Amazon
Jenna said that this was her favorite Donna Tartt novel, and Witherspoon added that she’d love to see this book get the movie treatment too! With a cast of clever, eccentric characters and a gripping, haunting plot, we think it’d make a great film — but until then, it’s a perfect read for the summer.
“The Night Tiger” by Yangsze Choo, $17, Amazon
Set in 1930s Malaysia, Witherspoon said she loved this novel’s engrossing writing and and fascinating story.
“I just entered into that place,” Witherspoon said. “I was living inside the book; I wasn’t even living in this world.”
Page to Screen Picks
Witherspoon initially started her production company, Hello Sunshine, to bring women’s voices to film. A lot of the time, those voices are found first through books.
“It’s kind of amazing, having this process,” she said. “It started out where I bought ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Wild’ and we turned them into movies, and I thought ‘Well, this is sort of interesting; these authors are so beloved by the readers, so let’s extend that relationship and turn it into films.'”
“Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng, $10, Amazon
Celeste Ng’s beloved novel traces the intertwined lives of two families in a picture-perfect suburb — and it’s Witherspoon’s next page-to-screen project. Soon to be a Hulu limited series, she’ll star as the novel’s protaganist, Elena Richardson, and Kerry Washington will play Mia, the other lead.
“We sort of circle each other, like we don’t know about each other,” said Witherspoon, of the characters. “We both have secrets.”
“You seem to like secrets!” joked Jenna, to which Witherspoon laughed.
“Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty, $9, Amazon
Of course, someone who loves secrets would automatically fall in love with Liane Moriarty’s best-selling “Big Little Lies” — which is exactly what Witherspoon did.
“When I read ‘Big Little Lies’ and it had five parts for women I was like, ‘I gotta buy this! I gotta turn this into a TV show!” Witherspoon remembered. “And then I heard Nicole [Kidman] had read it. So I ended up calling her and just saying, do you want to do this together?”
Of course, the two ended up participating in the project, alongside Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz, and Laura Dern. It’s set to return to HBO on Sunday, June 9, for a second season that will also feature Meryl Streep.
“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn, $7, Amazon
“Gone Girl” is another twisty read, chock-full of deep secrets, hidden feelings, and disguised motivations. There’s almost no way to predict the novel’s final, chilling ending, and readers will remember main character Amy Dunne long after finishing the story.
“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed, $12, Amazon
Cheryl Strayed’s memoir was the first book Witherspoon’s company adapted to star herself. The memoir tells the story of a woman who loses everything — and decides to channel her grief into an impulsive decision that led her to hike the 1000-mile Pacific Crest Trail, completely solo.