Fans of Gilmore Girls know that a scene featuring daughter Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) with a book in hand was a prominent part of the show’s storyline across its seven season run, influencing the teen’s stance on everything from politics to pizza toppings. And while the quirky mother-daughter dramedy employed frequent pop culture references beyond literature (mother Lorelai Gilmore, played by Lauren Graham, was a film buff whose Friday movie nights included screenings of American Gigolo and Animal House, while Rory’s BFF had a sophisticated taste for Velvet Underground), Rory was—and remains—remarkably different from the majority of designer clothing-and-dating obsessed teens on TV. Week after week, loyal viewers tuned into see Rory read and talk about books, an infatuation which underscored both her ambition and her journey of self-discovery as she navigated the growing pains of young adulthood.
Packed with literary references from Chaucer to Truman Capote, the cult TV show—which was cancelled in 2007—has inspired numerous online reading groups, book lists and literary clubs. But none have been quite like the massive challenge created by fan Patrick Lenton, who in 2013, decided to read all 339 titles referenced in Gilmore Girls in a massive endeavor he calls the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge.
“While I was watching Gilmore Girls, I saw Rory voraciously reading this huge variety of books, from the classics to literature to genre. I realized that it had been ages since I’d challenged myself in my reading—I was fairly set in my favorite authors, in my genre styles. I realized that unless I really kicked myself into action, I might never read some of the ‘greats,’” Lenton says, who compiled his exhaustive list by watching every single episode of the show. Though he hasn’t loved all of them. Says Lenton: “There are some books on there that I really dislike, and find weird to be included anywhere. But, in the end there’s nothing I really can’t imagine Rory reading - she’s indiscriminate in her enthusiasm, and I think that’s why I wanted to be just like her.”
Just in time to celebrate the series now available via streaming on Netflix, Lenton shares seven of his very favorite Rory Gilmore-inspired reads.
1.The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
“Kavalier and Clay is the only book I’ve ever cried during reading,” notes Lenton, an author and book marketer based in Australia. “Yet I mostly remember it as being very funny. How does that even work?”
2 Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
“Anne Frank’s diary was something I was really dreading to read, what with the immense gravitas and reputation that comes with it,” says Lenton, who publishes his reviews of books from the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge online. “I thought it would be horrifyingly tragic, but what I wasn’t prepared for was how engaging and joyful it could be.”
3. Atonement by Ian McEwan
“Atonement is great because it’s so incredibly British, it should basically leak tea,” says Lenton, who has polished 27 books from his exhaustive list since beginning the challenge in 2013.
4. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Says Lenton: “Bel Canto was probably my favorite work of fiction—a hostage situation that manages to be indescribably beautiful as well as horribly suspenseful.”
5. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
“The Bell Jar was also a surprise, as I had previously decided that I didn’t like Sylvia Plath - maybe I was too young?” muses Lenton. Series writers incorporated references to The Bell Jar in multiple episodes, including Episode 17 in Season 1, where Lorelai delivers a quip comment regarding Rory’s despondency following her breakup with boyfriend Dean. “Honey,” said Lorelai, “why don’t you just stay home and read The Bell Jar? Same effect.”
6. Beloved by Toni Morrison
“Beloved was powerful, and page turning and wonderful,” comments Lenton.
7. The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Built a Village in the Forest, and Saved 1,200 Jews by Peter Duffy
“The Bielski Brothers was an amazing account of real-life bravery,” Lenton says of the sort of novel that inspired Rory’s love of literature, which she references in her high school graduation speech in Episode 22, Season 3. “I live in two worlds. One is a world of books. I’ve been a resident of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, hunted the white whale aboard the Pequod, fought alongside Napoleon, sailed a raft with Huck and Jim, committed absurdities with Ignatius J. Reilly, rode a sad train with Anna Karenina and strolled down Swann’s Way. It’s a rewarding world.”
Click here for Lenton’s list of all 339 books referenced in Gilmore Girls.