Bookseller One Grand Books has asked celebrities to name the ten titles they’d take to a desert island, and they’ve shared the results with Vulture. Below is writer-comedian and host of 2 Dope Queens Phoebe Robinson’s list.
Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay
Like lots of people, I really love Roxane Gay. This is one of my favorite essay collections I’ve read in the past five to ten years. She’s really good at conversational writing that’s also academic and intelligent and funny. After #MeToo, there’s a lot of introspection, and people need to analyze themselves and see what feminist they’ll be. There’s no perfect feminist.
On Writing, by Stephen King
I don’t really read Stephen King — I just can’t read scary things because it stays with me too long — but I truly liked his memoir of the craft of writing. It’s the most accurate depiction of what writing is like, and it’s not necessarily glamorous the way we’ve seen it on Sex and the City, where you sit down and bang out an article in 30 minutes. He’s good at mining his personal life and letting that inspire his creativity. That’s the ideal way to go about writing, to be informed by your life and use it in a way that can entertain other people.
U2 by U2, by Neil McCormick
I’m a huge fan of U2. I saw them six times last summer. My boyfriend’s like, “We get it, they’re almost 60, relax.” The band gives an oral history of their entire career like they’ve never done before. I’m always intrigued by books in which people retrace their steps — this thing didn’t work out and this thing didn’t work out, then this thing sorta did, then we lost our momentum … but it really was cool to see their creative process from before they started as a band in high school. Hopefully, I can do even one-tenth of the things they do to inspire people. It’s long, so you’ll have to buckle up for a bit, but it’s definitely worth it.
Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, by Frank Bruni
I truly recommend everyone read this, especially if you are in high school and thinking about college. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the school you go to determining the rest of your life, and Bruni pulls back the curtain on that. It’s really good to rewire your brain to think about the importance of education and realizing that if college is not the thing for you, that doesn’t mean that you’re not worthy or you’re not doing something right with your life. It came out when I was 30, so too late for me.
I Feel Bad About My Neck, by Nora Ephron
She’s brilliant beyond brilliant. I was reading this at this black hair salon while I was getting my braids done, so I felt like the best of all of America. Ephron has a way with language and jokes. She’s very much a writer who uses her personal life to fuel her work. It’s really funny. Women who are older, people ignore their contributions, but people always craved her writing and her take on the world, and it’s a testament to her skills as a writer, and how she could get you into her world and make you want to be a part of it and keep reading.
Reasons to Live, by Amy Hempel
I first read this in college. I’m really into short-story collections and essays, they’re my jam. I talk a lot and I’m very verbose in my writing, but she’s very much the opposite. Sometimes she’ll have a short story that is a page and it’s brilliant, and you’re like, “Oh, you can do that, cool.” A phenomenal book. I usually don’t reread books, but I’ve reread this one.
Hamlet, by Shakespeare
Eye roll. It’s my favorite of all Shakespeare’s work. I love the play so much. It’s truly perfect. It’s a work that still influences film, TV, other books. I love how Shakespeare can really rip your heart out one second and then make you laugh the next. He’s a master writer.
We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I know it hasn’t been out that long, but this is a classic. I got it as a present for my mom for Mother’s Day. It speaks to women of all ages, of all backgrounds, of all financial classes, what have you. It makes an amazing argument. I think men should read it. I never hear men talk about this book, and I’m like, “You should be reading this, dog! You too should be a feminist!” She gets you pumped the fuck up to be like, “Yeah I’m a feminist and I’m going to take over and live my best life and be a person who is all about equality.” There’s no fear in her writing, just pure confidence.
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
I first read this when I was a sophomore in college. I’m always a fan of female authors, and their work isn’t always included in canons or revered or placed on a pedestal the way male authors are — this is a book that has stood the test of time. It’s incredible to read books that represent different time periods in black people’s lives. Not just about slavery. Not just about black suffering. That can often be the only narrative that we get. This is more a snapshot of a woman’s life throughout different periods. That should exist more in this world.
Cane, by Jean Toomer
I also read this in college. I guess going to college was great because I read some great books. It’s considered a novel, but the structure is more a collection of vignettes. Some poetry and some short stories. I really like how it keeps your brain engaged; when the writer switches between this structure and dialogue and not proper English, it makes you focus on what’s actually being written. I love how ambitious it is. It’s also another book about black life that tons of people should love and read and not only read during Black History Month. You know what? Read this book in April when it’s raining outside. How about that?