Taylor Swift's Favorite Books Are A Crash Course In Girlhood

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Taylor Swift is no stranger to the nuances of storytelling. From falling in love for the first time to reeling from a devastating breakup, her songwriting has an impeccable ability to describe exactly what you're feeling at pretty much any period in your life.

Much of that ability to describe human emotion so well comes from Swift's lifelong love of literature. "For me, books have been a huge inspiration for my imagination," she said in 2014 during a webcast. "I was a big fan of fairy tales growing up, and you'll see a lot of references to Romeo and Juliet and Scarlet Letter, and things like that, in my songs."

During a separate webcast that aired in 2013, the singer shared that her taste in books is quite expansive. "I try to read as much as I can and I read different things," she told the audience. She noted being an especially big fan of Millennial classics with a hero's journey, including "Harry Potter." But the stories that have resonated most for the singer-songwriter are those that touch on themes so many of her fans can relate to: the joy, pain, fear, and of being a young woman, trying to find her way in the world.

The Kennedy Women by Laurence Leamer

Swift has always been vocal about her admiration for the Kennedy women, a feeling she made clear when she told Rolling Stone in 2011 that she blew through Laurence Leamer's 900-page biography "The Kennedy Women." Although not typical of a coming-of-age story, the book celebrates girlhood in the best way: by exploring the joy, sadness, and struggles of growing up in the public eye. It also heavily touches on the women's relationship to their political husbands; and how they had to keep things together in public and have each other's backs behind closed doors when things got tough.

But it's not just the focus on powerful women and sisterhood that makes this book stand out for Swift. At one point in the novel, we learn about the beginnings of Ethel and Robert Kennedy's love story, which plays out like a movie. For Swift, it's that magical feeling of falling in love for the first time that resonates; the sense that you and that special person are the only ones in a room. 

In fact, for the release of her fourth studio album "Red," Swift included a song about Ethel and Robert Kennedy entitled "Starlight. "[Their story] immediately made me think of how much fun they must have had that night," she explained to The Wall Street Journal. "It was back in the late '40s, so I just kind of wrote that song from that place, not really knowing how they met or anything like that." The lyrics, which include lines like 'I met Bobby on the boardwalk, summer of '45' and 'We could get married, have ten kids and teach them how to dream,' alluding to the ten children which Ethel and Robert Kennedy had. 

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

"Rebecca" by Daphne Du Maurier inspired one of Swift's most intense and beloved songs on "Evermore." The gothic novel follows a young woman who marries a wealthy widower, attempting to be there for him after the loss of his first wife — however, he only tolerates her. 

In an interview with Apple Music, Swift revealed that she read the book during quarantine and couldn't stop thinking about the main character's emotions. "She's doing all these things and she's trying so hard and he's just tolerating her," she said. "There was a part of me that was relating to that because at some point in my life I've felt that way — trying to love someone who was ambivalent." Swift later went on to write the song "tolerate it" from the perspective of the character 'Rebecca' herself, examining the agonizing experience of relentlessly trying (and failing) to impress someone who does not appreciate you. 

Furious Love by Sam Kashner

Are you ready for it? Swift's lyric 'He can be my jailer/Burton to this Taylor' is an easter egg for one of her favorite books. The lyric alludes to the relationship between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who married one another only to get divorced and remarried to one another. Essentially, they kept coming back to each other,  Much like them, Burton and Taylor began a whirlwind romance turned cultural phenomenon.

"Furious Love" by journalist Sam Kashner and author Nancy Schoenberger explores the intimate relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Swift has made several references to Taylor's classic Hollywood look in music videos like "Wildest Dreams," where Swift wears a dark haired bob and red lipstick. Swift often defines girlhood by the tumultuous relationships of public figures, which is perfectly summed up in one of her favorite books.

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

As someone who has had to fight against negative rumors throughout her entire career, it should not be surprising that one of Swift's all-time favorite stories taps into themes of survival: "The Hunger Games." Set in a futuristic dystopian society, the multi-book series follows the journey of teenager Katniss Everdeen, who must fight for her life during her homeland's competitive gladiator-style death match. But while the action of the story alone is compelling, what likely makes this story a standout for Swift is admiration for the female lead's bravery.  "I fell in love with the characters, fell in love with the world that Suzanne Collins had created. I was just so immersed in it," she told MTV News back in 2012. "... You sit there, and you're like, 'Could I climb that tree?' 'Could I make a weapon out of this?' 'If I had to forage for food, what would I do?'

In the book, Katniss has to learn to trust her instincts and be brave against an oppressive and evil government. The Seattle Spectator points out that it is the main character's perseverance and learning her true power through every challenge that makes it a standout novel. For Swift, it remains one of her all-time favorites. She even went on to record and re-record multiple songs for the book's film adaption in 2012, and 2023. 

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

"I had a lot of female characters that I was inspired by growing up. I read this book called 'Stargirl' that is about this girl who's different from everybody else in her school; some people call her weird, but no matter how much they make fun of her, she just continues to be herself. And pretty soon, that individuality rubs off on everybody else and they all want to be like her."

Stargirl, published in 2000, currently boasts a 5-star rating on Good Reads. It's easy to see why Swift, who arguably was unconventional herself, having changed high schools to embark on her music career, found the young adult novel particularly meaningful. The book's story touches on themes like staying true to yourself despite what negativity people throw your way, as well learning to show compassion for others who may not conform to what the majority is doing. The main character is also considered different for bringing a ukelele to school — something that may resonate particularly for a musician like Swift.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Like many other Millennial women, Swift joined the Sally Rooney fandom shortly before the pandemic. She reportedly told Entertainment Weekly in 2019 that she was a big fan of the Irish author's "Conversations with Fans," praising the book for how accurately it captured the emotions of being a twenty-something. "I think it's like being inside somebody's mind."

"Conversations with Friends" follows 21-year-old writer Frances at a turning point in her life. While living with her former lover (and best friend) Bobbi, she grows infatuated to an older married man, Nick, with whom she forms an immediate intense bond. As the pair grow closer, Frances must reconcile with the role other relationships play in her life, including the turbulent one she has with her father. The book has received praise for its true-to-life depictions of Millennial friendships, including the moments that are difficult to ascribe a moral value to. As one Good Reads reviewer wrote, "[The characters] don't necessarily do these things because they are evil people, but because they are finding their way, learning how to navigate this messy world."