Recently buzzfeed posted an article that caught my BV-inspired eye: a writer (and presumably a book lover, considering the effort) had compiled a list of all the books that nerdily adorable Rory Gilmore had read or referenced during The Gilmore Girls. I do get a bit of a charge when I see fictional characters reading on screen, and it seems that Rory might be one of the best-read fictional characters in TV history. The 339 books are listed in alphabetical order, but it would have been even more engaging — and I tried to find this, without success — if the books were listed in the order in which Rory had read them, to tell the story of her character’s development through books, which was likely part of the story that the show was trying to tell. (I remember the show — and it wasn’t terrible.) Scanning through the list, it seems like Rory wasn’t too painfully meta-aware that she was being observed. That is, you have a lot of high brow classics, but then a lot of fluff: DaVinci Code is on the list, along with Judy Blume and Harry Potter. (Just to be clear, I do not want to besmirch the name of Judy Blume by putting her in the same category as either of the other two; I’m just pointing out that Rory dipped into what might be considered lighter, popular fare now and then.) For the most part, however, Rory’s list is just so healthy, like a shopping basket full of kale and quinoa, while I load up on box after box of Entenmann’s: I took the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge and scored a paltry 74 books read from her list. Maybe that’s why I didn’t go to Yale.
What’s fascinating is that every book in Rory’s hands, or mentioned during the show, is meant to be seen and selected for that purpose. I can’t help wondering, when I see a TV or movie character with a book, what kind of hidden message the director, actor, or producer is trying to send via that volume in that character’s hands. Rory’s books send a message with as many layers as an Entenmann’s coffee cake: internal to the story, between Rory and the other characters; internal to the story, as a means of reinforcing Rory’s own character to the viewer; and external to the story, between the show’s creators and the TV audience. Because Rory’s list contains more range than Axel Rose and Mariah Carey (Beowulf, Charlotte’s Web, Dante, Spinoza, fairy tales pretty much all of Jane Austen, a lot of Stephen King, most of Dickens; no Danielle Steel, for which I will commend her) the external message behind Rory’s reading list must be only, “It’s okay to gather some of your nourishment for existence from books,” or, maybe more practically, “This girl is getting into Yale!”
This is a good message to send. TV characters spend a lot of time expressing themselves: entering, exiting, getting on the phone, getting off the phone, and of course talking to each other or to the screen. It’s rare that we see a character at rest, or engaged in some inherently internal activity, like reading or sleeping or going to the bathroom, that cannot be shared with anybody else (unless of course it serves a comedic purpose). Frankly, it’s becoming rare to see anybody –in TV or in real life — just sitting around and reading a book anymore while between places — smartphones bind us to a constant state of entering or exiting, always on display, internally and externally. Thankfully, Rory lived in a time that preceded the e-book era, which has made public reading more private again; if Rory had owned an e-reader, a part of her personality would have been hidden, along with the cover of her book.
This is what makes public-readers so interesting. Every-day readers aren’t like the produced character Rory Gilmore, with a background consciousness of the intentionally public nature of her book selection. Granted, for common readers like us, there’s a certain consciousness about the book we’ve chosen for public consumption. Some of us will avoid reading in public the books we read in private to avoid sending one message (Shades of Gray). Some of us will only read certain books in public to send another message (Shades of Gray, again). But it’s the crowd in between, the people who tote the same book, back and forth — between home, commutes, work, gym, DMV, coffee shop, poolside — that I’m interested in identifying, to find out their stories and see what they’re trying to tell us about their books and what their books tell us about them. And, like the Rory Gilmore syndicate of actor, writers, producers, and directors, I’d like to remind people that it’s okay to love books, to steep in them, to be seen with them.