Indeed, so all-consuming are Gerber’s reading habits that when she first sent over her most formative books for this story, she named 15. “I was told it was 10, and even then I couldn’t choose!” Gerber says, laughing again. “Trying to get it down to five was like choosing your favorite children.” (For those who might be curious, the darlings she had to kill included books by Haruki Murakami, James Baldwin, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou, and Donna Tartt. She has, we can quite safely say, impeccable taste.) “I mean, any opportunity to talk about books and I’m there,” Gerber continues. “I could have put 100 books on that list, but I think books are kind of like movies, in the sense that sometimes you watch them at a certain time in your life and they just affect you so much at that moment. You could read a book again a year later, but you’re in a very different place, so it doesn’t hit you in the same way.” As Gerber aptly puts it: “It’s almost like the right book finds you when you need it the most.”
Here, find the five books that have changed Kaia Gerber’s life—and why she believes you should read them too.
The Lover by Marguerite Duras
The Lover is about a young woman and an older man falling in love, but it’s written from the young woman’s perspective, which I enjoyed—especially dealing with a topic like that, because you already have your Lolitas out there, you know. I think everyone should read something by Marguerite Duras, because the way she writes is just so beautiful. She has this book of essays called Me & Other Writing that was my introduction to her, and once I experienced the way that she formed sentences, I was like, I need to read everything she’s ever written. I think I read The Lover in a day—it’s just so poetic and sad and very, very honest, and most of all I liked that it offered a different take on a story that we’ve read and seen lots of times before.
The Stranger by Albert Camus
I think The Stranger was the first philosophy book I ever read. I loved how to the point it was, because I had this idea of what reading philosophy was in my head, but the way that Camus writes is so matter-of-fact. As you’re reading it, you almost don’t even realize all of these massive, sweeping philosophical questions that are being posed, because of how straightforwardly he puts them. He almost tricks you into grappling with them. I think it’s just a brilliant book on its own terms, but as an introduction to philosophy, it’s perfect.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
I love Joan Didion so much—I think she’s probably the author whose body of work has affected my life the most. Before reading The Year of Magical Thinking, I don’t think I’d ever read anything that captured grief in the way she was able to. There have been times when I was dealing with grief and I would read these articles or books that were meant to be very inspirational—they’d say, you can move on from this! They approached grief as something that happens, and then you progress from it. But I think Joan really captured that long, long process of grief—I don’t even know if you can call it a process because I don’t think it has an end. She captures the through line that it has within your life after the fact very honestly, and some of the feelings that we don’t like to talk about; the anger you might feel, for example. I thought it was brilliant how brutally honest she was, and I applaud her just for being able to write about something that most people can’t even put words to.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
I read Just Kids right before I moved to New York, and I think many people feel about the book the same way that I do. You’re young, you read it, and you just want to change your entire life afterwards, to live freely and be who you want. It was so inspiring, especially as I had a very different upbringing. It felt like an invitation into a world I’d never previously understood, and makes you realize that the act of making art is attainable—you can always be creating. It’s a love story that doesn’t end in the way that the love stories we were told as kids do, and it opened my eyes to all the different kinds of relationships you can have in your life and the different ways you can love.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
I read What We Talk About When We Talk About Love probably around a year ago—I’d never read anything by Raymond Carver before. I feel like a lot of the writing that I’m drawn to is French or Russian, but strangely Raymond Carver appealed to me because it’s so unapologetically American. I feel like it captures American culture and society in a really brilliant way. The book contains all these little slivers of life that don’t necessarily have a beginning, middle, and end, but you realize how much can happen in those tiny moments. I really enjoy books that play with format, and I just think Raymond Carver is a genius.