115 Books on Lena Dunham & Miranda July’s Bookshelves at Home (Plus a Bonus Short Play)


Miranda-july-reading” by Alexis Barrera / Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Ah, the joys of dining at a new friend’s home, knowing sooner or later, one’s hostess’ bladder or some bit of last minute meal preparation will dictate that one will be left alone to rifle the titles on her bookshelf with abandon. No medicine cabinet can compete with this peek into the psyche.

Pity that some of the people whose bookshelves I’d be most curious to see are the least likely to open their homes to me. That’s why I’d like to thank The Strand bookstore for providing a virtual peek at the shelves of filmmakers-cum-authors Miranda July and Lena Dunham.  (Previous participants in the Authors Bookshelf series include just-plain-regular authors George Saunders, Edwidge Danticat and the late David Foster Wallace whose contributions were selected by biographer D.T. Max.)


Lena Dunham” by David Shankbone – Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I wish Dunham and July had offered up some personal commentary to explain their hand-picked titles. (Surely their homes are lined with books. Surely each list is but a representative sampling, one shelf from hundreds. Hmm. Interesting. Did they run back and forth between various rooms, curating with a vengeance, or is this a case of whatever happened to be in the case closest at hand when deadline loomed?)

Which book’s a longtime favorite?

Which the literary equivalent of comfort food?

Are there things that only made the cut because the author is a friend?

Both women are celebrated storytellers. Surely, there are stories here beyond the ones contained between two covers.

But no matter. The lack of accompanying anecdotes means we now have the fun of inventing imaginary dinner parties:


ME: (standing in the living room, calling through the kitchen door, a glass of wine in hand) Whoa, Lena, I can’t believe you’ve got Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry!

LENA DUNHAM: (polite, but distracted by a pot of red sauce) I know, isn’t that one great?

ME: So great! Where’d you buy it?

LENA DUNHAM: Uh, The Strand, I think.

ME: Me too! Such a great conceit, that book. Wish I’d come up with it!

LENA DUNHAM: I know what you mean.

ME: Ooh, you’ve got Was She Pretty? 

LENA DUNHAM: Hmm? Oh, yeah, my friend Miranda gave me that.

ME: (glancing between the two books.) Wait! Leanne Sharpton. Leanne Sharpton. I didn’t realize it’s the same author.


ME: The person who wrote Was She Pretty? also wrote Important Artifacts and Personal Property-

ME & LENA DUNHAM IN UNISON: – from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry!

LENA DUNHAM: Gotta love that title.

ME: Why do you have all these kids’ books?

LENA DUNHAM: Those are from my childhood.

ME: (sliding an unnamed title off the shelf, eyes widening as I read the shockingly graphic personal inscription on the flyleaf) Oh?

LENA DUNHAM: I really relate to Eloise.

ME: (hastily sliding the volume back onto the shelf before Lena can catch me snooping) Oh yeah…ha ha.

LENA DUNHAM: Are you the one who likes graphic novels?

ME: Me? Yes!!!

LENA DUNHAM: Yeah. My friend Miranda does too.

ME:  That’s funny – Sex and the Single Girl right next to Of Human Bondage.

LENA DUNHAM: (cursing under her breath)

ME: Need help?

LENA DUNHAM: No, it’s just this damn …arrrggh. I hate this cookbook!

ME: (brightly) Smells good!

LENA DUNHAM: … crap.

ME: So, is Adam Driver coming? Or Ray or anybody?

LENA DUNHAM: (testily)  You mean Alex Karpovsky?

ME: (flustered) Oh, ha ha, yes! Alex! … I sent him a Facebook request and he accepted.

LENA DUNHAM: (mutters under her breath)

ME: Design Sponge? Really? What’s someone in your shoes doing with a bunch of DIY decorating books?

LENA DUNHAM: (coldly) Research.


Actually, maybe it is better to admire one’s idols’ bookshelves from afar.

I’m chagrined that I don’t recognize more of their modern fiction picks. That wasn’t such a problem when I was measuring myself against the 430 books on Marilyn Monroe’s reading list.

Thank heaven for old standbys like Madame Bovary.

In all sincerity, I was glad that Dunham didn’t try to mask her love of home decor blog books.

And that July included her husband’s monograph, Our Bodies, Ourselves and a handbook to raising self-confident babies.

One’s shelves, after all, are a matter of taste. So, celebrate the similarities, take their recommendations under advisement, see below and read what you like!



A Time for Everything  – Karl Ove Knausgaard

A Very Young Dancer – Jill Krementz

Alice James: A Biography  – Jean Strouse

Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect  – Mel Y. Chen

Arthur Tress: The Dream Collector – John Minahan

Building Stories  – Chris Ware

Cruddy: An Illustrated Novel  – Lynda Barry

Diaries, 1910-1923  – Franz Kafka

Do the Windows Open?  – Julie Hecht

Dorothy Iannone: Seek The Extremes! (v.1) – Barbara Vinken, Sabine Folie

Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller  – Chloe Griffin

Embryogenesis – Richard Grossinger

Friedl Kubelka Vom Groller  – Melanie Ohnemus

American War  – Harrell Fletcher

Hannah Höch: Album (English and German Edition) – Hannah Höch

How to Build a Girl  – Caitlin Moran

Humiliation  – Wayne Koestenbaum

It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids  – Heather Shumaker

King Kong Theory  – Virginie Despentes

Leaving the Atocha Station  – Ben Lerner

Lightning Rods  – Helen DeWitt

Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries  – Jon Ronson

Maidenhead  – Tamara Faith Berger

Man V. Nature: Stories  – Diane Cook

Mike Mills: Graphics Films  – Mike Mills

Napa Valley Historical Ecology Atlas: Exploring a Hidden Landscape of Transformation and Resilience  – Robin Grossinger

Need More Love  – Aline Kominsky Crumb

Our Bodies, Ourselves (Completely Revised and Updated Version)  – Boston Women’s Health Book Collective

Jim Goldberg: Rich and Poor  – Jim Goldberg

Sanja Ivekovic: Sweet Violence  – Roxana Marcoci

Sophie Calle: The Address Book  – Sophie Calle

Staring Back  – Chris Marker

Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters, I-XVIII – Homi Bhabha, Geoffrey Batchen

Tete-a-Tete: The Tumultuous Lives & Loves of Simone De Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre  – Hazel Rowley

The Hour of the Star  – Clarice Lispector

The Illustrated I Ching – R.L. Wing

Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir  – Sarah Manguso

Traffic  – Kenneth Goldsmith

Two Serious Ladies  – Jane Bowles

Was She Pretty?  – Leanne Shapton

What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng: A Novel  – Dave Eggers

Why Did I Ever  – Mary Robison

Women in Clothes  – Sheila Heti

Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do  – Studs Terkel

Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities — From the Very Start  – Magda Gerber

Far from the Tree  – Andrew Solomon

How Should a Person Be?  – Sheila Heti



The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing  – Melissa Bank

A Little History of the World  – E. H. Gombrich

Anne of Green Gables  – L.M. Montgomery

Apartment Therapy Presents: Real Homes, Real People, Hundreds of Real Design Solutions  – Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan

Ariel: The Restored Edition  – Sylvia Plath

Bad Feminist: Essays  – Roxane Gay

Bastard Out of Carolina (20th Anniversary Edition)  – Dorothy Allison

Blue is the Warmest Color  – Julie Maroh

Brighton Rock  – Graham Greene

Cavedweller  – Dorothy Allison

Country Girl: A Memoir  – Edna O’Brien

Crazy Salad and Scribble Scribble: Some Things About Women and Notes on Media  – Nora Ephron

Design Sponge at Home  – Grace Bonney

Dinner: A Love Story: It All Begins at the Family Table  – Jenny Rosenstrach

Eleanor & Park  – Rainbow Rowell

Eloise  – Kay Thompson

Eloise In Moscow  – Kay Thompson

Eloise In Paris  – Kay Thompson

Fanny At Chez Panisse  – Alice Waters

Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories  – Philip Roth

Holidays on Ice  – David Sedaris

Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry  – Leanne Shapton

Lentil  – Robert McCloskey

Love Poems  – Nikki Giovanni

Love, an Index (McSweeney’s Poetry Series)  – Rebecca Lindenberg

Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home  – Nina Stibbe

Madame Bovary: Provincial Ways  – Gustave Flaubert

NW: A Novel  – Zadie Smith

Of Human Bondage  – W. Somerset Maugham

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx  – Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

Rebecca  – Daphne Du Maurier

Remodelista  – Julie Carlson

Selected Stories, 1968-1994  – Alice Munro

Sex and the Single Girl  – Helen Gurley Brown

She’s Come Undone  – Wally Lamb

Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir  – Diana Athill

Stet: An Editor’s Life  – Diana Athill

Sula  – Toni Morrison

Summer Blonde  – Adrian Tomine

Super Natural Every Day: Well-Loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen  – Heidi Swanson

Tenth of December  – George Saunders

Tess of the D’Urbervilles  – Thomas Hardy

The Boys of My Youth  – Jo Ann Beard

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis  – Lydia Davis

The Dud Avocado  – Elaine Dundy

The Important Book  – Margaret Wise Brown

The Journalist and the Murderer  – Janet Malcolm

The Liars’ Club: A Memoir  – Mary Karr

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.: A Novel  – Adelle Waldman

The Marriage Plot  – Jeffrey Eugenides

The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)  – Andy Warhol

The Story of Ferdinand  – Munro Leaf

The Woman in White  – Wilkie Collins

The Writing Class  – Jincy Willett

This Is My Life  – Meg Wolitzer

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from ‘Dear Sugar’  – Cheryl Strayed

Wallflower At the Orgy  – Nora Ephron

Was She Pretty?  – Leanne Shapton

We Have Always Lived In the Castle  – Shirley Jackson

What Lips My Lips Have Kissed: The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay  – Daniel Mark Epstein

What She Saw…  – Lucinda Rosenfeld

What the Living Do: Poems  – Marie Howe

While I Was Gone  – Sue Miller

With or Without You: A Memoir  – Domenica Rut

Women in Clothes  – Sheila Heti

via Scribner Books

Related Content: 

Miranda July’s Quirky Film Presents Somebody, the New App That Connects Strangers in the Real World

David Foster Wallace’s Love of Language Revealed by the Books in His Personal Library

The 430 Books in Marilyn Monroe’s Library: How Many Have You Read?

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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