All hail the power of the Instagram post — in this case, Reese Witherspoon’s second Instagram post ever, which featured J. Courtney Sullivan’s novel The Engagements, and was captioned with the actor’s sincere inquiry as to whether any of her fans would be reading the novel with her. Fast forward several hundred posts and 7.6 million followers later, and the gal who got Elle Woods her groove back has created the Reese Witherspoon’s book club (#RWBookClub), a venture that could make even Oprah jealous. (Well, maybe not quite Oprah… but basically everyone else.) But what makes this book club especially powerful — other than the fact that the books she chooses are written by and about strong female protagonists, fictional and non — is that she’s paired her list of must-reads with her very own production company, Pacific Standard, co-founded with producer Bruna Papandrea. Together, they’re turning some of Witherspoon’s favorite reads into blockbusting films.
You may have heard of a little movie (and fabulous memoir) called Wild? Or perhaps the title Gone Girl rings a bell? But those must-reads were only the beginning. Since then, Witherspoon has been practically raiding bookstore shelves in search of books to adapt to screen. If you’re ready to embark upon your #RWBookClub journey, definitely start with the books Reese Witherspoon optioned for adaption. But don’t stop there.
Here are 25 books on Reese Witherspoon’s reading list.
1. The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
The book that started it all: J. Courtney Sullivan’s novel The Engagements begins with the story of Frances Gerety, the woman who coined the phrase that launched a thousand (try millions of) engagement rings — “A Diamond is Forever” — and profiles four different marriages that try, and sometimes fail to, live up to her slogan’s promise.
2. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Optioned for an HBO series about the advice columnist and the plights of the people who write to her, Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar offers readers a collection of the very best of Strayed’s writing as the then-anonymous voice of wisdom behind Dear Sugar. Strayed’s writing is filled with heartfelt, straightforward advice about everything you could ever want advice on — and the made-for-screen adaptation will no doubt leave us all laughing, crying, and living just a little bit better.
3. The Dry by Jane Harper
This movie-optioned mystery will definitely give Gone Girl a run for its money. When the small farming community of Kiewarra is faced with a murder-suicide committed by one of their own, Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk is brought in to clean up the mess. But what he discovers leads him to believe that the deaths might not have been a murder-suicide after all. Curious…
4. You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein
One of the books that made Reese Witherspoon’s summer reading list this year, Jessi Klein’s You’ll Grow Out of It is a hilarious and heartwarmingly relatable memoir about the comedian’s journey from girlhood to womanhood, during which she felt impossibly out-of-place in a world filled with often-absurd feminine rites of passage. We’ve seriously all been there, one time or another.
5. First Comes Love by Emily Giffin
Emily Giffin’s novel First Comes Love also made its way into Witherspoon’s beach bag this summer, telling the story of sisters Josie and Meredith Garland, who are approaching the latter half of their thirties and are about to honor the 15-year anniversary of a tragedy that sent both their lives in different, and opposite trajectories — ones they aren’t sure they’re satisfied with, all these years later. But before they can make peace with their own choices, they must reunite over the event that forged a wedge in their relationship in the first place.
6. The Girls by Emma Cline
This one made EVERYONE’S summer reading list this year, and for good reason: Emma Cline’s debut novel, The Girls, introduces readers to Evie Boyd, a 14-years-old girl who finds herself drawn into a Manson Family-inspired cult in the wake of her parents’ divorce. Compellingly haunting, this novel depicts how the decisions made with youthful irresponsibility can sometimes follow you for a lifetime.
7. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Alternating between past and present, Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall centers around one unthinkable accident — the disappearance of an entire boatload of people traveling from Martha’s Vineyard to New York one foggy, summer evening. But was it an accident, after all? The only two survivors are an unknown painter and a four-year-old boy who seems to have lost his entire (powerful) New York family. As past and present begin to collide, the possibility that this accident was really a well-plotted conspiracy becomes increasingly apparent — and unsettling.
8. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
The Emmy Award-winning comedian shares stories of teenage angst and family drama, relationships, sex, and more, with her signature courage, honesty, and over-the-top hilarity that will leave you feeling like just about everything in life can become laugh-out-loud funny if you just look at it from the right perspective.
9. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Another prospective Pacific Standard film, Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty centers around a middle-class soirée; the kind that takes place just about every weekend, in every suburban neighborhood across America. Except for lifelong best friends Clementine and Erika, something changed over the course of one weekend barbecue, and their lives — and the lives of their neighbors Tiffany and Vid, and Clementine’s spouse Sam — might never be the same.
10. All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker
Another book Witherspoon has optioned for film, All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker adds one more unforgettable voice to the rape culture conversation that is being held all over the United States right now. Walker’s novel introduces readers to Jenny Kramer, a teen who is assaulted at a party and afterwards is given a controversial drug that medically erases her short-term memory. But what the drug can’t erase are Jenny’s feelings about what happened to her, and without all the facts she’s forced to grapple with those feelings alone, while her father engages in an obsessive pursuit to find Jenny’s attacker, and her mother tries to forget anything happened to Jenny in the first place.
11. The Clasp by Sloane Crosley
Another Witherspoon-Instagrammed title is Sloane Crosley’s The Clasp, a novel about three friends approaching the end of their twenties, who are reunited by another friend’s wedding — and the reunion forces them to take inventory of their own lives: what has changed, and what has (and will always) remain the same. Naturally, one thing leads to another, and the three pals find themselves on a round-the-world journey in search of a family necklace that disappeared in the years before World War II. As is wont to happen at old-friends’ nuptials.
12. Wildflower by Drew Barrymore
Charming and inspiring, Drew Barrymore talks to fans and readers as a best friend would in her memoir, Wildflower, an account of some of the most formative moments of her life, from living with the shadow of child-stardom, to living alone at just 14-years-old, to saying a heartbreaking goodbye to her father at Joshua Tree — and so much more.
13. The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
It’s nice to know Reese Witherspoon is on the Elena Ferrante bandwagon too — because honestly, isn’t everybody these days? As the second novel in the four-novel Neapolitan series, Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name features two best friends, Lila and Elena, who continue the stories they began in My Brilliant Friend, venturing forward on their different paths in life: one predictable and often-imprisoning, one challenging but free-spirited. But through it all the friendship that exists at the center of both of their lives endures.
14. The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
Regardless of your religion, we’re all familiar enough with Mary — mother of Jesus, central figure in the Christmas story. But what actually happened to Mary after all was said and done? In The Testament of Mary, Colm Tóibín presents Mary as an older woman, years after the death of her son, as she is forced to grapple not only with such a deeply personal loss, but with her role in the events that form the foundation of one of the world’s largest religions.
15. So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
Where was Jon Ronson when Steve Bartman needed someone in his corner, I ask you? In So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed Ronson travels the world, communing with people who have been publicly shamed (which, with the help of social media, is only becoming more frequent and widespread) and telling their stories. What’s it like to be the person unwittingly at the heart of a Twitter sh*tstorm, you wonder? This book will answer exactly that, as well as possibly giving you the sudden urge to go live a Walden-esque life in the woods, far, far away from Wi-Fi.
16. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
A perfect title for Witherspoon’s powerful-books-by-powerful-women vibe, Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? shares the writer and actor’s journey to find herself throughout the course of her adult life. From unrequited romances to underwhelming weight loss endeavors, Kaling laughs at herself just as hard as she believes in herself, and her empowered spirit is seriously contagious.
17. Where the Light Gets In: Losing My Mother Only to Find Her Again by Kimberly Williams-Paisley
Although Kimberly Williams-Paisley played the leading lady in a quirky-but-perfect family, in the series of Father of the Bride movies, off-camera her own family life wasn’t quite so simple. Williams-Paisley’s mother, Linda, was suffering from a debilitating form of dementia; one eventually robbed her of her speech, her ability to write, and her memory. Where the Light Gets In: Losing My Mother Only to Find Her Again is Williams-Paisley’s journey through her mother’s illness, and what it taught her and her family about the power of acceptance, forgiveness, and love.
18. Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry
Another title optioned for film, Maureen Sherry’s novel Opening Belle takes readers to the heart of Wall Street as experienced by a woman who is finding success in what is still largely a man’s world — and a frat-party-esque man’s world, no less. Isabelle McElroy is a wife, a mother, and an over-worked Wall Street Managing Director who is suddenly tasked with fighting the sexist norms within her workplace as well. But just as things begin to heat up on the feminist front, the market takes a historic crash, and suddenly everything — at work and at home — changes.
19. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
One more you’ll likely be seeing on the silver screen before too long, Ali Benjamin’s debut middle-grade novel, The Thing About Jellyfish, meets seventh-grader Suzy Swanson in the wake of her best friend’s death — and looking for answers to the tragedy, Suzy convinces herself that Franny must have been stung by a rare and deadly jellyfish. The thing is, Franny wasn’t stung by a jellyfish — Suzy is just seeking closure for the best friend who passed away before the two had an opportunity to resolve the fight their relationship ended on. And as Suzy transitions out of childhood and into her teenage years, she’s going to have to learn the hard way that there’s not always a reason for everything.
20. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
This fast-paced mystery thriller will resonate with fans of Gone Girl — which is probably why Witherspoon added this title to Pacific Standard’s TBF (that is: to-be-filmed) pile. Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood introduces readers to 26-year-old Nora, who is still obsessed with a breakup that happened a decade earlier when she was in her teens, and her best friend Clare, who was responsible for the breakup in the first place. This love triangle turns deadly fast, and with an unreliable narrator calling the shots, you won’t be sure what to believe.
21. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Adapted for an HBO series to air next year, Big Little Lies is Liane Moriarty’s second title on this list. The novel tells the story of three mothers who want to make some changes in their lives — some small, others large — before they lose the women they were before motherhood forever. Dealing with children, ex-husbands and their new wives, and PTA-style drama, these women forge a friendship, all while telling themselves and each other the kind of lies that initially seem harmless, but when compiled on top of each other become bigger than anyone expected.
22. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
A story about reinvention and the secrets we keep that threaten to destroy our lives, Jessica Knoll’s optioned-for-film novel Luckiest Girl Alive introduces readers to Ani FaNelli, a young woman who left her life behind as a teenager in the wake of a public humiliation, and recreated a new life unrecognizable to her old one. Everything would be perfect if it weren’t for Ani’s long-held secret — one that, if revealed, will either relieve Ani of her past once and for all, or will destroy everything she’s worked for in her future.
23. Second Life by S.J. Watson
Another prospective Pacific Standard film, S.J. Watson’s psychological thriller, Second Life, tells the story of a typical wife and mother whose entire life is thrown upside-down after her sister is murdered. According to Julia, the police don’t seem to be doing everything to find Kate’s killer, and so she takes matters into her own hands — in the process unexpectedly losing herself in her sister’s hidden world of online dating and cybersex, and slowly falling into a secret, and potentially deadly, life of her own.
24. Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley
Optioned for a series to air on Sony Pictures TriStar Television, Christopher Buckley’s novel, Supreme Courtship, is an irresistible satire about the U.S. Supreme Court and the absurd politics involved in getting a new judge appointed (don’t we all know it?). With the U.S. President sick and tired of his selections getting rejected, he nominates someone he predicts nobody will be able to resist: a reality television courtroom judge. This one hits so close to home it’s a little painful.
25. Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Optioned for film, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield tells the story of a trailblazing and elite team of female soldiers tasked with serving alongside Special Operations soldiers in Afghanistan, with the goal of building relationships with local women in a way that American men would never be able to do. This meticulously researched story also zeroes in on the story of 1st Lt. Ashley White, the first Cultural Support Team member killed in action.