Though Emily Ratajkowski initially declined the offer to appear topless in Robin Thicke’s infamous “Blurred Lines” music video, the starring role would be her breakthrough: after its 2013 release, the model-cum-actress was topping beauty and fashion lists, landing covers on the world’s most popular magazines, and scoring bit parts on the big screen.

It’s this complicated claim to fame that forms the heart of her debut book, My Body. An instant NYT bestseller, the essay collection attempts to reckon with the realities of her life as a supermodel – detailing personal accounts of sexual assault, investigating our culture’s fetishization of girlhood, and examining what it’s like to live in one of the most commodified and objectified bodies in the world.

“What I found with exposing my body is that it becomes very one-dimensional,” she says of her modeling career. “It exists in one way, whereas writing allows for so much more nuance.” An avid reader, Ratajkowski has shared some of the most influential books of her life in interviews with Elle, Vogue & The Week. From George Eliot to Joan Didion, find her favorites collected below.

Emily Ratajkowski’s Reading List

Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett

“I read this book when I was in college. Someone gave it to me because it was about female friendship—in particular the friendship between Ann Patchett and another writer named Lucy Grealy. They weren’t just friends, though, they were young women navigating sex and beauty (Grealy had some physical deformities due to a childhood cancer), and there’s something so honest about this book that it makes you kind of wonder: Is it okay to tell a story this way? There was a back-and-forth with Grealy’s friends and family about the publication of the book because they didn’t love the way Grealy was portrayed. But I have yet to read as compelling a work about female friendship, female beauty, and ideals about male desire—and all those things intersect with what I write about in my book.” -ER

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (also rec’d by David BowieErnest Hemingway, Jim Jarmusch, Kim GordonNorman Mailer & Philip Roth)

“I read this book my senior year of high school. It was one of those books that people were always talking about, but it had never been assigned to me. I can’t remember why I actually picked it up, but I immediately became obsessed with it when I did, and read it in three days. I remember sitting on a bed—it was actually my boyfriend’s bed—and sobbing when I finished it. He came in and was like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I think it’s one of those books that should be required reading for young women. The problems that Madame Bovary faces are actually modern, existential questions of how you feel in your body as a woman, about hope and love and the idea of a Prince Charming. I don’t think men are taught they should look to romance to figure out who they are—that still seems true today. And the main character—who at points you can’t stand and at other points you have so much love for—is one of the best of all time.” -ER

The Reckonings: Essays on Justice for the Twenty-First Century by Lacy M. Johnson

“Everyone I know who has read this book has been blown away by the writing. It’s a book of essays that follows an earlier book in which Lacy Johnson wrote about the experience of being kidnapped and raped by her boyfriend. In the introduction she talked about how women would come up to her on her book tour and ask her what justice might look like. A lot of women felt angry about what she had experienced—they almost had this bloodthirst for something like reckoning, and the book grapples with that. It’s not an uplifting book, but it is so honest and deliberate and well written. It doesn’t shy away from anything. Even friends of mine whom I’ve given the book to who aren’t huge readers end up finishing it and thinking it’s one of the best books they’ve ever read.” -ER

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks (also rec’d by Emma Watson & Pussy Riot)

“I really admire bell hooks for how plainly and directly she writes. She has no pretentious aspirations in her writing; rather she is just specific and deliberate. This is one of her more recent books, and it entails a really refreshing marriage between a spiritual and intellectual approach to understanding what love is and what it’s capable of doing for us. It’s a beautiful book that has a lot of hope in it. It would make a great gift.” -ER

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin (also rec’d by Elena Ferrante)

“Lucia Berlin lived her life as an unknown writer who worked as a cleaning lady. This is a collection of short stories put together after her death; they are stories, but I think it’s understood that they are thinly veiled fiction, and you do feel you’re getting to know her as a person as well as a writer when you read them. The publisher did a wonderful job putting the stories together; they build on one another, and the book is really enjoyable to read as a whole. There is something very rough and tumble about her voice—sort of like she’s related to [Charles] Bukowski, if Bukowski were a brown woman who cleaned houses.” -ER

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

“Carmen Maria Machado takes the traditional memoir and turns it on its head. She builds her story as one would a house: slowly, diligently, piece by piece. By doing so, Machado masterfully creates an experience for the reader that I have not encountered in any other memoir.” -ER

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

“This book’s first essay, about Jamison’s part-time work as a ‘medical actor’ performing maladies for medical students to diagnose, might be my favorite of all time. Jamison’s ability to beautifully move from one complex idea and feeling to the next is remarkable.” -ER

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

“Another impressive essay collection, this one was recommended to me by Sweetbitter novelist Stephanie Danler while I was writing My Body. Chee, a novelist, revisits various episodes from his own life as he examines how any of us constructs an identity across a lifetime.” -ER

Self-Help by Lorrie Moore

“I read this book, which is Lorrie Moore’s debut short-story collection, when I first moved to New York City in my early 20s. No one compares to Moore, and this is her masterpiece.” -ER

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (also rec’d by Bob OdenkirkJohn CusackKareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kathy Bates, Margot RobbieNeil Patrick HarrisNicholas Sparks & Shonda Rhimes)

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (also rec’d by Amanda Gorman, Gabrielle UnionGeorge SaundersIbram X. KendiJane Elliott & Tarana Burke)

“Even though I was a little young for it, it taught me so much about race, women, and power; it was kind of my intro to those ideas.” -ER

Middlemarch by George Eliot (also rec’d by Bret Easton EllisCarrie Fisher, Nigella Lawson & Zadie Smith)

The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg by Rose Luxemburg

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley (also rec’d by Angie Thomas, The Black Panthers, Colin KaepernickGabrielle UnionHoward ZinnIbram X. KendiJanelle Monáe, Kareem Abdul-JabbarRose McGowanTupac ShakurUzo Aduba & Questlove)

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (also rec’d by Colin KaepernickDavid Bowie, Richey Edwards & Ta-Nehisi Coates)

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion (also rec’d by Bret Easton EllisMichael Stipe, Rage Against The Machine & St. Vincent)

“It was not the first Didion I’d ever read, but it was one that I felt instantly sucked in by and it kind of reads like a fever dream, so it’s really good one to read in one go.” -ER

I’ll Show Myself Out by Jessie Klein

“As a new mom myself, I loved the way she talks about becoming a mother. Her honesty is so refreshing and made me feel really seen. And it’s really funny but also very honest and dark. I highly recommend! It’s an essay collection as well.” -ER

Ghost Lover by Lisa Taddeo

Luster by Raven Leilani

“Luster definitely will make you blush. There’s a sex scene towards the beginning that is just one of the most brilliantly written sex scenes I’ve ever read.” -ER

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney (also rec’d by Anya Taylor-Joy, Lena Dunham & Phoebe Bridgers)

“She’s able to go from texting to real-life conversations to emails in a way that’s really special.” -ER

Ways of Seeing by John Berger

The Right to Sex by Amia Srinivasan

Girlhood by Melissa Febos

“I related to so much of what she wrote about her experience of adolescence. I have never read anyone write so honestly and thoroughly about that period of life for young girls.” -ER

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

White Girls by Hilton Als (also rec’d by St. Vincent)

(via Elle, Vogue & The Week)

Categories: Actors