I didn’t really have a neighbourhood library growing up. The kind where you aren’t allowed to eat audible snacks, hold hands or whisper loudly. Which means no dusty love in the back and no librarian out front, wearing spectacle chains and recommending titles, new and old.
Instead I had an invisible librarian, who suggested reading lists through a knot of colourful people that populated Stars Hollow, a fictional town in Connecticut. Imagine a James Dean-ish bad boy in a leather jacket who steals books off your shelf and returns them with notes in the margin – we’ve always been Team Jess; an elementary school kid whose book bag is heavier than her body weight because she’s going through a Russian literature phase; and a teenage couple that takes Joan Didion’s The Year Of Magical Thinking along on Valentine’s Day weekend. I get the irony of a TV show dictating reading lists, but isn’t that the best of kind of TV show?
Stars Hollow, the littlest town with the biggest ambition, was the star of The Gilmore Girls, which aired in 2000. I was 18 – yes, I’m old enough to be that dusty librarian I speak of at the start – which meant that the show’s protagonist and I probably read The Catcher in the Rye at the same time, and although she didn’t know it, I was there when she discussed it at Luke’s diner. Sweethearts Rory and Jess also made me read deeper into The Beat Generation – remember their mutual love for Allen Ginsberg’s Howl? – and got me to borrow a dog-eared copy of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road; add Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos to my reading list; and made it okay to slip a bestseller like The Da Vinci Code in there.
Find all literary references in The Gilmore Girls here.
The Gilmore Girls is not really a ‘teen’ show, but it is about a teen and we were teens when we watched it so this comparison might be fruitful. I like to think that The Gilmore Girls did for books what Gossip Girl did for clothes. A fur trimmed Prada coat unveiled by Serena on the MET steps for instance, could be the 100 year-old Latin copy of Leaves of Grass that Rory’s grandparents gift her (same level of excitement); and the moment Jenny turns rebel and makes her own clothes’ literary equivalent could be that time in study group when Jess tells Rory about Please Kill Me — an oral history of the punk movement.
It was only after a few years of borrowing Gilmore Girls DVDs that I took the time to discover that in real life, the invisible librarian voice belonged to Amy Sherman-Palladino, the show's creator and co-writer. Other fun facts revealed themselves like the layers of an onion over the years – Amy often sports a Dr Seuss style tall hat; owns a walnut-sized rhinestone pig-shaped ring; and is very much like the enormously endearing characters she creates. This past week, Amy became the first person ever to win both, Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series at the Emmys in the same year (2018), for The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, which if you haven’t watched yet, you’re crazy.
Mrs Maisel may not be an insatiable reader like the youngest Gilmore Girl, but she is propelled at us by the same invisible voice dreaming up compelling women you want to be best friends with. Because they are witty and funny, speak many, many words per sentence (not without at least two pop culture references), and best of all, sit on a bench, oblivious of a whole town going by, reading Anna Karenina even while a cute boy pronounces it boring. We never really liked you, Dean.
Getting there: You can re-watch The Gilmore Girls on Netflix and The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime.
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