Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.
Had Shonda Rhimes not been sick and, looking for something to read in her hotel room, found a copy of Julia Quinn’s The Duke & I, there might never have been Bridgerton, one of Netflix’s most-watched English-language series ever. It’s yet another blockbuster from Rhimes and Betsy Beers, partners in Shondaland and the force behind Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder among other addictive TV, as well as audio, editorial content, products, and experiences. The executive producers, who are shooting the third season of the show, dish about the dishy Regency-period drama in Inside Bridgerton (Scribner/Marysue Rucci Books). Rhimes is writing and executive producing, along with Beers, a prequel called Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, among many other projects.
Chicago-born, New York-based Rhimes went to Dartmouth and the University of Southern California where she got a master’s in screenwriting; wrote Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement; has a memoir and a TED talk on saying yes to everything; was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame by Oprah; was on the planning committee for Barack Obama’s presidential library and is a co-chair of Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote; wanted to be a novelist; likes Hughie Lee-Smith paintings; teaches a MasterClass; and plays the cello.
New York-born, L.A.-based Beers was a drama and English major (and medieval German history minor) at Williams, where she spent a year in England studying theater; started as an actor who moved into comedy; produced such movies as 200 Cigarettes and High Fidelity; isn’t great at social media; has a new puppy named Hank; and was told by Jeremy Irons on a movie set that she seemed better suited for TV instead of film when she spent all her time reading Grey’s and complaining about things taking so long.
The award-winning duo, who met in 2002, dislike small talk, society’s expectation of likable female characters, and “OMG” and “you go, girl” moments.
The book that…
…kept me up way too late:
Shonda Rhimes: Anything by Stephen King.
Betsy Beers: Trust by Hernan Diaz, which I read in one sitting.
…made me weep uncontrollably:
SR: I don’t have an answer for that one.
BB: I don’t either.
…I recommend over and over again:
SR: Open by Andre Agassi.
BB: Oh my God, that was on my list.
SR: Are you serious?
BB: I’m totally serious. I was going to say Jane Eyre because it’s one of my favorite books.
…shaped my worldview:
SR: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg. It made me want to be a New Yorker.
BB: That’s genius.
…made me rethink a long-held belief:
SR: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It reflected a new way of looking at writing.
…I swear I’ll finish one day:
BB: Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I’ve started it a few times—it’s great. You just have to be in this mindset to read it, where you’re fully concentrating and apparently I’ve never found that moment.
SR: I have a real cookbook love so I’d say The Escoffier Cookbook.
ELLE: Middlemarch is a popular answer for this one.
BB: That’s one of my favorite books, and I actually have read that whole book.
SR: Betsy’s answers are all going to be intellectual and literary, and my answers are all going to be basic.
BB: I don’t think so.
SR: That’s how our brains work in a good way.
BB: I just love that we both had Andre Agassi on our list.
…I read in one sitting, it was that good:
BB: Besides Trust, any mystery. I’ve read all the Martin Beck mysteries by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. I’ve read Dorothy L. Sayers, this incredible novelist who wrote the Lord Peter Wimsey books. I will stay up way too late or read mysteries in one sitting because you need to know who did it.
SR: The one that I famously read in one sitting was Julia Quinn’s The Duke & I.
…I last bought:
BB: The Year of the Puppy by Alexandra Horowitz, and in fact that’s also the book that made me cry. We just got a puppy so it’s apposite for me.
SR: I didn’t buy it but it currently sits on my nightstand as the next thing I’m going to read, which is The Light We Carry by Mrs. Obama.
…describes a house I’d want to live in or a place I’d want to visit:
SR: On a Street Called Easy, In a Cottage Called Joye by Gregory White Smith. It’s old, but I’m obsessed with it. It’s about this couple that restores a home that always sounded so fantastic.
BB: The Magus by John Fowles. It’s set in Greece, and I’ve never been to Greece. I remember the setting being incredibly, incredibly impactful. This is the primary answer: any book set in Provence or the south of France or Italy anywhere from the 30s to now, I just want to transport myself.
…everyone should read:
SR: Anything by Toni Morrison. Everything by Toni Morrison, I should say.
BB: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.
…fills me with hope:
BB: Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne.
SR: I’m going to say, very simply, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
BB: Oh, yes!
SR: The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. It’s very rare for a book to surprise me. Usually I can tell you what the ending’s going to be and how it’s going to go, but for some reason I didn’t see it coming.
…has a sex scene that will make you blush:
SR: That’s all the Bridgerton books. I don’t really read that many books that have sex scenes that will make you blush but the Bridgerton books do.
…features a character I love to hate:
BB: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.
SR: That’s a good one.
…broke my heart:
SR: I don’t have an answer.
BB: Clearly we’re not reading very sad things.
Riza Cruz is an editor and writer based in New York.