Season one of Lifetime’s runaway hit You is over and, personally, I’m still trying to wrap my head around that insane finale. Based on Caroline Kepnes’s bestselling book of the same name, You follows bookstore manager Joe Goldberg who develops a pretty unhealthy obsession with aspiring writer, Beck, when she visits his store. While neither is without flaw—she, prone to lying and cheating and he, a deranged stalker/killer—Beck and Joe’s shared love of books makes this show a must-watch for book lovers. In fact, the show and the book it’s based on are chock-full of literary references. So, while you’re waiting on a second season (or the third Joe book Kepnes hinted at on Twitter), go back and rewatch season one—and reread YOU—with this reading list to guide you.
If you haven’t already, read how it all
started. Grab a pen and some post-it notes! See if you can spot all the books mentioned in text.
Read the full review of YOU
Joe doesn’t like artisanal soda, trust fund kids, Dan Brown, Brooklyn hipsters, or Vice magazine. He does, however, like you, ever since you walked into his East Village bookshop looking like Natalie Portman. Shame that Joe is a cold-blooded killer and adept stalker. In the all-too-rare second-person narrative, YOU takes place inside the obsessed brain of Joe Goldberg, who’ll stop at nothing to make boho-wannabe Guinevere Beck (the “you” of Kepnes’s page-turning novel) his.
Crazy like: The lovesick and the just-plain-sick.
Best crazy moment: The DA VINCI CODE reading marathon.
When Beck walks into Mooney’s bookstore and purchases a book by Joe’s favorite author, Paula Fox, there’s no turning back for these star-crossed bibliophiles. In DESPERATE CHARACTERS, Sophie is bitten on the hand by a, possibly, rabies-infected cat, and plagued by a series of small and ominous disasters. In YOU, Beck assures Joe she’s read Fox’s novel several times and is just purchasing it for “a friend,” which piques Joe’s interest. However, in the series, Joe has the honor successfully recommending DESPERATE CHARACTERS to Beck. The interaction is so noteworthy, she posts a photo of her new read on Instagram.
Working in a bookstore has its (mostly) pros and (sometimes) cons. Unfortunately for Joe and his skeletal crew, a new Stephen King book means lines out the door of ravenous Kingophiles. “DOCTOR SLEEP turns my shop into a f***king Church of Stephen and I have no room to think about you, prepare for you,” Joe complains on the release date of King’s long-awaited THE SHINING sequel. Stephen King himself called YOU, “hypnotic and scary… totally original.”
Paco, Joe’s young book-loving neighbor, doesn’t appear in Kepnes’s YOU. He does however provide an interesting lens through which to view Joe in the Lifetime series. Joe’s soft spot for Paco endears him to the viewer—because, let’s face it, who can resist a generous book giver? Paco loves the classics and even provides literary commentary that’s too on-the-nose about Joe’s secret life. Among the many books Joe has lent (and even pilfered for) Paco, FRANKENSTEIN—in which the reader gets inside the mind of a monster—feels most similar to Joe’s double life.
One of my favorite things about the Jurassic Park franchise is that it raises such provocative questions about the ethics of science and creation, a la Dr. Ian Malcolm’s observation that “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could [create dinosaurs] that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Mary Shelley’s masterpiece of scientific horror also explores this moral quandary.
The Da Vinci Code
When a customer enters Mooney’s to “shame-buy” a Dan Brown novel, he quickly adds a more challenging, high-brow read to his pile—J.D. Salinger’s FRANNY AND ZOOEY. But Joe believes, whether it’s to purchase a Salinger book or shame-buy a Brown thriller, “buying stuff is one of the only honest things we do.” Joe name-drops Dan Brown numerous times throughout the novel and even marathon-reads THE DA VINCI CODE with Beck, only breaking for a coffee from Starbucks.
Franny and Zooey
Beside the Salinger-Brown incident, J. D. Salinger has an interesting connection to another one of the characters in YOU. Peach Salinger—Beck’s pretentious interior designer friend and major obstacle for a picture-perfect Joe and Beck romance—may or may not be a distant relative of the prolific writer. If she’s as close to Salinger as she claims to be, she might just recommend her friends read his interconnected short story “Franny” and novella ZOOEY.
Benji is Beck’s on-and-off-again boyfriend and the bane of Joe’s existence. When Joe holds Benji hostage, he quizzes him about his supposed top five favorite books: GRAVITY’S RAINBOW by Thomas Pynchon, BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN by David Foster Wallace, THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE by Stephen Crane, ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac, and UNDERWORLD by Don DeLillo. Needless to say, Benji fails Joe’s tests… and it costs him his life.
One of DeLillo’s best, Underworld has many storylines, but it starts on a baseball diamond. The book only spends a short time focusing on baseball, but one ball in particular factors into all of the action that follows.
When bodies start piling up, Joe is unsure of how to dispose of them and scouring the internet for "how to" articles doesn't seem like the smartest option. So, he turns to his favorite literature (pretty dark, I know). In the series, you’ll spot Joe thumbing through a copy of a THE ALIENIST by Caleb Carr. In this novel, set in Gilded Age New York, an unconventional police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, enlists a reporter, a psychologist, and an NYPD secretary to craft a psychological profile of a criminal as they try to solve a brutal murder. Seems like the perfect book to read if you're leading a secret life of crime.
Fast-paced and gripping, infused with a historian's exactitude, The Alienist conjures up the Gilded Age and its untarnished underside: verminous tenements and opulent mansions, corrupt cops and flamboyant gangsters, shining opera houses and seamy gin mills. Here is a New York during an age when questioning society's belief that all killers are born, not made, could have unexpected and mortal consequences.
In an episode called "Everythingship," as Joe and Beck sit side by side in bed with their current reads—his, David Mitchell’s BLACK SWAN GREEN; hers, Zadie Smith’s award-winning novel ON BEAUTY—they are an everythingship personified. In the episode after, Joe finds an article online with Beck's top ten favorites books featuring ON BEAUTY right behind DESPERATE CHARACTERS. Zadie Smith’s novel portrays an interracial family whose misadventures in the culture wars on both sides of the Atlantic skewer everything from family life to political correctness to the combustive collision between the personal and the political.
Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny, this tour de force confirms Zadie Smith’s reputation as a major literary talent. Smith notes that she “has taken Howards End, that marvelous tale of class difference, and upped the ante by adding race, politics, and gender.”
Candace, the mysterious girl with red hair who haunts Joe's dreams and looms over his and Beck's relationship, is finally revealed as Joe's ex-girlfriend in the penultimate episode of the season. We learn that Candace is (was?) a musician in a band called Heathcliff's Misery—a reference to her favorite novel WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Though we know very little about Candace's whereabouts (Joe says she's somewhere in Italy), we know that things did not end well with Joe. During the fight that ended their relationship, she ripped up a rare first edition copy of WUTHERING HEIGHTS that Joe gave her for Christmas. For this and many other reasons (which we'll probably learn in season two), Joe doesn't like to talk about Candace.
“Whatever souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
The turbulent and tempestuous love story of Cathy and Heathcliff spans two generations—from the time Heathcliff, a strange, coarse young boy, is brought to live on the Earnshaws’ windswept estate, through Cathy’s marriage to Edgar Linton and Heathcliff’s plans for revenge, to Cathy’s death years later and the eventual union of the surviving Earnshaw and Linton heirs. A masterpiece of imaginative fiction, Wuthering Heights (the author’s only novel) remains as poignant and compelling today as it was when first published in 1847.
Joe Goldberg’s story doesn’t end with YOU. In HIDDEN BODIES, he’s found a new life in Hollywood. But while others seem fixated on their own reflections, Joe can’t stop looking over his shoulder. The problem with hidden bodies is that they don’t always stay that way.
Joe is a charming, dangerous antihero whose obsessive quest for the perfect girl takes him to extreme lengths. HIDDEN BODIES is not for the faint of heart—Joe is American Psycho level crazy and self-obsessed—but you’ll be turning pages late into the night.