April 19, 2019

The Unofficial Reading List of the Perfectly Flawed Family in 'Lady Bird'

"Lady Bird" has all of the cultural artifacts you'd expect to see in a smart, emotional, coming-of-age story about a millennial.

Greta Gerwig exploded onto the scene in 2017 with her directorial debut with Lady Bird, which garnered the illustrious Big Five Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Lead Actress, and Best Supporting Actress. The film is a smart, emotional, often frustrating tale about Christine (a.k.a. "Lady Bird") who desires something more from life than what she's getting as a Catholic high school senior from Sacramento, like sophistication, culture, and acceptance into an East Coast college.

If you want to understand not only Lady Bird the film but also Lady Bird the character, take a look at this video essay, in which H. Nelson Tracey of Hint of Film reveals all of the books, magazines, art, and other culturally significant artifacts found in Lady Bird, which is essentially the "intelligent and angsty millennial who desperately wants to escape her seemingly lackluster existence for something more...colorful" starter pack.

As I mentioned before, Lady Bird wants more from life. She's stuck between two worlds: the one where she's a Catholic high school student in a financially unstable family on the West Coast, and the one where she's a cultured college student who delights in the supposed sophistication of the East Coast.

And this dichotomy between who Lady Bird is and who she wants to be is expressed in a number of ways, but one that isn't often talked about is in the set design. Scores of books, artworks, and even music subtly peek out from within bookshelves and inconspicuous wall space, with the collected works of Mondrian placed on a coffee table while Justin Timberlake fills the air with Nought Pop.

A constant tug-of-war goes on inside of Lady Bird, with parts of her trying so hard to be someone more refined than those in her community, school, and family, and other parts unable to shake the fact that obscure literary references and intellectual masturbation isn't really her bag. In fact, we see the uncomfortable non-chemistry between Lady Bird and her love interest, Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), who is pretentious and arrogant, the kind of dope who'd only read Kierkegaard if he was in public...and only in public...and would eat the words on the page but not get the nutrients of their content...and the only introspection he has is when he looks inside himself to ask himself how his beach wave hair looks, to which he'd respond...to himself, "Hella tight."

And Lady Bird isn't that person. She's smart...smart smart, and doesn't need all of that shallow shit to prove it. But she doesn't quite know that until maybe the end of the movie, however, we see glimpses of this, like when she turns 18 and goes out to buy cigarettes, scratch-its, and a Playgirl. What kind of sophisticate would choose dongs over Degas? Lady Bird. (Though, I don't think that was Gerwig's intention with that scene.)

Lady Bird

Here's the full list of books, artworks, music, and other cultural references from Lady Bird.

  • The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck audiobook narrated by Dylan Baker
  • The Pledge of Allegiance
  • The Theology of Augustine: An Introductory Guide to His Most Important Works (2013) by Matthew Levering
  • The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas (1988) edited by Christopher Martin
  • Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard (2014) by Søren Kierkegaard
  • “New York Groove” written by Russ Ballard, performed here by Kiss
  • “Hand in My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette
  • “Happy” by Keith Richards
  • "Everybody Says Don’t” by Stephen Sondheim, from the musical “Anyone Can Whistle” (1964)
  • The Lizard King: The Essential Jim Morrison (1995) by Jerry Hopkins
  • Applying Rules of Exponents - Basic Examples
  • N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations, and Murals (1972) by N. C. Wyeth
  • A series of books all by James A. Michener:
    • The Covenant (1980)
    • Alaska (1988)
    • Texas (1985)
    • Poland (1983)
    • Caribbean (1989)
    • The Drifters (1971)
    • Centennial (1974)
    • Iberia (1968)
    • Space (1982)
  • America: Reagan Country Poster (1980s)
  • The Cake Bible (1988) by Rose Levy Beranbaum
  • Merrily We Roll Along (1981 musical) by Stephen Sondheim, medley includes “Merrily We Roll Along,” “Old Friends,” “Good Thing Going” and “Honey”
  • Crash (1996) by Dave Matthews Band
  • Pillow: “Golfers Never Diet, They Just Exist on Greens”
  • “A Woman in Love” sheet music from the movie musical Guys and Dolls (1955), by Frank Loesser
  • Deadly China Doll (1973) film directed by Feng Huang
  • Not a Pretty Girl (1995) by Ani DiFranco
  • Rushmore (1998) film directed by Wes Anderson
  • Who, What Am I? Tolstoy’s Struggle to Narrate the Self (2014) by Irina Paperno:
    • Featuring the following Tolstoy excerpt/quote, featured on Lady Bird’s wall: “Awoke late out of sloth. Wrote My diary and did gymnastics, hurrying. Did not study English out of sloth. With Begichev and with Islavin was vain. At Beklemishev’s was cowardly and lack of fierté. On Tver Boulevard wanted to show off. For the same reason rode to Ozerov’s. Did not return to Kalymazhnyi, thoughtlessness. At the Gorchakovs’ dissembled and did not call things by their names, fooling myself.”
  • Paradise Lost (1667) by John Milton, quote:
    • “Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.”
  • Anna Karenina (1878) by Leo Tolstoy, quote:
    • “Boredom - the desire for desires”
  • Oil! (1927) by Upton Sinclair, also the inspiration for Paul Thomas Anderson’s film There Will Be Blood (2007)
  • A People’s History of the United States (1980) by Howard Zinn
  • Holy Bible, Genesis 15:4, The Lord’s Covenant with Abram
  • Repeat of A People’s History of the United States
  • National Geographic Magazine - Inside the Great White (April 2000)
  • The Best of LIFE (1973)
  • Autobiography of Mark Twain: Reader’s Edition Volume I (2010) by Mark Twain
  • Justified (2002) by Justin Timberlake, song “Cry Me a River”
  • Who Killed Precious (1991) by H.P. Jeffers
  • The Subtle Knife: His Dark Materials Book II (1997) by Philip Pullman
  • Quality (2002) by Talib Kweli
  • The Cold Vein (2001) by Cannibal Ox
  • Fix-it and Forget-it Big Cookbook (2008) by Phyllis Pellman Good
  • Pretty in Pink (1986) film directed by Howard Deutch
  • Mondrian: Basic Art Series (2015) by Susanne Deicher
    • Note that the book featured in Lady Bird is entitled “Modern Art” and features a Mondrian piece on the cover
  • Composition No. III with Red, Blue, Yellow, and Black (1929) artwork by Piet Mondrian
  • Tower Bridge, Sacramento, CA (postcard from the California State Capitol)
  • The Tempest (1611) by William Shakespeare
  • Sacramento, CA T-Shirt
  • Playgirl Magazine - June 2003
  • Hour of the Hunter (1991) by J. A. Jance
  • Sacred Country (1992) by Rose Tremain
  • Liechtenstein: History and Institutions of the Principality (1970) by Pierre Raton
  • The Conqueror (1931) by Georgette Heyer
  • Kagemusha (1980) film directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • Hallelujah (traditional)

For more Unofficial Reading Lists, here are the other two Tracey has done in the past:

How do you think the inclusion of these books, art, etc. informed the rest of the film? Let us know down in the comments.     

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