Ellie Kemper: TOP TEN BOOKS


American actress and comedian Ellie Kemper got her big break on The Office, where she played Erin Hannon for six seasons before taking on the title role in Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, written by Tiny Fey. Kemper has received two Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, and the show’s final season airs in January 2019. She is also a McSweeney’s contributor, has written for the Onion, and published My Squirrel Days, a collection of personal essays, in 2018. Comedy, and its failures (including a few bad stand-up acts) have taught Kemper plenty: “It’s humiliating to have one person laugh at you in a show where you’re trying to be funny,” she told the Guardian. “Really awful. But what other choice do you have but to go on?”

Below are Ellie Kemper’s favorite books, available to purchase individually or as a set.



Studs Terkel
Studs Terkel was a radio host in Chicago who also wrote fantastic oral histories about 20th century America by interviewing regular people about their lives. He covered the Great Depression in Hard Times; World War II in The Good War; and, in this book, what people’s jobs mean to them. His books are invaluable time capsules of how Americans in previous generations spoke and thought about themselves.
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White Teeth

Zadie Smith
This restless, vibrant, indelibly funny novel tackles migration, cultural identity, and the family saga with energetic good cheer. You can tell how much Smith loves her characters, and she makes me love them, too.
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Barrel Fever

David Sedaris
This is early David Sedaris—half stories, half personal essays—and the humor is less gentle than his more recent books. This collection has me cry-laughing the most. “Don’s Story” destroys me (in a positive way) every time.
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Cold Spring Harbor

Richard Yates
As in all of Yates’s books, the characters are modeled after people in his life, and this book is primarily about his mother. It’s like August: Osage County, if it were set on Long Island in the 1930s.  The story may be bleak and hopeless, but Yates’s prose is unpretentious and irresistible.
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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Michelle Alexander
I thought I understood the lopsided nature of crime enforcement in this country, but I didn’t until I read this book. Eye-opening, required reading.
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Jane Austen
The one criticism I’ve read about this novel is that Emma isn’t particularly good or likable, but that’s beside the point. The sly, clever, eloquent Jane Austen is the one who is likable, and the reader is in exquisite company with her at all times.
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The Remains of the Day

Kazuo Ishiguro
The clarity of prose which Ishiguro achieves in this novel is the treat here. He is a master of the sentence, a sorcerer of language; the writing here is quiet, calm, and mesmerizing.
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Crazy Salad and Scribble Scribble

Nora Ephron
What’s insane about Nora Ephron is that her journalism is as incisive as her comedy is sharp; her recipes as delicious as her profiles astute; her love of romantic comedies as pure as her screenplays heartwarming. She is a shrewd, funny, charming companion.
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The Swerve

Stephen Greenblatt
In 1417, Poggio Bracciolini discovers Lucretius’ ancient poem, “On the Nature of Things.” This poem had been lost for more than a thousand years and its ideas threatened contemporary views of science and human contentment. Its return to circulation altered the entire course of history, and Greenblatt writes about this shift in an accessible, meaningful way.
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Curtis Sittenfeld
I love the way Curtis Sittenfeld writes. It feels personal and immediate. And in this, her debut novel, she tells the story of a lower middle class Lee Fiora navigating her way through an elite boarding school. Sittenfeld’s observations are razor-edged, dark, and brazenly funny.
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