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Marilyn Monroe’s Reading List: A Genuine Book Lover

The actress had a book collection of over 400 books. She was passionate about poetry and she found refuge and comfort in their stories. Here is a list of 15 of her favorite novels. 

When Marilyn Monroe’s book collection was put up for auction at Christie’s in 1999 a new and surprising side of the artist arose. Not that her interest in reading was unknown, but her literary taste was more of a mystery.

Marilyn Monroe had a massive library

Her library had more than 400 books carefully curated by an avid and conscientious reader. The titles covered a wide spectrum of interests – especially poetry – but also American contemporary literature, politics, religion, and psychology. 

She was fond of James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and Walt Whitman. She was acquainted with writers such as Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Saul Bellow, and Carl Sandburg. 

In Biblio, you can find an interesting inscribed copy of Miller’s collected plays from the library of Xenia J. Chekhov, the second wife of Michael Chekhov, who was the nephew of Anton Chekhov and Marilyn Monroe’s acting teacher. Miller mentions how important Marilyn was in his comprehension of Mr. Chekhov. 

Throughout her life, Monroe struggled to be taken seriously beyond her Hollywood career and the characters she played. Many claimed Eve Arnold’s famous pictures of her reading Ulysses in a Long Island park were staged.

The photographer, who knew her pretty well, firmly differed from this biased assumption: Marilyn had been reading James Joyce’s masterpiece for a while when the shot took place. 

Later on, we acknowledge many of her intellectual quests and writing skills in Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters edited by Stanley Buschthal and Bernard Comment. In the pages of this book, Marilyn reveals herself as a woman for whom reading, especially poetry, was a lifesaver. 

Here are some of our favorite picks from her library: 

The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers

Carson MacCullers’ collection of short stories was published in 1951. You can find signed and inscribed copies, as well as first editions on Biblio. McCullers and Monroe met in 1955 in a hotel in New York City, and they shared a friendship for quite some time. 

The Portable Dorothy Parker by Brendan Gill and Dorothy Parker

A compilation of all the texts written by and about the American journalist, writer, and poet. You can find first editions of this book in Biblio’s vast library. 

The Little Disturbances of Man by Grace Paley

Only a few titles written by women were found in Marilyn Monroe’s book collection. One of them was the first volume of Paley’s short stories, in which the writer explores the little tribulations that lie behind our daily life. Check out signed copies and first editions

The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats

As one of her favorite poets, Monroe usually quoted Yeats in her personal letters or read his poems aloud. Her love for the genre was so that some of her lyrical writing surfaced in 2010 when Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters was released. This collection of Yeats’ works is indispensable for any poetry lover.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

She also kept in her library a copy of the influential Beat novels. The book was first published by Viking in 1957, only five years before she was found dead, which shows Monroe’s interest in contemporary literary production. 

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

Set in Monterey, California, Tortilla Flat was one of Steinbeck’s earliest novels. It was published in 1935 and later turned into a film in 1942 starring Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr. Maybe a coincidence or not, a detailed look through her library shows her interest in books adapted into films. 

Monroe’s personal library also included The Short Reign of Pippin IV and Once There Was a War, both written by Steinbeck. 

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Many European contemporary classics were also listed in Monroe’s literary legacy. Besides Flaubert’s masterpiece, she kept books written by Marcel Proust, Alexander Dumas, and Federico García Lorca. Albert Camus’ The Fall was also in her library. 

Balthazar by Lawrence Durrell

The second novel of Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet. Published in 1958, it’s set in Egypt during the Second World War. Find signed copies and other collectible copies of the Quartet on Biblio.com

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Faulker himself once described The Sound and the Fury, his fourth novel, as “the greatest I’ll ever write.” This book is a classic example of Southern gothic literature. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Sound and the Fury sixth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Check it out in Biblio’s collectible copies

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Published by Scribner’s in 1926, Hemingway tells the story of a group of American and English ex-pats in the Spanish city of Pamplona. It was adapted to the cinema with Ava Gardner and Tyrone Power in the main roles. Monroe also owned A Farewell to Arms

Death in Venice & Seven Other Stories by Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann’s novella was first published in 1912. Check out Biblio’s first German editions, signed books, and other collectible copies. Marilyn Monroe had his Last Essays too.  

From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming

Originally published by Cape in 1957, From Russia With Love is the fifth James Bond novel. Fleming’s intention was to finish the series with it, but he eventually wrote another seven novels about the British Secret Service agent. 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This story is considered one of the author’s greatest works, and one of the finest literary works of the 20s. The original cover designed by artist Francis Cugat is also among the most celebrated in American literature. While we could go on about the Great Gatsby all day, we’ll instead send you here to read more. 

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm

This bestseller essay was published in 1956 by psychoanalyst and social philosopher Erich Fromm. In this classic title, he explores love in all its aspects, theoretically, and its practice, as well as its significance in contemporary Western society. Biblio carries several signed copies of the first edition. 

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams

Williams seems to be one of Monroe’s favorite authors. Among her vast library, there were also copies of Camino Real and A Streetcar Named Desire

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, the story about a wealthy American widow, was published in 1950. Almost a decade after, in 1961, it was adapted into a movie starring Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty. Check first editions and signed copies on Biblio. 

As you can see from this list, Miss Monroe was a woman of far more depth than her fans (and haters) gave her credit for. 

Interested in reading more about Marilyn Monroe? Check out these books written on her life and death!

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