Laura Dern and Diane Ladd on Joan Didion, 'Jaws,' and the Books That Broke Their Hearts

laura dern book recommendations
Shelf Life: Laura Dern and Diane LaddMark Seliger

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Welcome to Shelf Life,’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.

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Honey, Baby, Mine


Real-life daughter and mother, Laura Dern and Diane Ladd, have starred in such movies as Wild at Heart and Rambling Rose (both earning Oscar nominations for the latter), and now comes their latest collaboration, Honey, Baby, Mine (Grand Central Publishing). (The title comes from a folk song Ladd’s father sang to her and granddaughter Laura.)

The result of conversations as Ladd recovered from a health scare, the book delves into the lives of the mother-daughter pair/swim buddies with few topics off-limits. Dern, who has appeared in more than 100 movies and television shows (not to mention a TayTay music video), has won an Oscar (2019’s Marriage Story), BAFTA, Emmy, and five Golden Globe Awards. She is currently an executive producer on Tiny Beautiful Things (Hulu) and the forthcoming Mrs. American Pie ( Apple TV+). A lifelong activist and environmentalist, she once wanted to be a marine biologist.

Ladd, who has more than 187 film and television credits to her name, has won a BAFTA and Golden Globe and is on the National Board of Directors for SAG/AFTRA. Most recently, she starred in the movie Isle of Hope and the Hallmark Channel series Chesapeake Shores. She holds degrees in esoteric psychology and nutrition, was once a dancer at the Copacabana, takes piano lessons, is an ordained minister, and was cousins with Tennessee Williams.

Laura Dern

The book that…

…helped me through a breakup/loss:

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed.

…made me weep uncontrollably:

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

…I recommend over and over again:

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.

…I swear I'll finish one day:

The Bible.

…currently sits on my nightstand:

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett.

…I’d give to a new graduate:

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke.

…made me laugh out loud:

Me Talk Pretty One Day by Davis Sedaris.

…I first bought:

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.

...has the best title:

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.

…broke my heart:

An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis of Global Warming by Al Gore.

diane ladd, left, and laura dern
Mother, Diane Ladd (left), and daughter, Laura Dern. Jona Frank

Diane Ladd

The book that…

…helped me through loss:

The Afterlife of Billy Fingers by Annie Kagan.

…made me miss a train stop and kept me up far too late:

Shelley by Shelly Winters.

…made me weep uncontrollably:

The Wall by John Hersey.

…I recommend over and over again:

Spiraling Through the School of Life by Diane Ladd.

…shaped my worldview:

It Didn’t Start With Watergate by Victor Lasky.

…made me rethink a long-held belief:

Oneness by Rasha.

…I swear I’ll finish one day:

Secret Places of the Lion by George Hunt Williamson.

…made me laugh out loud:

Bossypants by Tina Fey.

…currently sits on my bedside table:

Politics in Healing by Daniel Haley.

…has the best opening line:

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

…helped me become a better writer:

J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye.

…broke my heart:

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

…should be on every college syllabus:

Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

…is a master class on dialogue:

Read Proust - wrote the longest sentence in history!

…describes a house I’d want to live in:

Tara in Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

…I’d like turned into a TV show:

A Bad Afternoon for a Piece of Cake by Diane Ladd.

…I brought on my honeymoon:

An Affair to Remember by Christopher Anderson. (Never had time to read it—too busy!)

…I read in one sitting, it was that good:

Jaws by Peter Benchley.

…I’d give to a new graduate:

P.D. Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous.

…inspired me to donate to a cause:

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson.

…I’d pass on to an adult kid:

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

…makes me feel seen:

Initiation by Elisabeth Haich.

…I most recently bought:

Quantum Economics by Amit Goswami, PhD.

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