Are you Team Jess? Then, explore the best books on Jess Mariano’s reading list on Gilmore Girls with the exact episodes in which they were referenced.
Note: The focus of this Jess Mariano book list is on BOOKS. It does not include authors that were mentioned by Jess where no specific book was referenced (like Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway). It also does not include fake books, like Jess’s own novel, The Subsect, or the self-help pamphlet he secretly read, You Are Not Alone.
Fans of Gilmore Girls love Jess Mariano for many reasons, most notably his mental complexity and his connection on a deeply intellectual level with Rory Gilmore, who famously stated she lived in a “world of books” in her Chilton graduation speech. And, a lot of this comes down to their shared love of books and reading.
While both characters appreciated the classics, the books referenced on the show by Jess place his angsty, bad-boy character fully on display. The reads on Jess Mariano’s book list share a lot of common themes: rebels, deep thinkers, individualists, non-conformists, writers from the Beat Generation, and punk music, to name a few.
JOIN THE CLUB: Before we get to the full list of Jess Mariano’s books on Gilmore Girls, I want to note that I run The Rory Gilmore Book Club, in which we take the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge by reading from the list of 500+ books referenced in Gilmore Girls. I even wrote about it in the book But I’m a Gilmore! If you love books and Gilmore Girls, join us!
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Jess Mariano’s Reading List
Billy Budd and Other Tales by Herman Melville
Season 4, Episode 12 (“A Family Matter”): Jess carries this in his back pocket.
Billy Budd and Other Tales is a collection of stories featuring the titular novella, a tragic tale of a well-liked sailor who accidentally kills his accuser. Other popular stories may include “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” which is about a Wall Street clerk who progressively refuses to work. Collectively, these tales explore themes of justice, free will, isolation, and the societal effects of power.
Indeed, this sounds very much like a “Jess” book, and we also know that both he and Rory like Melville, so this choice makes sense.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Season 2, Episode 8 (“The Ins and Outs of Inns”): Rory compares Jess to the protagonist, Holden Caulfield.
The Catcher in the Rye is a popular classic novel about a disillusioned teen, expelled from this prep school, who wanders around New York City over a few days, struggling to make sense of a world that feels phony to him.
Rory’s comparison of Jess to Holden comes as no surprise. Both characters are rebels who have teenage angst and are intellectuals who struggle with things like isolation, family issues, authenticity, and emotions. They are so similar, in fact, that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the character of Jess was based off of Holden.
Like nearly all high school students, I loved this one and return to it often. It’s also my husband’s favorite high school read.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Season 3, Episode 2 (“Haunted Leg”): Jess is reading this book at Luke’s Diner when Shane arrives.
A Confederacy of Dunces is a satirical novel in which an eccentric and lazy, but educated, man must start to work and finds himself in a series of absurd situations as he bounces from job to job. It’s a critique of modern society, filled with colorful characters and comic misadventures in New Orleans.
This is another classic I would definitely call a “Jess” book.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Woolfe
Season 2, Episode 21 (“Lorelai’s Graduation Day”): Jess reads this in the New York park when Rory visits him.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a non-fiction account of the psychedelic experiences of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters in the 1960s that helped birth the hippie movement. It follows their cross-country trip in a colorfully painted school bus, where they introduce drugs to the counterculture.
It seems Jess would like this book for its rebellious content.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Season 2, Episode 5 (“Nick & Nora/Sid & Nancy”): This book is seen with the belongings Jess brings to Stars Hollow.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a semi-autobiographical novel that follows the drug-fueled escapades of Raoul Duke and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, as they descend into the psychedelic heart of 1970s Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race and a law enforcement convention.
Along the way, they grapple with the failures of the 1960s countercultural movements and the notions of the American Dream, critiquing the decay of American society.
Of course, these types of societal critiques are things with which Jess would totally identify.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Season 2, Episode 13 (“A-Tisket, A-Tasket”): Rory urges Jess to try this book after he bids on her picnic basket.
The Fountainhead follows the life of an architect who values individualism over conformity. Despite societal pressure, he fights the establishment to maintain his creative independence. It’s a platform for the author’s beliefs in the importance of individual creativity, personal freedom, and self-interest.
Though Jess wasn’t interested in Rand’s politics, I think this was a very thoughtful recommendation by Rory for Jess Mariano’s reading list.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Season 2, Episode 16 (“There’s the Rub”): Jess calls Dean the name of the titular character.
As most people know, Frankenstein is the story of a young scientist who creates a sentient creature in a scientific experiment. When the monstrous creature is rejected by society, he turns vengeful and begins to harm those the scientist loves.
While this book on Jess Mariano’s reading list is meant to make statements on the nature and morality of science, it’s meant more as a “dig” on Dean’s appearance to Jess.
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
Season 2, Episode 15 (“Lost and Found”): Jess returns Rory’s bracelet to her room and pretends to Lorelai that he was checking to see if she had this book.
Franny and Zooey is a novella in two parts, told by each of the two youngest members of the Glass family. In the first part, Franny experiences a spiritual crisis during a weekend with her boyfriend. The second part focuses on her older brother Zooey’s attempt to guide her between their family’s intellectualism and her quest for spiritual purity.
As mentioned, Salinger is a great pick for Jess for pretty obvious reasons. Personally, I will note, though, that this one didn’t quite hit the mark for me.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Season 2, Episode 21 (“Lorelai’s Graduation Day”): Jess compares a record store to this book.
High Fidelity is a popular book (and adaptation) about a record store owner in his mid-thirties living in London. After his girlfriend leaves him, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery, reviewing his past relationships by creating “top-five,” lists, based on his love of pop music.
Love, heartbreak, and the power of music are presented through the lens of one male’s insecurity.
This one also didn’t hit the mark for me, but I totally see it as a “Jess” book.
The Holy Barbarians by Lawrence Lipton
Season 3, Episode 14 (“Swan Song”): Jess calls Rory a “book tease” after she shows, but doesn’t lend, him this book, “by a Venice Beach Beatnik, about Venice Beach Beatniks.”
The Holy Barbarians is a personal account and sociological study taking an in-depth look at the Beat Generation in Venice, California, during the 1950s. It explores their lives, philosophies, and cultural impact in rejecting mainstream societal norms for a life of freedom and liberation, and experimentation with drugs.
Obviously, this appealed to Jess, and may also be said to foreshadow his future.
Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
Season 2, Episode 5 (“Nick & Nora/Sid & Nancy”): After their first dinner party meeting, Jess “borrows” this from Rory.
Howl and Other Poems was written by a key figure in the Beat Generation. The titular poem critiques conformity and capitalism while celebrating individuality and creativity, and the downtrodden, and the remaining poems are just as readable. It’s a quick and interesting read that I devoured in about a half-hour, yet like all poetry, it leaves you with things to think about, or even re-read.
Since this book features so heavily in Jess’s first appearance on the show, it’s the first book I think of when I think of Jess Mariano’s reading list. It’s well-suited to his personality as well!
The Inferno by Dante Alighieri
Season 3, Episode 13 (“Dear Emily and Richard”): Jess has this book on the counter.
The Inferno is the first part of “The Divine Comedy,” an epic poem that follows Dante’s journey through Hell, guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil. Hell is depicted as nine concentric circles, each representing a greater sin and a corresponding punishment, and overall, sin and redemption are explored.
Everything about this, including its classic status, feels like something Jess would read.
Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken
Season 4, Episode 13 (“Nag Hammadi Is Where They Found the Gnostic Gospels”): Jess is seen with this book in the bookstore.
Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them is a satirical book by a comedian (and later a U.S. Senator) that parodies the American political right-winged conservative party during the early 2000s.
Naturally, Jess would gravitate to this type of liberal-minded satire.
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
Season 3, Episode 7 (“They Shoot Gilmore’s, Don’t They?”): Jess reads this at the dance marathon.
The Magic Mountain follows the story of an ordinary man who visits his cousin in a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps and ends up staying for seven years. During his stay, he explores themes of time, death, disease, and the meaning of life with the patients. He also experiences love and heartbreak, and he sees the conflicts brewing in Europe before World War I.
I can see Jess reading this one for its philosophical themes.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Season 3, Episode 13 (“Dear Emily and Richard”): Jess tells Kirk to leave Luke’s Diner and read this.
Moby Dick is a 19th-century classic novel following the Captain Ahab of the whaling ship Pequod, as he seeks revenge on a sperm whale. It’s narrated by Ishmael, a sailor on the ship, who provides detailed descriptions of whaling and philosophical ruminations on the nature of humanity.
Previously, Rory read this book in the first season, so I see Jess’s reference to it as showing his connection to Rory.
My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgard
Netflix’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Episode “Fall”: Jess reads this book.
My Struggle is a six-volume autobiographical series by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård, in which he shares the minute details of his life with brutal honesty. The volumes cover his upbringing in a troubled home, his relationships, his struggles with alcohol, and his journey into fatherhood and writing.
It sparked both controversy and critical acclaim, pushing the boundaries of a traditional autobiography.
I see this reference as serving to show the viewer that Jess is still reading books that are difficult, rebellious, raw, and philosophical, though time has passed since the original series ended.
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Season 3, Episode 21 (“Here Comes the Son”): After Jess arrives in Venice Beach, he looks at this book in a bookstore.
Naked Lunch is a work of the Beat Generation, known for its nonlinear narrative, graphic content involving drugs, and critique of societal norms in recounting the dark experiences of a drug addict and petty criminal. It challenges conventional notions of reality and morality through literature.
It’s a fitting choice for Jess after his escape to California.
Notes of a Dirty Old Man by Charles Bukowski
Season 2, Episode 15 (“Lost and Found”): Jess is reading this on the bed when Luke walks in.
Notes of a Dirty Old Man is a collection of humorous and sometimes crude columns from an underground newspaper, penned by a significant writer in 20th-century American literature, known for his raw and candid portrayal of life. It offers an unfiltered exploration of his experiences with alcohol, women, and poverty, blending dark humor with social commentary.
Besides this episode, Jess’s clear preferences for Bukowski are otherwise referenced.
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Season 2, Episode 5 (“Nick & Nora/Sid & Nancy”): Rory calls Jess “Dodger,” a character in this book.
Oliver Twist is a classic novel about an orphan born in a workhouse, who experiences a series of harsh experiences in crime-ridden London, and it explores themes of poverty, class, corruption, and justice.
Since Rory references only a character from this novel during Jess’s first episode, I see it as a symbol that Rory and Jess understand each other on an intellectual level.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Season 3, Episode 20 (“Say Goodnight, Gracie”): Jess reads this on the bus on his way to California.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is a novel of magical realism, chronicling the epic saga of the Buendía family over seven generations in the mythical town of Macondo, Colombia. It weaves the personal, the political, and the supernatural, exploring themes such as love, solitude, fate, and time.
It’s not the first novel I picture Jess reading, but because it tackles politics and the human experience, it does fall in line with his reading preferences.
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Season 2, Episode 5 (“Nick & Nora/Sid & Nancy”): Jess carries this book.
On the Road is another top work of the Beat Generation, chronicling the cross-country travels of Sal Paradise (a stand-in for Kerouac himself) and his friend Dean. Its free-flowing narrative style mimics the protagonists’ pursuit of freedom in a journey of self-discovery filled with art, drugs, and a disdain for social norms.
This novel of disillusionment and the thirst for authenticity is one of the most quintessential Jess Mariano books.
Othello by William Shakespeare
Season 2, Episode 19 (“Teach Me Tonight”): Rory tutors Jess about this book.
Othello is a Shakespearean tragedy about the downfall of a respected Moorish general, Othello, due to the manipulations of his ensign, Iago, whose deceits cause him to believe his wife is having an affair with his lieutenant.
While it may not seem like a significant choice for one of the books Rory and Jess read together, when you consider the storyline, it actually feels very symbolic of the growing love triangle between Rory, Dean, and Jess.
Please Kill Me: The Oral History of the Punk Moment by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
Season 2, Episode 15 (“Teach Me Tonight”): Jess offers to lend Rory this book.
Please Kill Me: The Oral History of the Punk Movement provides an uncensored story about the birth and development of punk music through interviews with the rebellious artists who shaped it, including Iggy Pop, the Ramones, and Patti Smith. Overall, it presents punk as a social movement and a means of personal expression.
This book perfectly captures the nature of Jess.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Season 2, Episode 19 (“Teach Me Something”): Luke argues with Jess that he should be reading something for school instead.
Slaughterhouse-Five is an unconventional World War II novel that blends science fiction, autobiography, and political commentary. It follows the life of Billy Pilgrim, a man who experiences life in a non-linear order, from his experiences as a prisoner of war during the bombing of Dresden, to his suburban family life, and his time spent on an alien planet. It explores both free will and the brutality of war.
Ironic and satirical, the tone matches Jess’s.
I also note that this was one of my own favorite classic books in high school.
Ulysses by James Joyce
Season 1, Episode 20: Jess is at the counter of Luke’s Diner reading this book. (Technically, he’s reading “A Study” of it by Stuart Gilbert.)
Ulysses is a groundbreaking novel that reimagines Homer’s epic Odyssey in one day in Dublin, Ireland, in 1904. It’s most known for its unique stream-of-consciousness style.
Since Jess liked challenging reads, this reference comes as no surprise, particularly in that he was reviewing an analysis, most likely to better understand it, as a fan of difficult classic literature.
Visions of Cody by Jack Kerouac
Season 3, Episode 5 (“Eight O’Clock at the Oasis”): Jess is reading this when a very wet Rory runs into him and discusses the water issue.
Visions of Cody is an experimental novel comprised of unedited writing, digging deep into his relationship with Neal Cassady (the character Cody Pomeray), from her captivating personality to the travels they shared, further documenting themes of art and the American Dream.
Since it’s an extension of On the Road, it totally makes sense that Jess would read it.
We Owe You Nothing: Punk Planet: The Collected Interviews by Daniel Sinker
Season 3, Episode 4 (“One’s Got Class and the Other One Dyes”): Jess is reading this when Luke returns home from Stars Hollow High.
We Owe You Nothing is a decade-long collection of interviews from the influential independent magazine, Punk Planet, delving not just into the punk movement, but also into broader issues like politics, social justice, and independent culture.
This book reference on Jess Mariano’s reading list continues to show his affinity for punk music and everything it represents.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Jess Mariano Reading List
In the tv show Gilmore Girls, the fictional character Jess Mariano wrote and published a short novel called “The Subsect.” It is referenced in Season 6, Episode 8, “Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out,” when Jess shows it to Rory in person and says he’s begging independent bookstores to pick it up.
In Season 2, Episode 15 of the television show Gilmore Girls, the character Jess Mariano recommends that Rory Gilmore read Please Kill Me: The Oral History of the Punk Movement by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. While Jess and Rory often read and discuss books on the show, this is the only book he offers to lend her.
On Gilmore Girls, Rory gave Jess the book The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand after he bid on her basket at the annual Stars Hollow Picnic Basket Auction in Season 2, Episode 13, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” Although Jess did not like the author’s politics, Rory convinced him to give it another chance.
Rory and Jess read several books, but most notably, when they first met, Jess borrowed a copy of Howl by Allen Ginsberg from Rory’s bookshelf during the eventful dinner he shared at Lorelai’s and Rory’s house in his first episode on Gilmore Girls (Season 2, Episode 5: Nick & Nora / Sid & Nancy). He later returned the book to Rory with his notes written in the margins.
Jess Mariano’s reading list on Gilmore Girls does more than just detail his personal taste in literature. It’s an essential element of his identity and a testament to his intelligence, personal depth, and cultural awareness. These books both define his character and build his connection with our favorite bookworm, Rory.
If you’re “Team Jess” and want to start reading from Jess Mariano’s book list, my top 2 picks I personally read and loved are:
REMINDER: Join The Rory Gilmore Book Club, in which we take the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge by reading from the list of 500+ books referenced in Gilmore Girls. If you love books and Gilmore Girls, join us!