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Zoey Deutch and Lea Thompson chat with Jenna Bush Hager about the books they love

The mother-daughter duo joined Jenna on Instagram Live.
Illustration of Lea Thompson, Zoey Deutch and Jenna Bush Hager on broadcast
TODAY Illustration / TODAY

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Over the past year, many of us have turned to various forms of storytelling for comfort and wisdom, whether it's a Read with Jenna book pick or the latest hot television show.

Actress Lea Thompson and actress daughter Zoey Deutch chatted with Jenna Bush Hager on Read with Jenna’s Instagram Live to discuss podcasts and their love of books and reading. Thompson opened up about how she came to realize the true importance of books and entertainment during the pandemic. "I realized how important it was for people to get out of themselves and to walk a mile in another person's shoes, and to just forget about their troubles," she said.

The mother-daughter duo recently launched a new comedy podcast on Audible called "A Total Switch Show," which can be described as "Freaky Friday" but with a twist.

During their conversation, the three book lovers reflected on what they’ve recently read, books they’ve revisited from their youth and the titles that have had the strongest impact on them. From a classic children’s book that is perfect to read with your kids to a self-help book that can help you unleash your inner artist, see the book recommendations that they exchanged below.

To view the books by category, click the links below.

Children's

"Green Eggs and Ham," by Dr. Seuss

Thompson and her husband read many books to their children, including the classic "Green Eggs and Ham." Deutch shared that as the youngest sibling, she memorized this book and pretended like she knew how to read it to fit in with her older siblings. This was one of the first forms of acting and storytelling that she performed. "I think that's how you became an actress," Thompson said.

"Where the Sidewalk Ends," by Shel Silverstein

This collection of poems and illustrations is both humorous and deeply profound. “Do you remember how fun those poems were to read out loud?” Jenna said.

"Charlotte’s Web," by E. B. White

This children's novel tells the story of the friendship between a pig named Wilbur and a spider named Charlotte. Jenna described revisiting the classic with her daughter as one of her favorite experiences. "There is something so profound about the message of that book, and then experiencing it through your daughter's eyes," Jenna said. She was left in awe of not just the characters, but also the novel's language and sentence structure. She recommends that everyone re-read this book.

"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," by C.S. Lewis

Thompson shared that she is a fan of fantasy novels, and "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," was one that she had hoped her children would love. The novel is set in Narnia, a magical world filled with talking animals, ruled by an evil witch. Four children discover the world after entering a wardrobe in their new house.

Fiction

"Nothing to See Here," by Kevin Wilson

This humorous story centers around two longtime estranged friends as one enlists the help of the other with twin step-kids who are coming to live with her. But here’s the thing: The twins happen to have a problem with spontaneously combusting whenever they get angry. A Read with Jenna book club pick in 2019, Jenna described “Nothing to See Here” as a profound book about the unconditional love parents have for their kids.

"Track of the Cat," by Nevada Barr

Thompson is a huge fan of mysteries, particularly the Anna Pigeon series, which includes a total of 19 books. Anna Pigeon is a park ranger who travels to national parks across the country and solves mysteries. Anna's character is first introduced in “Track of the Cat,” the first book of the series. Thompson said she is hoping to turn the books into a series of movies.

"Before I Fall," by Lauren Oliver

High school senior Samantha Kingston tragically dies in a car crash on the way home from a party one night. But somehow, she wakes up the next morning, and she proceeds to relive the last day of her life seven times. Deutch starred as Sam in the film adaptation of the bestselling young adult novel and read it several times in preparation for the role. Jenna read this book while she was a middle school English teacher in Baltimore. "I read that book because some of my students were reading it and they loved it, and so I read it and I loved it."

"1Q84," by Haruki Murakami

Set in the year 1984 in Tokyo, Japan, a young woman named Aomame discovers that she has entered a parallel existence. Even though Deutch said that she mostly gravitates towards nonfiction novels, she loved reading this fictional story with dystopian elements. The title is a reference to the next book on our list, which also happens to be one of Deutch’s favorites.

"1984," by George Orwell

Set in an imagined future, this chilling masterpiece tells the story of a dystopian society whose omnipresent, totalitarian government does everything in its power to control its people. The novel’s protagonist Winston Smith, a low-ranking member of the ruling party, begins to feel frustrated with the oppression of individuality. He bravely rebels by keeping a diary of his thoughts and pursuing a romantic relationship.

"The Alchemist," by Paulo Coelho

This international bestseller filled with wisdom tells the dazzling story of Santiago, a shepherd boy who embarks on a journey to Egypt in search of a treasure. "It was the exact thing I needed," Deutch said about the first time she read the novel after a fan had gifted it to her in Brazil. Jenna read the novel while she was living in Latin America, and it is the only book that she has read in both Spanish and English. She agreed that it is one of those books that "finds you at the right time.”

"The History of Love," by Nicole Krauss

This novel is centered around a long-lost book titled “The History of Love” that intertwines the lives of an old man in search of his son and a young girl seeking a cure for her widowed mother’s loneliness. Jenna read this novel when she was 23 years old, and she highlighted and underlined several lines about love in the book's pages.

"The Bluest Eye," by Toni Morrison

"The book that changed me the most was Toni Morrison's 'The Bluest Eye'," Jenna said. This powerful novel tells the story of Pecola, a young Black girl living in Ohio who desperately yearns for her eyes to turn blue so that she can finally be beautiful and loved. Jenna first studied this novel as a sophomore in high school and was deeply impacted by Pecola’s character. The debut novel by the late Morrison celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020, when Jenna also chose it as a Read with Jenna pick. Jenna shared that after having the opportunity to speak with Oprah about the novel, she decided to spend last Christmas break re-reading all of Morrison’s books.

"Valentine," by Elizabeth Wetmore

Set in Odessa, Texas, in the 1970s, Elizabeth Wetmore’s thrilling debut is told from the perspectives of five unique characters as they react to a horrific act of violence against a young Mexican girl in their town. The novel, which was a Read with Jenna pick, explores the intersection of race, class and violence.

Nonfiction

"Late Migrations," by Margaret Renkl

This beautiful collection of essays, a Read with Jenna pick in 2019, tells the story of author Margaret Renkl’s family as they grapple with love, grief and hope. Jenna remarked that one of her favorite things about the book is its reflections on nature and the simple things in life, the very things she found herself making time for during the pandemic. "For the first time in a long time, I laid with my girls and stared at a big moon."

"Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind," by Yuval Noah Harari

This insightful novel is exactly what its title suggests: a crash course on the vast history of humankind, starting with the Stone Age and ending with the 21st century. Deutch listed this as a nonfiction book that has inspired her in recent years.

Self-help

"The Artist's Way," by Julia Cameron

Deutch shared that one of her most prized possessions is her grandmother's marked up copy of this novel, which teaches its readers how to harness their inner creativity. "There is something for everybody in there," Deutch said. Although Deutch’s grandmother was an artist, Jenna noted that you don't have to be an artist to benefit from the teachings of this book. "I recommend that book to so many people who are going through transitions," Jenna said.

"The Power of Now," by Eckhart Tolle

Deutch also owns her grandmother's copy of "The Power of Now." If you’re looking for a book that will encourage you to self-reflect, this self-help book will guide you on the path to achieving happiness and enlightenment. It challenges its readers to question what it means to truly live in the present and encourages them to find the answers.

"The Four Agreements," by Don Miguel Ruiz

Based on ancient Toltec wisdom and tradition, this long-standing New York Times bestseller shares four guiding principles to achieve true happiness that is free from self-limiting beliefs.

For more book recommendations, check out:

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