Could We BE Any More Literary? The Top Nine Bookish Episodes of Friends
Admit it, you’ve been binge-watching FRIENDS on Netflix. We all have. The show was a 90s sensation, and despite the characters being impossibly attractive people in impossibly large apartments, their navigation of life in their twenties is just as relevant now as it was then. Re-watching, I still relate to the trials and tribulations of everything from singledom to weddings, bad jobs to wonderful careers, and awkwardness to confidence, all with a little help from your friends.
But where are all the books? Every other scene sees the cast flipping through magazines or perusing the paper (remember newspapers?). But a shot rarely opens to find Monica at Central Perk with a book, or Phoebe flashing her library card. Even their apartments are bookshelf-free zones! Nevertheless, there are a few episodes celebrating the joy of reading, and I took it upon myself to find the nine best ones.
9. The One With The Cake (Season 10, Episode 4)
By season 10, Joey’s apartment has finally gained a pile of books! Although they belong to Rachel, and are mostly for Emma. Joey takes advantage of the trove of tomes on the baby's first birthday and makes a gift of a dramatic reading of Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever. It's an adorable scene, and who doesn’t love Munsch’s classic children’s books? It'll give you nostalgia and pressing desire to call your mother. But more than that, it reminds you that sharing stories with friends and family is truly a wonderful gift. (D'aww.)
Extra bonus points for the hilariously awkward moments where both Phoebe and Joey pick up some books clearly not meant for the baby, and we were all reminded to put some of our more embarrassing reading choices away before having company over!
8. The One With The Cuffs (Season 4, Episode 3)
Another Joey-reading moment (which are surprisingly frequent, given that he's the least cerebral of the group), Joey’s introduction to the Encyclopedia is sweet and just a little bit sad. At home and out of work, he welcomes a door-to-door salesman into the apartment (now there’s a job that Google effectively killed off!), and, after accidentally putting on Chandler’s pants that morning, has just enough pocket money to buy the letter “V”. I loved to see Joey realize the joy of being well-read…and the sadness as he realizes that just one book is never enough.
7. The One Where They’re Up All Night (Season 7, Episode 12)
Interestingly, the only real mention that Chandler ever makes of a book is negative. You would think that one of the best-educated FRIENDS (presumably he went to college to become a transponster…I mean…wait, what did he do again?) would pick up a little light reading every now and again, but his most memorable reading-based episode is "The One Where They’re Up All Night" when he can’t fall asleep, and asks Monica about something that she is reading “the really boring book with the two women who were ice-skating and wearing, wearing those hats with the flowers on it?" It’s almost pointedly a title-less book, and apparently he assumes that it will be so dull that reading it would be his best chance of falling asleep.
Instead, we see Chandler face an issue that every reader has at some point – wanting to read before bed, and instead staying up all night trying to finish the book! Even worse, he breaks the cardinal rule of talking to a friend about the book you are both reading – No. Spoilers.
Seeing that this is Monica’s book, it’s obvious that she does some reading, but like most of the others, we never really see or hear about it. In all of the hundreds of shots we see of their apartment, no books are visible. Who has a ribbon drawer but not a bookshelf?
6. The One With Mrs Bing (Season 1, Episode 11)
Moving on to episodes that center around a book, rather than those that simply mention one: how about "The One With Mrs Bing," where we discover that Chandler’s mom is actually a hugely successful writer of "trashy" romance novels? When she comes to visit the group, we further discover that Rachel is a big fan (surprising, maybe, but she’s actually the friend who mentions reading the most), and with a little encouragement, she decides to try and write one (hilariously typo-filled) book of her own.
This episode shows both how a writer can be very successful (she’s in town to go on a talk show, after all), but that it isn’t always easy, and getting that first critique is often the hardest part. Thank God for spellcheck!
5. The One With Rachel’s Book (Season 7, Episode 2)
Nearly six years later, Rachel may have given up her aspirations to write erotica, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t read it! In this episode, Joey finds a raunchy novel under her pillow, and despite her initial embarrassment, Rachel decides to square her shoulders and be unashamed of her “dirty book”. Her refusal to be shamed by her bedtime reading is yet another reason to love Rachel, while Joey’s ignorance of what, exactly, a Vicar is is absolutely charming.
4. The One With Ross’s Library Book (Season 7, Episode 7)
Ross is by far the most educated of the six with his PhD, but he hardly ever mentions reading. Perhaps all that studying has put him off books? He, like his sister, lacks a bookshelf in his apartment – one with books on it instead of fossils, anyway. Despite his love of museums, slideshows and documentaries, he still isn’t a big reader. We get the general impression that he’s well read, with the odd reference, but we still never see it.
His one major book-related storyline is about the book he wrote, rather than one he’s read. After coming across students making out (and more) in the dusty corner of the library where his dissertation lives, he ends up patrolling the stacks to try and protect it. Obviously, that goes hilariously wrong when he meets a pretty fan of his work…
3. The One With Ross’s Sandwich (Season 5 Episode 9)
Phoebe does do some reading, although nowhere near as much as I would expect from such a quirky character. Her biggest reader moment comes when she invites Rachel to join her in an adult literature class. The class covers two classics in this episode: Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Pheobe is trying to make up for her lack of a traditional education, and really enjoys reading and learning about the books. Rachel, on the other hand, neglects to read either book, leading to a particularly embarrassing comparison of Jane Eyre and "Robocop." Eventually, the two girls decide that Rachel really isn’t interested enough in the book element of the class (like that one friend everyone has at bookclub!) leaving Monica to step into the gap and ruin it for everyone with her competitive nature.
2. The One Where Monica And Richard Are Just Friends (Season 3, Episode 13)
One of the most famously book-centric episodes is this one, where Rachel and Joey agree to swap their favorite books. Joey’s is The Shining, by Stephen King, which isn’t too surprising a choice. After all, we know that he’s a big fan of movies and TV, being an actor, and The Shining seems right up his alley. Rachel’s, far more interestingly, is Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I wouldn’t have pegged this fashionista as a lover of classics, but it certainly gives her a little more bookworm cred than, say, Bridget Jones' Diary. In a wonderfully sweet episode, Joey discovers the joy of reading (and why you should never indulge in spoilers!), and we all learn the best way to deal with those times that a book just gets a little too emotional (or scary) to handle… (if you didn’t know, you just put the book in the freezer).
1. The One Where Eddie Won’t Go (Season 2, Episode 19)
This is not just my favorite bookish episode, but one of my favorite episodes of the show altogether. Frankly, I wish that someone would write “Be Your Own Windkeeper” (wonder how much the rights to that title would cost…) just so that I could have a copy on my shelves. It also includes one of my favorite Rachel moments, where she reveals that she has read The Hobbit – who woulda thunk?
Rachel, Phoebe and Monica all read a very girly self-help book, and become almost completely obsessed by it. Their language changes to fit the (surprisingly complicated) metaphorical language of the book, they confuse the heck out of poor hapless Ross, and eventually they nearly ruin their friendship by arguing about who, exactly should go to the Goddess meetings. After all, if you are going to let a man wash his feel in the pool of your inner power, or let him into the forest of your righteous truth on the first date…
However, it’s not just that I find it hilarious and quotable. This is my favorite bookish episode because it’s fantastic to see the characters so totally affected by what they read – they are recommending it to each other, sitting around discussing it, going to book groups about it. Even Ross, who is a lightning bearer, is not only reading it to figure out what on earth is going on, but is talking to Joey about it. This is the way that books affect me – they take over my life, and although the episode is definitely poking fun at the cult-like following these books can gain, it’s still an absolute classic!
So there you have it. Ten seasons, a worldwide following, and yet only a handful of episodes where the FRIENDS open a book (which is also why this isn’t a top ten list). Perhaps it’s because reading is just too solitary a pursuit, and the show is based around the concept of social interaction. Perhaps it was still seen as a little too nerdy in the mid-90s. Perhaps there is some element of legal difficulties and royalties – which would explain why the books mentioned by name are either classics or inventions of the show.
I wish that there was more reading in FRIENDS, but with new sitcoms being created in abundance, and the rise of geek culture, maybe we’ll get a new, bookworm comedy just for us bibliophiles. I can imagine it now – take the classic formula of unrealistically pretty people in a big city, center it around their weekly bookclub meetings, and wait for the silliness to emerge. Now, let me just start calling networks to pitch it….