When celebrities write books, they usually stick to the memoir, cookbook, or lifestyle genres. And honestly, a lot of those books are fantastic! But sometimes, famous folks get the urge to write novels. Let’s just say that the results are a mixed bag. From hilariously bad to modern-day classics, let’s rank the best and worst novels by celebrity novels.
Warning: There are a lot of thinly veiled autobiographical stories on this list.
‘Rebels: City of Indra: The Story of Lex and Livia’ by Kendall and Kylie Jenner
The year was 2016, and although the Kardashian-Jenners were already the most famous family on the planet, they craved more. Even though it was a little late to jump onto the YA lit train by that point, Kendall and Kylie Jenner decided to try churning out a dystopian novel. Or at least outsourced the work to a ghostwriter.
This book is not good. In fact, it is catastrophically bad. If you don’t believe me, then just try to get through the free sample on Amazon.
‘Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff’ by Sean Penn
In case you can’t tell by the title, Sean Penn’s novel Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff is a self-indulgent mess. He clearly wants to be some kind of unholy amalgam of Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson, but the result is so overwritten that it’s almost unreadable.
As Sian Cain’s blistering review of the book stated, “Words are not just misused, they are misplaced, to the point that Penn’s prose is more reminiscent of bot than man.”
‘Swan’ by Naomi Campbell
There’s a good reason why Swan is out of print. Naomi Campbell’s 1994 novel is about the most successful supermodel in the world. There are two major plots at play—Swan is being blackmailed by someone who knows a secret about her sister’s death, but she is also pitting five younger models against each other to be her successor, Willy Wonka-style. The novel is as chaotic as it sounds.
‘Modelland’ by Tyra Banks
Tyra Banks’ one and only novel, Modelland, is about the tense geopolitical situation in the Middle East.
Just kidding. It’s a YA dystopian tale about a model named Tookie De La Crème (no, really) in a Hunger Games type competition to become the best model in the world. It’s so bonkers that it comes back around to being kind of fun. Just like Tyra herself, now that I think about it.
‘The Perfect Letter’ by Chris Harrison
Chris Harrison’s debut novel, The Perfect Letter, is a Nicholas Sparksian romance designed in a corporate boardroom to appeal to Bachelor Nation. If this wasn’t ghostwritten, I’ll eat my hat. I’ll go buy a hat, put it on, and then eat it.
This is a by-the-numbers romantic drama about a woman who has to choose between two very different men while trying to outrun a traumatic secret from her past. If you think that sounds like a dozen other books in the same genre, you’re not wrong.
‘Elixir’ by Hilary Duff
Hilary Duff wrote a trilogy of YA novels in the early Aughts, starting with Elixir. It has all the tropes you’d expect—a talented young woman, a supernatural threat, and a tortured love triangle. It’s not the worst book on this list by a long shot—Duff had help from writer Elise Allen—but if you didn’t read this Elixir 20 years ago, then you can safely live the rest of your life without picking it up.
‘Holy Cow’ by David Duchovny
David Duchovny’s first novel is weird. While too many of the books on this list are blatant attempts to cash in on a publishing craze, Holy Cow is… something else. He must have been passionate about this book because it certainly wasn’t written to appeal to any existing market.
If you’ve ever wondered what Animal Farm would be like if it was a comedy, then check out this odd little book. Or maybe spend your time doing something more productive, like regrouting your bathroom tile.
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‘Gray’ by Pete Wentz
As the main songwriter for Fall Out Boy, Pete Wentz has a way with words. He turned his talents to prose with Gray, a semi-autobiographical novel about “the dark side of rock-and-roll.” It’s not a fun beach read, and many reviewers were blindsided by the raw honesty of Wentz’s work. It strikes me as a book that wanted to be a memoir, but if Wentz needed to filter his feelings through fiction, then I can respect that.
‘The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell’ by Chris Colfer
Did you know that Glee star Chris Colfer writes children’s novels? They’re pretty good, too! The Wishing Spell is a standard “portal fantasy” where two kids find themselves lost in a fairy tale world. There are six books in the series, and while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them for grownups, they’re very appealing to middle-grade readers.
‘Bonfire’ by Krysten Ritter
Feeling frustrated with the limited range of roles she was being offered, Jessica Jones star Krysten Ritter decided to create the kind of character she’d love to play. Bonfire follows environmental lawyer Abby Williams who is drawn into a web of scandal and secrets in the hometown she tried to leave behind. It’s an accomplished thriller in the vein of Gillian Flynn or Celeste Ng, so if that’s your jam, then check it out.
‘Casanegra’ by Blair Underwood
This steamy mystery series stars Tennyson Hardwick, a former gigolo and part-time gumshoe who is just trying to get by in Hollywood. Blair Underwood teamed up with authors Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due for his debut novel, and you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that Underwood imagined this character as a starring vehicle for himself. There are four books in the Hollywood neo-noir series, so if you like Casanegra, there’s plenty more of Ten where that came from.
‘Shopgirl’ by Steve Martin
When it was published 20 years ago, Shopgirl was met with great acclaim. While I can still appreciate Steve Martin’s skill as a writer, I’m less enamored with the storyline of this novella, which follows a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who teaches a sad older man how to enjoy life. That trope hasn’t aged well even if the prose itself is beautifully written.
Martin later adapted Shopgirl into a film starring himself (as the sad older man) and Claire Danes as the titular girl who works in a shop.
‘Mycroft Holmes’ by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Most of the celebrities on this list are actors, so you might be surprised to see basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar here. But Mycroft Holmes is an excellent addition to the Sherlock Holmes canon. He co-wrote the novel with Anna Waterhouse, but don’t underestimate Abdul-Jabbar’s keen intelligence and clear delight in language. His second career as a writer deserves as much respect as his work on the court, in my humble opinion.
‘Someday, Someday, Maybe’ by Lauren Graham
Most famous for her role as the fast-talking Lorelei Gilmore, Lauren Graham is a witty and talented writer, too. While Someday, Someday, Maybe is kinda-sorta autobiographical, it’s still a fun and frothy read. Graham’s writing is clever and fresh, and even if the story is rooted in her own experiences as a struggling actress in New York, it doesn’t come across as self-indulgent. That might sound like faint praise, but after some of the clunkers on this list, Graham’s debut novel is a breath of fresh air.
‘The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles’ by Julie Andrews Edwards
I admit that this book is on the list mostly due to nostalgia. I loved it as a kid! Writing under her married name, Julie Andrews penned several children’s novels in the 90s. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles is cut from the same cloth as A Wrinkle in Time or The Wizard of Oz. I don’t know how enjoyable it would be to experience for the first time as an adult, but it’s a delightful children’s story.
‘The Gun Seller’ by Hugh Laurie
Booklist described The Gun Seller as “a skillful mix of Bertie Wooster and James Bond,” and I have to agree. This witty spy novel, which walks the line between spoof and thriller, won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I really liked it at the time it was published, but now that my attention span has been whittled away by too much time on the internet, I can appreciate that it’s a bit overwritten.
‘Montaro Caine’ by Sidney Poitier
The late Sidney Poitier wasn’t just an Oscar-winning actor. Although many people don’t know it, he was also a skilled author. Unlike many of the celebrities on this list, who drew on their own experiences as inspiration for their fiction, Poitier’s literary debut was an ambitious near-future sci-fi epic. It’s a bit of a slow read, but the optimism at the heart of Montaro Caine makes it a surprisingly uplifting book.
‘The Thursday Murder Club’ by Richard Osman
Richard Osman is the terribly clever host of Pointless on BBC One, along with appearances on a slew of other quiz shows and comedy panels in the UK. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that such a smart, witty fellow would also be a talented writer, but I’ve been burned by too many celebrity novels.
The Thursday Murder Club is a legitimately good whodunnit about a quartet of elderly amateur sleuths who get wrapped up in a real murder. It has overwhelmingly positive reviews and was optioned for a movie adaptation by Steven Spielberg.
‘Postcards from the Edge’ by Carrie Fisher
Speaking of movie adaptations, I couldn’t cap off this list with anyone other than the late, great Carrie Fisher. Her debut novel showcased her sparkling wit and knack for self-deprecating introspection. Loosely based on her own life, Postcards from the Edge manages to transcend the usual pitfalls of celebrity novels about being famous.
Fisher also wrote the screen adaptation of the novel, which starred Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine, and Dennis Quaid.