8 Books for Every Era of Barbie

Your Barbenheimer experience doesn’t have to end at the cinema

Screenshot from Greta Gerwig’s movie Barbie

Barbara Millicent Roberts is used to being a cultural tastemaker. Since the release of the first Barbie in 1959, there have been thousands of dolls; a slew of animated movies; a killer Instagram presence; and (finally!) Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, one of the most anticipated movies of 2023.

And while Barb has her own book club, there are some more grown-up recommendations inspired by everyone’s favorite plastic doll. Here are some books for the different eras of Barbie. 

Courtesy of Mattel, Inc

The OG Barbie:The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

When Mattel released the very first Barbie in 1959, it was a revolution. She wasn’t the plain Jane baby doll most children were playing with. She was blonde, with a face full of makeup and a fashionable black and white bathing suit. She was a woman for little girls to admire. 

Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique four years later in 1963. Like Barbie, the book challenged the status quo—by arguing that women can find fulfillment outside of being a homemaker. And while both the book and the Barbie have faced (valid) criticisms and controversy throughout the years, they each had a major lasting impact on the lives of women.

Courtesy of Mattel, Inc

Barbie’s DreamHouse: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

While there have been many different variations of the Dreamhouse over the decades, each one is the perfect, tailor-made abode for Barbie. It’s a paradise, albeit a Pepto-colored one. But Barbie wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. In this way, Barbie and Merricat Blackwood, the protagonist of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, are the same. 

Merricat lives in her family’s sprawling estate with her sister Constance and uncle Julian. Though it lacks pink walls and a giant waterslide, Blackwood manor is Merricat’s sanctuary, providing solace from the hostile villagers outside. But when her distant cousin Charles comes to the door, Merricat must do whatever it takes to protect her haven.

Courtesy of Mattel, inc

Barbie & Ken: Normal People by Sally Rooney

“She’s everything and he’s just Ken.” Poor Ken, the hunk of plastic could never quite step into the limelight of his own, out of Barbie’s shadow. Maybe that’s why the plastic couple consciously uncoupled after 40 years together.

In Normal People, Connell and Marianne are so infatuated with each other, but they keep their situationship a secret from their high school. You see, Connell is the popular jock and he doesn’t want his mates making fun of him for dating the awkward loner. The cards are turned in university where Marianne has blossomed into a sophisticated beauty, while Connell struggles to fit in. It’s a classic story of “will they, won’t they,” star-crossed Irish lovers who are torn apart by their socioeconomic divide, trivial misunderstandings, and their inability to just say what they mean.

Courtesy of Mattel, inc

Malibu Barbie: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

There’s no Barbie more famous than Malibu Barbie. With her sun-kissed skin and long blonde hair, she could easily be a character in Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising, a tale of Barbie-beautiful surfers and the secrets they keep. At an annual end-of-summer party, those secrets start to spill out onto the Malibu sand for all to see. And it’s far from glamorous. 

Courtesy of Mattel, Inc

Superstar Barbie: Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz

Though she’s always had style and beauty, 1977’s Superstar Barbie brings the glam in a way even the Kardashians would be envious of. Her curls are big, her jewelry shines, and her pink boa wraps elegantly around her. She’s ready to slay any red carpet. Life in plastic is fantastic.

Eve Babitz was the It Girl of the 1970s, she grew up partying with celebrities and played chess nude with Marcel Duchamp in a museum. As she says: “All I cared about anyway was fun and men and trouble.” A memoir in vignettes, Eve’s Hollywood feels like a hedonistic joy ride around Los Angeles on acid—full of sex, drugs, and alcohol, but also tender insights and astute observations, told with a bite of acerbic wit.

Courtesy of Mattel, Inc

Barbie Goes to College: Fresh by Margot Wood

Barbie’s not just a pretty face—she’s got brains, too. In 1996, the cheerleader-uniform-clad University Barbie hit toy store shelves. The first collection featured Barb in about 20 different school colors, and the line was revamped decades later. 

We can only hope that Barbie’s freshman year went better than Elliot’s does in Fresh. She enters school unsure of who she wants to be, but determined to make the most of the experience … and make out with the most people. Margot Wood’s debut is a deeply funny coming-of-age story about the messiest time in life. 

Courtesy of Mattel, Inc

CEO Barbie: Under the Influence by Noelle Crooks

A woman of many professions, Barbie has worked more than 250 careers, including astronaut, journalist, and firefighter. And in 1985, CEO Barbie conquered the business world. So what career would 2023 #GirlBoss Barbie be waltzing into in her high heels? The answer is obvious: an influencer, duhhh!

In Under the Influencer, Harper Cruz is broke—like might be evicted soon broke—after being laid off from her publishing job. When she stumbles upon a lucrative job listing for “Visionary Support Strategist” to famous influencer/self-help guru Charlotte Greene, she goes for it and trades New York City for Tennessee. At The Greenhouse, it’s all “we’re not colleagues, we’re a family,” which is, of course, code for toxic workplace where there’s motivational messages on tap (literally in the bathroom) and mandatory Katy Perry dance parties. As She.E.O Barbie would say: “If you can dream it, you can be it!”

Courtesy of Mattel, Inc

Presidential Candidate Barbie: Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Barbie has been on the ballot almost every year since 1992. Sporting a wide range of red, white, and blue dresses and pantsuits, if anyone deserves a large-scale oil portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, it’s our girl. 

24 years after Barbie ran for president, Hillary Clinton claimed the democratic nomination in 2016 and well… we all know how that turned out. Rodham transforms real historical events into fiction to ask: What if Hilary never married Bill? After all, behind every successful woman is a man holding her back from her full potential.

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