Our favorite Friends were big readers. After all, in the very first episode the first piece of furniture that Joey and Chandler assemble in Ross’s new apartment is a bookcase. With September 22 marking the 20th anniversary of the airing of Friends, I knew there was only one thing I could do to properly honor the series that brought me so much joy and laughter. I would have to commit to watching every single episode and record every literary reference I could find. An insane task, some might say, but like Joey facing down a Thanksgiving dinner, I was prepared for what lay ahead of me. Using Monica’s meticulous nature as inspiration, I combed carefully through every episode and now can present to you every literary reference our Friends ever made.
The only titles you’ll find missing are the books that are, tragically, not real—such as Be Your Own Windkeeper and Rachel’s naughty book—and reference books like the dictionary or encyclopedia (book V specifically). Season seven is also notably absent—apparently planning Monica’s wedding and teaching Ben about Hanukkah left little time for literature. I’d say spoiler alert, but c’mon people, you’ve had 20 years to catch up!
Episode: The One with George Stephanopoulos
Book: Jack and the Beanstalk
Rachel has run out on Barry, been cut off from her parents, and is quickly learning how hard it is to live without her safety nets. Phoebe draws an analogy to a literary character who gave up a lot for a big payout.
Rachel: I gave up, like, everything. And for what?
Phoebe: You are just like Jack.
Rachel: Jack from downstairs?
Phoebe: No, Jack and the Beanstalk.
Monica: Ah, the other Jack.
Phoebe: Yeah, right! See, he gave up something, but then he got those magic beans. And then he woke up and there was this, this big plant outside his window, full of possibilities and stuff. And he lived in a village, and you live in the Village.
Rachel: Okay, but Pheebs, Pheebs, Jack gave up a cow, I gave up an orthodontist. Okay, I-I-I know, I know I didn’t love him but—
Phoebe: Oh, see, Jack did love the cow.
Episode: The One with the Butt
Book: Magic Eye 3D
Despite his doctorate, Ross wasn’t quite bright enough to see what everyone else could when the gang checked out this optical illusion book.
Ross: I don’t see it! I don’t see it!
Joey: Try to look past the book.
Monica: You just have to unfocus your eyes.
Ross: Who’s focusing? There’s nothing to focus on!
Phoebe: Oh, it’s the Statue of Liberty!
Ross: What? Where’s the Statue of Liberty?! Where?!
Episode: The One Where Underdog Gets Away
Book: Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss
Ever the awkward turtle himself, Ross offends Susan, his ex-wife Carol’s partner, while browsing her bookshelf.
Ross: Wow, you guys sure have a lot of books about being a lesbian.
Susan: Well, you know, you have to take a course. Otherwise, they don’t let you do it.
Ross: Hey, hey, Yertle the Turtle. A classic.
Susan: Actually, I’m reading it to the baby.
Ross: The uh, the baby that hasn’t been born yet? Wouldn’t that mean you’re… crazy?
Episode: The One with the Dozen Lasagnas
Author: Danielle Steel
Ross hopes that Rachel will end things with Italian hunk Pablo, but she’s too caught up in the romance.
Ross: Wasn’t this supposed to be just a fling, huh? Shouldn’t it be… flung by now?
Rachel: I mean, we are way past the fling thing. I mean, I am feeling things that I’ve only read about in Danielle Steel books, you know? I mean, when I’m with him, I’m totally, totally…
Episode: The One with All the Poker
Book: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
While playing Pictionary, Joey proves that he reads more than sandwich menus.
Rachel: Ok, ok, it’s my turn.
Ross: Uh… bean! Bean!
Joey: The Unbearable Lightness of Being!
Episode: The One After the Superbowl
Book: The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
While Phoebe plays her guitar for a group of school kids, Chandler reconnects with this childhood classic but is too impatient to know the ending.
Rachel: Chandler, we’re going to find our seats.
Chandler: Hold on a second… He thinks he can… He thinks he can… Ahh, what the hell (skips to the end) He can.
Episode: The One Where Eddie Won’t Go
Book: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
It becomes clear that Rachel never read Tolkien’s classic fantasy adventure when she compares it to the feminist Be Your Own Windkeeper.
Phoebe: Oooh, so so so, did you read the book?
Monica: Oh my god, it was incredible.
Phoebe: Didn’t it, like, totally speak to you?
Rachel: Woah, woah, woah, what book is this?
Monica: Rachel, you have to read this book. It’s called Be Your Own Windkeeper. It’s about how women need to become more empowered.
Phoebe: Yeah and oh, and but there’s, there’s wind. And the wind can make us Goddesses. But do you know who takes our wind? Men. They just take it.
Rachel: Men just take our wind?
Phoebe: Ya-huh, all the time, cause they are the lightning bearers.
Rachel: Well that sounds kinda cool. It’s kinda like The Hobbit.
Monica: It is nothing like The Hobbit. It’s like reading about every relationship I’ve ever had, except for Richard.
Episode: The One with All the Jealousy
Book: Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
When he isn’t writing offensive verse about Monica as an empty vase, Julio could be found reading poetry.
Monica: Look, Julio, someone left their book here.
Julio: Ah, actually, that is mine.
Monica: Oh yeah, what are you reading?
Julio: Flowers of Evil by Baudelaire. Have you read it?
Monica: Have I read it?… No. Are you enjoying it?
Episode: The One Where Monica and Richard are Just Friends
Book: The Shining by Stephen King and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Rachel tells Joey she’ll read his favorite book, The Shining, if he reads hers, Little Women. But when Joey starts accidentally revealing spoilers, things get dirty fast.
Joey: Hey, Rach, how you doing with The Shining?
Rachel: Oh, Danny just went into room 217.
Joey: Oooh, the next part’s the best, when that dead lady in the bathtub…
Rachel: Oh, no! Nah, nah, nah. Come on, you’re gonna ruin it.
Joey: All right I’ll talk in code. (to Ross and Chandler) Remember when the kid sees those two blanks in the hallway?
Chandler: Hmm, that’s very cool.
Joey: Oh, all blank and no blank makes blank a blank blank. Oh no, no, no, the end when Jack almost kills them all with that blank, but then in the last second they get away. Aww!
Rachel: Joey! I can’t believe you just did that!
Chandler: I can’t believe she cracked your code!
Rachel: All right, okay, Laurie proposes to Jo, and she says no, even though she’s still in love with him and he ends up marrying Amy.
Joey: Hey! Mine was by accident! All right, the boiler explodes and destroys the hotel, and kills the dad.
Rachel: Eh. Beth dies.
Joey: Beth, Beth dies?
Joey: Is that true? If I keep reading is Beth gonna die?
Chandler: No, Beth doesn’t die, she doesn’t die. Does she Rachel?
Ross: Joey’s asking if you’ve just ruined the first book he’s ever loved that didn’t star Jack Nicholson.
Episode: The One with a Chick and a Duck
Book: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
When Joey is overly affectionate with a baby chick, Chandler calls him out on being eerily similar to Steinbeck’s not-so-gentle giant.
Joey: I got you something! Open it! Open it!
Chandler: Okay. It’s a chicken.
Joey: It’s cute, huh?
Phoebe: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You guys, do you know anything about chicks?
Chandler: Fowl? No. Women? Nooo.
Phoebe: Okay, well they are a huge responsibility, especially at this age. They require constant care. They need just the right food, and lots and lots of love.
Joey: Oh, well no problem there. (Joey picks up the chick and holds it tightly)
Chandler: Easy, Lenny.
Episode: The One with the Dirty Girl
Book: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
Hopelessly in love with Joey’s girlfriend, Chandler finds her the perfect birthday gift. Margery Williams’s beloved children’s book is mentioned for a second time in season eight’s “The One with the Halloween Party” when Monica gets Chandler a pink bunny costume loosely based on his favorite childhood book.
Chandler: This is for Kathy’s birthday. It’s an early edition of her favorite book.
Rachel: Oh, The Velveteen Rabbit! Oh my god, when the boy’s love makes the rabbit real!
Chandler: Okay, but don’t touch it, because your fingers have destructive oils.
Rachel: Huh. Well, you better keep it away from Ross’s hair. So this is pretty rare. How did you get that?
Chandler: Oh, it wasn’t a big deal. I just went to a couple of bookstores, talked to a couple of dealers… called a couple of the author’s grandchildren.
Rachel: Oh, honey, that’s so sweet.
Phoebe: Yeah, and what a great way to say, “I secretly love you, roommate’s girlfriend!”
Episode: The One Where They’re Going to Party!
Book: The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien
The boys attempt to use a little Tolkien magic to bust out of the coffeehouse rut, only to find out their stamina matches that of an Ent and not an Elf.
Ross: Joey, you are gonna love this guy. Gandalf is like the party wizard!
Joey: Well, why do you call him Gandalf?
Ross: Gandalf the wizard. Hello! Didn’t you read Lord of the Rings in high school?
Joey: No, I had sex in high school.
Episode: The One with All the Haste
Book: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
The girls fail to bribe the boys into trading apartments, and Chandler fails to relate to Joey via a literary classic.
Monica: All right boys, last chance for free tickets!
Rachel: Otherwise I give them to my new boyfriend, Joshua.
Chandler: No thank you.
Joey: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! Come on! Come on, let’s trade! The timing’s perfect,
I just clogged the toilet!
Chandler: Look, I want those basketball seats as much as you do, okay? But we can’t live in the small apartment after we’ve lived here! Didn’t you ever read Flowers for Algernon?
Joey: Yes! Didn’t you ever read Sports Illustrated? No I didn’t read yours! But come on, we can go to the game tonight!
Episode: The One with the Worst Best Man Ever
Book: The Bible
The gang rarely discussed religion, but the Good Book was the first thing Rachel reached for when Phoebe started having contractions. Ross also mentions the Bible in season ten, “The One After Joey and Rachel Kiss,” when stuffing his suitcase with items the Barbados hotel “owes” him.
Rachel: I’m gonna boil some water and just rip up some sheets!
Phoebe: No. It’s all right; it’s probably false labor. They said that that can happen near the end, so just somebody get the book.
Monica: Rachel, get the book! The book!
Rachel: Okay! Okay! Here!
Monica: The Bible?!
Rachel: I don’t know!
Episode: The One with Ross’s Sandwich
Book: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
In search of a new hobby, Phoebe decides to take up a literature class. Unfortunately, Rachel tags along as a classmate and is more interested in reading Vogue and stealing Phoebe’s answers than truly participating.
Rachel: What are you reading?
Phoebe: Umm, Wuthering Heights. I’m taking a literature class at the New School and I have to finish it for the first session tomorrow.
Chandler: I didn’t know you were taking a class. That’s so cool.
Phoebe: Yeah! Well, I really liked that Lamaze class I took! Y’know, I just thought this time I’d go for something, y’know, a little more intellectual with a less painful final exam.
Rachel: So tell me about this Jane Eyre woman.
Phoebe: No, you should’ve read it yourself!
Rachel: Come on, Phoebe, don’t be such a goodie goodie!
Phoebe: Fine! Okay, all right. So Jane Eyre, first of all, you’d think she’s a woman, but she’s not. She’s a cyborg.
Rachel: A cyborg? Isn’t that like a robot?
Phoebe: Yeah, this book was light years ahead of its time.
Episode: The One Where Chandler Can’t Cry
Book: Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
Chandler turns to literature when the gang makes fun of him for being heartless. If he wanted some tears he should’ve picked up The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Monica: Hey, sweetie!
Chandler: Hey! (He throws the book he’s reading under the couch, but the couch has no back and it slides into the kitchen)
Monica: Chicken Soup for the Soul?
Chandler: There’s no back to this couch!
Monica: Why are you reading this? You hate this kind of stuff.
Chandler: Yeah I know, but I figured I’d give it a shot, y’know? Maybe one of those stories would make me cry and then you wouldn’t think I was, y’know, all dead inside.
Episode: The One That Could Have Been
Book: 1984 by George Orwell
Once again, Joey swoops in with a surprising reference to Orwell’s 1984.
Monica: What are you up to?
Chandler: Oh, just hanging out, talkin’ about, uh, websites. Yeah, we saw this really interesting website about marriage and how totally unnecessary it is and how it’s just a way for the government to keep tabs on you.
Joey: Yeah, Big Brother.
Episode: The One with the Rumor
Book: What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff
Joey “helps” Rachel prep for pregnancy by reading up on the bestselling What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
Joey: Hey, Rach, listen, did you know that during pregnancy your fingers swell up to twice their size and never go back?
Rachel: Oh my… God! Let me see that!
Joey: You fall for it every time!
Episode: The One with the Cooking Class
Book: T. Rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez
When Ross and Rachel go shopping, Ross picks up something that wasn’t on the list: a new girlfriend.
Ross: I’m a paleontologist.
Katie: Really? That is so cool!
Rachel: Oh. Oh yeah, don’t get too worked up over it. I mean, it sounds like he’s a doctor, but he’s not.
Katie: Oh no, no, I’m fascinated by paleontology. Have you read the new Walter Alvarez book?
Ross: Yeah! I-I teach it in my class.
Rachel: Oh my god! I’m standing at a cash register, holding a credit card, and I’m bored.
Episode: The One with Christmas in Tulsa
Book: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore
Phoebe entertains Joey with a magical tale of a jolly man delivering toys… and decides to claim it as her own.
Phoebe: …sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle; and away they all flew like the down of a thistle; but I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight!”
Joey: Wow, that was great! You really wrote that?
Episode: The One with the Cake
Book: Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
After forgetting to buy a present for Emma’s first birthday, Joey improvises a touching reading.
Joey: I will be doing a dramatic reading of one of Emma’s books.
Rachel: Oh, okay, which one?
Joey: Uh, why, it’s a… one of her favorites, uh, Riding the Storm Out: Coping with Post-Partum Depression. Eesh! Love You Forever. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Published by Firefly books, printed in Mexico. A mother held her new baby and very slowly rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and while she held him she sang, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”
Joey: And while he rocked her, he sang, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”
Rachel: Wow! That was amazing!
Episode: The One with the Late Thanksgiving
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Book: The Firm by John Grisham
Though he’s appeared well-read before, Chandler proves just how little he knows of his “favorite” author.
Chandler: You know what just occurred to me? This could be our last Thanksgiving just the two of us. I mean, we could be getting a baby soon.
Monica: You don’t know that.
Chandler: Somebody’s gonna pick us.
Monica: Yeah, but we haven’t heard a thing from the adoption agency and it’s been weeks!
Chandler: I’m telling ya, it’s gonna happen. Next year it’s gonna be you, me, and the little Hemingway Bing… What, he’s my favorite author!
Monica: Name one of his books.
Chandler: …The Firm.