After you read a book about a celebrity you might realize you’d never want to be a celebrity. If you read a book about fame you’d never want to be famous. Because, in books, what happens? The center of attention, the rockstar, the movie star, the influential publisher … they always crash and burn. 

Why is that? I began to wonder. The constant theme of books about fame and celebrity is that the search for the spotlight is shallow, fame is short-lived and no one can be authentic when centerstage.  

Still, so many people search for that celebrity. And it’s the focus of some fascinating and devastating novels. You have the inevitable disaster for Sherman McCoy in Tom Wolfe’s brilliant Bonfire of the Vanities, the inevitable destruction of the rising star novelist in Herman Wouk’s classic Youngblood Hawke, and the inevitable downfall of Miranda Priestly in Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada. (We root for underdog Andy here, right? We root for the ugly duckling, not the swan.) 

And in the author’s constant search for a “relatable” character, writing about celebrities is risky business. No one wants to hear a famous person whine about being famous. You asked for it, we say, and you deserve whatever you get

That’s why it was such a challenge for me to write Her Perfect Life, starring Lily Atwood, a television journalist who is seemingly so perfect that her fans have hashtagged her #PerfectLily. Every savvy reader knows from page one that she is walking the celebrity tightrope. 

Smart readers will also understand that she’s different from how her fans — and enemies — describe her. But that is the trap of celebrity: you may be defined by someone else … to your peril. 

And Lily has a secret. A life-changing, career-ending secret. The question is: How do you keep your perfect life when the spotlight is the most dangerous place of all? 

The danger of the spotlight, that’s the key. You step into that center of attention and everything you do is magnified. 

Any mistake, any slip, and millions of people will know about it. That’s risky and brave and fascinating. Some of my favorite authors — and one new to me — have tried dealing with life as a celebrity and succeeded brilliantly. Here are eight of them.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz 

All he wanted to be was a rich and famous author: and then he got his wish. And then the secret was revealed. What do people want, and how far will they go to get it? That’s a classic plot, but this fascinatingly twisty story, revealing a devastating and thought-provoking clash of ethics and desire, is not to be missed. Yes, it’s all the buzz this season, and deservedly so.

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Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid 

A uniquely structured novel about the beautiful lead singer of a 70s rock group, written as an oral history. I worked at Rolling Stone magazine for a while, and this look at the egos and conflicts and desires of celebrities (and wannabes) is incredibly honest, realistic and evocative. P.S. the audio is narrated by Jennifer Beals for an extra dose of celebrity.

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The Family Plot by Megan Collins

Completely immersive from page one, the talented Collins creates a unique and multi-layered novel that’s part perfectly crafted gothic thriller, part brilliantly dark social commentary and part riveting family drama. In the spotlight is a family obsessed with true crime and outside it is a public obsessed with that family. It reveals the twisted and destructive reality that, these days, notoriety can become celebrity and evil can make you famous.

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Wild Women and the Blues by Denny S. Bryce 

It’s the glamor and the danger of Chicago in the jazz age, a time of chorus girls and bootleg whiskey, when dancing at the right place could get you noticed and getting you noticed could change your life. (And, years later, someone else’s.) As one character says, “Josephine Baker might come in here one day, see us perform and … just like that we would be on our way to Broadway or Paris France.” Immersive and fascinating. Ms. magazine called this terrific debut, “a story of courage and ambition, hot jazz and illicit passions”. 

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Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

I love anything Jess Walter writes, but Beautiful Ruins is such an epic about the drama of creation, of how to make art, of how to tell stories and the dream factory that was and is Hollywood. Please discover for yourself how immersively gorgeous this is, and how fame and celebrity and ambition tangle the lives of unforgettable characters. 

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Reel by Kennedy Ryan

I will confess that I am still happily in the midst of this one, but I’m reading it because when I asked some friends about celebrity-centered books so many of them raved about this one. The cover copy calls it a Hollywood tale of wild ambition, artistic obsession and unrelenting love. And the main character asks: Could this one shot — the role of a lifetime, the love of a lifetime — cost me everything? This is a perfect end-of-summer read.

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Christmas in Peachtree Bluff by Kristy Woodson Harvey

It’s the fourth in her endearing Peachtree Bluff series and features a trio of sisters, their mother and a secret from their past that might reshape what it means to be a family. Youngest sister Emerson Murphy’s fame is on the rise throughout the course of the series and, in this book, Emerson will have to choose between the people and place she loves and the role of a lifetime. Will the lure of fame loom stronger than the love of family?

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The Guest List by Lucy Foley  

The recipe for a riveting pageturner: put two celebrities — a hot new TV star and an influential magazine publisher — in the petri dish of their buzzy wedding on a glamorous but isolated island. Add envy, jealousy, revenge, pretension, manipulation and whiskey. Though someone’s death is inevitable, the mind games and gaslighting are completely surprising. When someone else gets what you always wanted — be it celebrity status, attention, fame or love — trouble (and a terrific book) will follow.

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It’s a little unsettling, looking at this list, at how often the celebrities are the losers in these novels. But perhaps that’s the lure; that there might be a way to get what you always wanted and still be happy. When it comes to becoming a celebrity, good luck with that. But isn’t it pretty to read about?