With television shows taking on more serialized narratives and book adaptations than ever, it’s easy to get hooked on seasons that unfold like novels or short story collections. However, no matter how you try to justify it (“True Detective is HBO! HBO is smart television!”), there comes a moment that your retinas begin to burn and you can actually feel points being docked from your IQ.
That’s not to throw shade at TV — we, too, love a Breaking Bad binge — but sometimes it’s best to just shut the television off — or, you know, to log out of your friends’ parents’ HBOGO account. Even if you’re watching so-called “highbrow TV,” your brain deserves the kind of spring cleaning only a good old-fashioned book can deliver. We’ve matched up 10 great reads that offer similar flavors to your favorite TV shows, so you won’t experience any withdrawal symptoms either. Binge away!
1. For Fans of Girls: The Magicians by Lev Grossman
A quick glance at Grossman’s book about a college for magic inevitably conjures thoughts of Harry Potter over Lena Dunham. But when Quentin Coldwater and his friends finish their five-year training, they immediately fall into booze-soaked and sex-filled slumps, wander around Brooklyn, try to figure out what to do with their lives and lament over their useless college degrees. Sound familiar? If you and your friends relate to Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna on a deep, spiritual level (okay, on a reblog-GIFS-of-them level), take a look at Grossman’s heartbreaking tale about coming to terms with the notion that your youthful dreams may, alas, be nightmares in practice.
2. For Fans of Hannibal: The Dinner by Herman Koch
You know the old saying: Nothing goes together like psychological torment and a fancy meal. Oh, that’s not a saying? Literally no other human has ever said or thought that before? Okay, well, either way, we still strongly suggest pairing together Hannibal and The Dinner. You’ll be served with a television show diving into the mind of a man losing his sanity (possibly a side effect of inadvertently eating human flesh as cooked by the titular Hannibal) and a novel probing into the mind of an unstable man trying to sort out the moral dilemmas of social classes and the weight of violence. Foodie Fact: The episode names and book parts are both organized by classy food courses, such as aperitif and digestif. Who’s hungry?
3. For Fans of True Detective: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
These days, there’s a serial killer on every Netflix queue, but True Detective is no CSI. If you swap the religious-based New Orleans killings for murder, theft and disappearance in the 1860s New Zealand gold rush, you may just have The Luminaries. Both are heavily concerned with their characters’ behaviors being influenced by external forces (be they Matthew McConaughey’s beer-soaked ramblings or the astrological movements of the zodiac) and the inescapable notion of being destined/damned into cyclical acts.
4. For Fans of Six Feet Under: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
Nothing like the death of a patriarch to bring a dysfunctional family back together, at least physically. If you’re a fan of Six Feet’s Fisher clan living in a funeral home, grab a copy of Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You. The author tells the story of the Foxman family as they sit shiva for seven days upon the death of their father. What unfurls is a touching albeit often cringe-worthy story about the ties we have to these people we love, even when we don’t really like them. In other words: They are our family.
5. For Fans of Bored to Death: & Sons by David Gilbert
If you thought the often stoned hijinks of Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danson navigating detective work, the New York literary scene and male friendship were cancelled too soon, fear not, there could be a movie in the mix! In the mean time, though, don’t just rewatch the whole series. Instead, read & Sons, a novel by Gilbert which shares an equal fondness for drugs, while poking fun at the New York book world. The author’s Salinger-esque protagonist A. N. Dyer has his best work so far behind him that rather than trying to write something new, he spends his days trying to rewrite his breakthrough novel — which captures not only the sadness of being past one’s prime but the aimlessness of aging boredom. It’s so good, it might just make you forget that Bored to Death received the ax early.
6. For Fans of The Americans: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Fact #1: Marriage is tough. Fact #2: It’s a hell of a lot tougher if you aren’t sure which spouse is a sociopath. If your favorite part of The Americans is watching Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys struggle with their front as a loving American couple while spying for Russia during the 1980s, pick up Gone Girl by Flynn. What it lacks in Russian accents it makes up for in dysfunctional relationships of the nth degree.
7. For Fans of Carnivale: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Carnivale, HBO’s curious puzzle of a show, came out at a time when dense mythologies and high-budget period pieces were not as welcome as they are today. (What’s up, Game of Thrones?) This Dust Bowl-set tale followed avatars of good and evil destined for a battle amidst a traveling carnival — but, alas, it was all cut short after only its second season. For fans who wish it had been given the longer life it deserved, look to none other than Gaiman to find a compatible tale as drenched in myth, the American West, gods and creepy images of trees.
8. For Fans of American Horror Story: Anything by H. P. Lovecraft
Do you like your American horror stories extra racist? The stories of Lovecraft, the now-classic horror icon, were originally published in pulp magazines, which seem all too in-line with a show that featured an insane asylum with mutants in its woods and aliens in its basements. Given Lovecraft’s writing and Ryan Murphy’s love of shock-factor, it’s not unthinkable to imagine Kathy Bates spewing the word “eldritch” in a classically Murphy, over-the-top threat.
9. For Fans of Suburgatory: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Originally a writer for sitcoms (including Arrested Development), Semple eventually moved out of the California sun and into the Seattle rain, but not without some adjustment issues. Her move inspired her to write this laugh-out-loud book about Bernadette Fox, a woman unable to deal with the absurd levels of over-involvement from fellow PTA parents. If you’re a fan of Suburgatory’s New-York-City-to-absurd-New-York-suburb transplants, you’ll love reading about Bernadette bemoaning the existence of naggy neighbors, ill-placed billboards and illogical school systems.
10. For Fans of Enlightened: Building Stories by Chris Ware
Very often, we watch or read fiction about wildly successful and skilled individuals, people who have idyllic if not twee jobs like, say, being a greeting card writer. But the world we inhabit is filled with jobs more quiet than they are quirky and is populated by people who are lost in their own insecurities and flaws. Enlightened is yet another HBO show that met its end too soon. If your go-to HBOGO binge is watching Amy Jellicoe fight the man at her banal office job, splurge for Building Stories by Ware. It’s an innovative graphic novel that provides an illuminating perspective into otherwise easily overlooked lives.
What other television and book pairings would you appreciate? Have an alternate suggestion for any of the shows above? Let us know in the comments below!
Alex Trivilino grew up in Pittsburgh, went to college in Boston and now hikes around Los Angeles. He enjoys maps, pies and mysteries, and is currently seeking an academic nemesis. Favorite his tweets, but only if you want to.
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