When people talk about what eras they would ideally live in (the '60s for the counterculture and revolutions, the '70s for the music and drugs, the '20s for the arts scene in Paris, the 1880s for the wigs) I am always the person who plays the feminism/civil rights card; (Yep, I'm that guy!) I pick the present every time. I mean, I wouldn't kick a time machine out of bed or anything but I would not go back to live in a time when I had less rights just so I could chill with some lady-discriminating-against writers no matter how brilliant I think "For sale: baby shoes, never worn" is. Besides, TV is so damn good now. Miss Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, Happy Endings, Parks and Recreation, The Wire, freaking Deadwood just so that I could be an active, willing participant in colonization? Hell no. I'll just stick to fighting the racist, oppressive patriarchy in the present, thank you, taking breaks to watch shows and read books. Sometimes, reading books that compliment those shows perfectly and vice versa:
For The Walking Dead fans: Zone One by Colson Whitehead – Before I read Zone One I was always like "bring on the zombie apocalypse! I'm so ready! I can run fast and I'm pretty strong and I can swing a bat really hard and I can think on my feet. Zombies? No problem!" And then I read it and Whitehead did what eight episodes of searching for Sophia never could: it made the zombie apocalypse real and human and heartbreaking and so, so, so sad. In Zone One there are these zombies, stragglers, who aren't threatening or dangerous. They just return to somewhere that was significant in their lives and just stand there. Forever. One stands in a field like it's flying a kite. Another, a little girl with ponytails, sits stalled over a well-worn board game. A teenager holds his lacrosse stick in permanent repose in his teenage bedroom. They are like fetid coma patients who are frozen doing what they loved most – until the living must bash their brains in. The characters in Zone One, whether the protagonist, the enigmatic Mark Spitz, or the eternal optimist Kaitlyn or Gary who spoke in plurals, unable to shake the habit since his brothers died, are so wonderfully fleshed out that I felt every one of their pains in my bones. Zone One does for the zombie apocalypse what The Road did for the regular apocalypse: shines the faintest of lights into the depths of despair. But however faint, hope is hope.
For Dexter fans: The Face of Another by Kobo Abe – A scientist loses his face in a horrible accident. He is ostracized. He then creates a mask which leads to him creating an alternate identity, a dark passenger if you will, under which he does things that he would never do. An eerie Jekyll and Hyde story, there are a lot of ways that Abe's horror story differs from Dexter (also a Jekyll and Hyde story?), the most significant of which is the notable lack of Julia Stiles.
For Community fans: On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross – We need to figure out how to move past denial.
For Homeland fans: The Quiet American by Graham Greene – CIA agents, spies, Americans fucking around in/with other countries... I can't wait to start watching Homeland. Mandy Patinkin! Claire Danes' cry face! That stoic soldier from Band of Brothers!
For Boardwalk Empire fans: The Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun – Hamsun's novel is about homesteading in Norway in the 19th century. It is not a drama, nor is it full of action, gangsters or Paz de la Huertas but like Boardwalk, it's still about building something from nothing. The novel is understated, unhurried, and phenomenal; it is a story of humanity. Unlike the show, it has all the elements of perfection and puts them to use, instead of letting an incredible cast and plot just fizzle out. Honestly, instead of watching Boardwalk Empire, everyone should just read Growth of the Soil instead. Other suggestions include The Emperor's New Clothes.
For American Horror Story fans: Shadowland by William Arnold – The "biography" of actress Frances Farmer that went on to be the basis for the "biographical" movie Frances starring none other than the star of American Horror Story, Jessica Lange. Shadowland tells of Farmer's breakdown and subsequent institutionalization, shock therapy and alleged lobotomy. While lacking in ghosts, aliens and other spooky behaviours, the film adaptation is chilling and said to be Scientology propaganda so I'd say it's on par in terms of horror.
For Nashville fans: Theatre by Somerset Maugham – A story about an aging theatre actor, Julia Lambert, who is the Beyoncé of the 1930's London stage scene, whose supremacy is suddenly challenged by some young nobody named
Rihanna Avice. Basically sounds a lot like what I've read of the plot of Nashville. I'm going to have to start watching it because I've made a promise to myself to watch everything starring my favourite Taylor.
For Treme fans: Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden – In Babylon Rolling the narrative crisscrosses back and forth between five different households on the same street in New Orleans, just before Hurricane Ivan and one year before Katrina. The novel offers a dissection of human nature and everyday life: sex, marriage, race, opportunity, childrearing, drugs, violence, jealousy, age and how the world is changing. As well as offering a look at pre-Katrina New Orleans – a beautiful, vibrant and fragile city on the brink of disaster.
-----Alex Snider reads books, writes fiction and bleeds ink. Her website is What Fresh Hell is This and her Twitter handle is @what_freshhell.