The holidays are upon us, and unless you really love spending time with your family, you’re probably in need of a distraction. Especially since that greatest of contemporary cultural distractions — television — will be a wasteland of reruns and ’80s Christmas movies until January, why not pick up a new book that touches on the same themes as your favorite on-hiatus show? From debauched best friends who will remind you of the Broad City duo to a fantasy-dipped work of literature that’s sure to quench your Game of Thrones thirst, here are a few suggestions drawn from 2015’s most celebrated books.
While Broad City is on hiatus, read Emma Jane Unsworth’s Animals.
Laura and Tyler, the best friends and roommates at the center of Animals, are like Abbi and Ilana a few years down the road and in London instead of New York. Like Abbi, 32-year-old Laura is all neurosis and frustrated creative ambitions; Tyler, at 29, is wild and pushy and a little bit obsessed with Laura. Both women are getting a bit too old for the alcohol-soaked, cocaine-powered, career-free lives they lead, and Laura’s impending marriage threatens to upend that existence anyway. While Animals can be quite funny, Unsworth’s keen observations about what it means to be an aimless, hedonistic 30-something — as opposed to an aimless, hedonistic 20-something — bring some welcome gravity to her subject.
While Transparent is on hiatus, read Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts.
Transparent is about a 70-year-old patriarch who begins living as the woman she has always known she is. The Argonauts, a memoir and work of philosophy, tracks the author’s pregnancy and her gender-non-binary spouse’s top surgery and testosterone treatments. Both are remarkable explorations of queer and trans family-building — and Transparent creator Jill Soloway is apparently an Argonauts fan, citing the book as inspiration for one of Season 2’s best lines.
While Fargo is on hiatus, read Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen.
If you came out of this month’s Fargo finale craving more dark storylines, odd characters, period details, and bleak wintertime backdrops, great news: you’ll find all of the above in Moshfegh’s eerie second novel. Narrated by a bizarre young woman who wants nothing more than to escape her Massachusetts town — where she works with juvenile delinquents and cares for her drunk, abusive father — it’s more midcentury domestic suspense than Coen-style snow Western, but Eileen is just as obsessed with good, evil, and ambition as the FX drama we won’t be seeing again until 2017.
While Black-ish is on hiatus, read Margo Jefferson’s Negroland.
One of network TV’s best new sitcoms in years, Black-ish (on hiatus until January 6) balances traditional family comedy with explorations of what it means to be African American — and successful. Jefferson’s memoir takes a longer view of the same subject, paying particular attention to the author’s upbringing in ’50s and ’60s Chicago, but also dives into the history of America’s black elite, bringing both centuries of background and a critical perspective to many of the same topics Black-ish has tackled.
While UnREAL is on hiatus, read Edward St. Aubyn’s A Clue to the Exit.
This seems like a bit of a stretch, but hear me out: UnREAL is a show where deeply flawed geniuses manipulate poor, nubile women for the purpose of making great (or at least addictive) television. Patrick Melrose chronicler St. Aubyn’s 2000 novel A Clue to the Exit, published for the first time in the US this year, finds a similarly damaged Hollywood screenwriter responding to a fatal cancer prognosis with one final attempt at writing a great work of literature (among other, less high-minded adventures). In both cases, we get ample glimpses at the protagonists’ creative handiwork — and both stories cut their darkness with moments of undeniable humor.
While Game of Thrones is on hiatus, read Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant.
Game of Thrones (which returns for Season 6 in April) fuses fantasy tropes with prestige-TV storytelling; Ishiguro uses those same genre conventions to build a novel that’s about far more than heroes and monsters. As Flavorwire’s Jonathon Sturgeon wrote, “The ‘elements of fantasy’ within the novel work to usher its characters’ fears and superstitions to the page. And fears and superstitions and stories, for Ishiguro, are thickets of language that betray the memories we’ve buried.” Both works — like, let me be clear, several great genre-specific works before them — go beyond escapism to do what art is supposed to do: comment on the world we actually live in.
While Empire is on hiatus, read John Seabrook’s The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory.
We won’t have new episodes of Empire till March, so in the meantime, why not educate yourself on how the pop-music industry depicted on the show actually works? Seabrook, a New Yorker writer, delves into the increasingly scientific art of songwriting — uncovering, among other things, some characters and practices so cynical they make Lucious Lyon (or at least his songwriting methods) look idealistic.
While You’re the Worst is on hiatus, read Linda Rosenkrantz’s Talk.
Rosenkrantz’s 1968 novel Talk, reissued this year by New York Review Books, is most often compared to Girls. But I’m sick of comparing everything to Girls, and the book — an edited transcript of real conversations between three ’60s New York art-world types — has plenty in common with TV’s best romantic comedy too: the awkwardly intimate relationships, the cutting dialogue, the rare attention to characters’ psychology. On the surface, You’re the Worst is about romantic love and Talk is about friendship, but the secret subject of both is the kicking, screaming journey into adulthood we all at least consider embarking on when everyone around us starts to settle down.
While Downton Abbey is on hiatus, read Priya Parmar’s Vanessa and Her Sister.
Kill the time between now and January 4, when Downton Abbey‘s final season gets its stateside premiere, with a novel set in approximately the same period and country — albeit among a different social milieu. Parmar’s fictional take on the lives of sisters Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell was one of the New York Times’ “100 Notable Books of 2015.”
While Master of None is on hiatus, read Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg’s Modern Romance.
And finally, if you were struck by Ansari’s insights into modern romance while watching his excellent Netflix series Master of None… well, maybe that’s because he and sociologist Klinenberg published a book on that very subject — and with that exact title — earlier this year.