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‘Lost’ lesson: A man can look sexy reading a book

May 17, 2010

Sawyer reading: Of Mice and Men.

The end of “Lost” this Sunday will be a blow to reading second only to the end of Oprah’s TV book club. No drama in television history has been as literary as “Lost,” with heroic conman Sawyer proving  that a man can look sexy reading a book.

As Liesl Bradner recently noted in an L.A. Times entertainment blog, books have been a prominent feature since Season One, when Sawyer was seen reading Watership Down, Richard Adams’ novel about a band of rabbits forced to find a new home.

More than 70 books have been referenced, in one way or the other, in the six seasons of “Lost,” which ends on Sunday with a two and a-half hour finale. A nearly complete list of “Lost” books is at the Lostopedia.

Given the twisty nature of the show (a sci-fi/fantasy/adventure/soap opera hybrid), obsessive fans have mined every book seen on “Lost’ for clues to what the heck is going on. And of course on a drama with characters named Rousseau, Richard Alpert, John Locke, Faraday, Hume, C.S. Lewis, Mikhail Bakunin, Hawking, Jeremy Bentham —  every smallest detail has symbolic and-or narrative significance.

The Invention of Morel

Co-creator, executive producer and writer Damon Lindelof says: “We pick the books with a great deal of meticulous thought and specificity and talk about what the thematic implications of picking a certain book are, why we’re using it in the scene and what we want the audience to deduce from that choice.”

Literature is referenced indirectly, too. A good example can be found at Squidoo, which has an excellent page on “Lost” lit: Henry Gale, the alias bad guy Ben gives when first captured by the heroes, is the name of Dorothy’s uncle in The Wizard of Oz. Ben, as Henry, claims he arrived on the island in a hot-air balloon, which is the way the Wizard departs Oz, and it’s also the way Jules Verne’s heroes arrive in The Mysterious Island, another book mentioned prominently on the show.

Most of featured books provide clues to the show’s themes, as in Season Three, says James Brush, a Texas English teacher and founder of “The ‘Lost’ Book Club.”

“Each season had a book that has for me really resonated,”  Brush said.  “In Season 3 it was Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Charlie was going to die and Desmond knew it.  He was stuck in this loop of trying to get out of the current situation yet making it worse.”

Watership Down

I have to say it’s a joy to see a man reading by choice and with pleasure  on a TV show. No less than Oprah Winfrey has noted Sawyer’s love of reading, with a cool slideshow, “Get ‘Lost’ in Sawyer’s Bookshelf” at  Sawyer’s reading is impressively eclectic, including, among others: Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men ; The Invention of Morel, by Adolfo Bioy Casares; and A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle.

Lancelot, by Walker Percy

It’s with gratification I can report that I’ve read a fair number of the “Lost” books, though by no means all. As a casual fan of the show, I’ve preferred to let the books and their associations enhance the general geek pleasure of the experience. I’m not interested in looking for spoilers in the show’s books.

But if you do want spoilers, investigate what Bush says is the thematic touchstone for the so-far perplexing storyline of Season Six: Salman Rushdie’s children’s fantasy, Haroun and the Sea of Stories. “If this season follows this model, one of two realities will cease to exist once one is defeated,” said Brush.

Whatever the outcome for the show’s characters, “Lost” is soon history. Let’s give its creators credit for making books seem cool and fun and important.  Any chance another show might pick up the reading theme? Nah, probably not.

32 Comments leave one →
  1. Tommy smart permalink
    May 17, 2010 1:03 pm

    I want a conclusion to show, and the theory about one dimension having to be destroyed fits.

    I also do not want it to end. Ever. Lost is phenomenal. Sunday will be a bitter-sweet experience.

    I also have read many of the books that have show up on the island, most of them because they have shown up on the island. The majority of the books are good, some even great, so the “Lost” list became a safe bet. In the 4th season they have a flashback scene that takes place at the same time as the original plane crash. Juliet is hosting a book-club, Ben Linus refuses to join because the book she chose was a Stephen King novel (not sure right now which one), so I began liking Juliet more and continuing my hate for Linus. The book club discussion of a Stephen King book being interrupted by the plane crash that started it all off is perfect.

    Books play a big part of unraveling the mysteries found in the “Lost” video game. I know, I know, owning the video game makes me an ultra-geek.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 17, 2010 1:29 pm

      You are an ultra-geek, Tommy. To thine own self be true. I bet you look good with a book in your hand.

  2. Candice Simmons permalink
    May 17, 2010 1:08 pm

    As usual with popular tv shows, I missed out on Lost. Yes, I have a TV. But I lack a remote control and generally, since I am multitasking while watching the tube, leave it on MSNBC and watch Olberman, Maddow, Hardball. But I am pleased to hear a show exists, though not for much longer I suppose, that promotes reading as sexy. Reading is sexy. Intelligence is sexy.

    Now, Mr. Mabe, are you going to tell me about the Mohammed Yunus’s new book?

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 17, 2010 1:32 pm

      Muhammad Yunis has a new book? If so you seem to know more about it than I do.

  3. May 17, 2010 1:51 pm

    Sawyer does look really pretty reading a book.

    I appreciate the fact that they tried to incorporate literature into the show. However, I do not want to work quite so hard just to understand a freaking show. And I hate spoilers. In fact, I would have liked some sort of warning before reading this blog! I don’t want to know what “should” happen based on what books have made appearances. Thanks a lot. NOT.

  4. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    May 17, 2010 2:00 pm

    There are no spoilers in this blog. I mean: The idea that one story will triumph over the other doesn’t exactly tell you what’s going to happen. And it could be wrong. If you don’t want spoilers, then don’t read the LA Times story…

    • May 17, 2010 6:53 pm

      Um…I don’t want ANY information about the future. I wanna figure it out for my damn self.

      • Tommy Smart permalink
        May 17, 2010 7:24 pm

        Can I get you some cheese?

        Hey Alexis, the chosen replacement guardian of the island is…


  5. Candice Simmons permalink
    May 17, 2010 2:13 pm

    Saw it on “Morning Joe” today, so I assume it’s new. Called Building Social Issues.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 17, 2010 2:24 pm

      There’s a title that’s gonna leap off the shelves….

  6. Kris Montee permalink
    May 17, 2010 2:58 pm

    Oh come now. Sawyer would look sexy reading a cereal box. But yes, men who love books are hot.

    Here’s a visual for you: Sawyer reading a Kindle. This, however, does not float my boat.

  7. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    May 17, 2010 3:14 pm

    Yes, Sawyer would no doubt look sexy reading a cereal box, especially if he took off his shirt to do so. But the thing about the way Sawyer is portrayed reading books — not just books, but novels — on Lost, is that he does it often, and by choice, and with deep absorption and evident pleasure, and once he’s read a book, it informs his subsequent conversation and behavior, as when he recently engaged the evil Locke in a pointed conversation about Lenny and George, the lead characters from Of Mice and Men, one of whom comes to a bad end. Reading enhances Sawyer’s appeal, and vice-versa.

    • Kris Montee permalink
      May 18, 2010 6:39 pm

      You are such a geek, Mabe. I say that with all due affection.

    • atul permalink
      October 2, 2010 3:26 am

      once time meet you

  8. Sean permalink
    May 17, 2010 4:00 pm

    Reading is fundamental. And hot!

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 17, 2010 4:56 pm

      Smart girls are hotter, too. I’ve never understood the appeal of bimbos. Plenty of smart girls are pretty, and plenty of pretty girls are smart. If a woman doesn’t read, what in the world will we talk about?!?

  9. Sean permalink
    May 17, 2010 4:14 pm

    Is there a good place online for a synopsis of ‘Lost’ episodes? Someplace I can do light-to-moderate, informed reading to catch up? I’ve watched the show here and there and liked it but don’t have a real sense of where it’s gone since the episode that ended season 1 (or 2?) in which the countdown clock was allowed to expire and the island started shaking itself to pieces (I know, it’s like I’m just awake from a coma.)

    I’ve seen just one episode of Season 6, and was both hypnotized and stupefied. Garvin said in the Herald that ‘Lost’ has come unglued. Although I respect his opinions, I don’t know enough to agree or disagree. Any guidance appreciated.

    I’ve read a book by Walker Percy, “The Moviegoer,” just not the one Sawyer’s reading in the picture.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 17, 2010 5:04 pm

      In my humble opinion –Tommy, don’t hit me! — Season Six of Lost is one of the great wasted opportunities of television. After the creative lull of Season Three, the show’s creators brought it back to a pitch of masterfully modulated sci-fi mind-fracking by the end of Season Five. Since the beginning of this season, however, the show has introduced dozens (I’m not exaggerating) of new characters, almost all of whom have already been killed off and therefore were utterly superfluous, while at the same time underusing characters we already really really cared about — especially Ben, Desmond and Hurley. Ben — the show’s chief villain! — has hardly made an appearance. I’m sticking with the show to the bitter end out of allegiance to past pleasures, because there are only three hours left, and because I am a pitiful and hopeless science fiction nerd. But the show has not been good this season. I hate to agree with Garvin about anything, but what can you do?

      The Moviegoer is better than Lancelot, though both are worth reading.

      I don’t know where to send you for episode recaps, but I’m sure if you simply google “Lost” you’ll find more than one source of what you’re looking for. It’s amazing how many people out there in Cyberville seem to have no life whatsoever, in the Shatnerian sense of the phrase.

      • Tommy Smart permalink
        May 17, 2010 7:34 pm

        I wouldn’t hit you Chauncey. You are right, I am also a bit disappointed with this final season. Some great opportunities were missed. The most recent episode was good, we learned the origin of Jacob, the smoke monster, the original inhabitants of the island but still seemed lacking. I kept waiting for them to go back to the survivors of the sub.

        Sawyer is a well-read bad-ass. No matter whether he is figuring out how to escape a polar bear cage, being a conman, being a cop or reading a book wearing ladies frames LeFleur is the star (and my prediction for the new guardian. Notice how Freckles is never seen reading, no wonder she picked the lame doctor.

        Chauncey, what would you say if I believed the island itself is the main character of the show.

    • Peggy C permalink
      May 25, 2010 1:28 pm

      The best source for information is Lostpedia ( The episode recaps are filed away near the very bottom of the first page, under “Index > Episodes”, and then by season.

  10. rachel permalink
    May 17, 2010 4:33 pm

    I refuse to read this because I was told that there was a spoiler. But I felt the need to comment and say how much I dislike spoilers.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 17, 2010 5:05 pm

      I’m telling you, the “revelation” at the end of the blog post is so general it does not amount to a spoiler. Your informant is misinformed.

      • May 17, 2010 6:54 pm

        That is a lie!!! And she would agree with me.

      • Tommy Smart permalink
        May 17, 2010 7:22 pm

        No it’s not. Believe me I would draw and quarter Chauncey if he played the spoiler. I call your attention to the word IF. And the theory that one of the dimensions would have to end is a logical one. The question of How still remains.

  11. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    May 17, 2010 10:12 pm

    Tommy, I don’t buy the island as a “character.” I know you could make an argument — the show has implied the island has motivation, and possibly sentience, but I don’t buy it. To me it’s kind of cheating if anything has character other than a human, a sentient animal, a self-conscious alien, an self-aware supernatural entity, etc. In other words, something with a sense of individual psychology. But that’s just me.

  12. May 17, 2010 11:39 pm

    Hey thanks for linking to my Lost book club project. It’s been fun seeing how the books interact with the show and while they’ve given me some theories, half of them have been way off. Which is how I like it. This is one instance where being wrong is as much fun as getting it right. Cheers and thanks again.

  13. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    May 18, 2010 12:30 am

    You have a good book club, fun and well informed. Congrats. It was perfect for what I was writing about today

  14. May 18, 2010 11:02 am

    yes, it is logical. however, i want to logically get there on my own. not be told that the writers have put soooooooooo much thought and effort into leading us to that theory.

  15. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    May 18, 2010 1:43 pm

    Well, if one of the “realities” has to wink out of existence, I hope to God in Heaven that it’s the one set in Los Angeles, which has been almost without relief in its boredom. I virtually go to sleep, then snap back to groggy attention when the scene shifts to the island. I mean, the L.A. storyline is almost a masterpiece of narrative slackness, if I can say such a thing.


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