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Books on TV: Product placement even an English teacher could approve.

June 13, 2011

Don Draper: Hot guy reading in his pajamas.

Last year I wrote about how the end of Lost would damage American literacy. The show was rife with literary references, and its characters, especially the dashing Sawyer/James Ford were frequently seen reading — get this — for pleasure. It turns out characters on other shows read, too.

Apparently a lot. I guess this eluded my notice because a) I watch almost none of the following shows, even though I know they are good; and b) the shows I do watch tend to be cheesy sci-fi escapist fare. Let’s see…Nope, nobody reading on last week’s episode of “Doctor Who.”

Prometeo Theatre presents Mujeres de Shakespeare (in Spanish with English supertitles), July 8-9,  Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus. For more, visit The Florida Center for the Literary Arts!

Anyhow, the occasionally interesting folks over at Flavorwire have put together a neat-o slide show with images of characters from popular TV programs reading books:

Don Draper and other characters on “Man Men” reading period-appropriate books like Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything.

Lisa Simpson reading Leaves of Grass.

Jim faking his way (poorly) through a book club discussion of Angela’s Ashes on “The Office.”

Lest it appear we’re in the midst of an outbreak of bookish TV characters, let me note that Flavorwire has to reach back to such bygone shows as “The O.C.,” “Seinfeld,” and the immortal “Freaks and Geeks” to fill out its roster of 10.

And not every reference rings true. Does anyone believe any character on “Gossip Girl” reads anything weightier than Vogue? Certainly not F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned. Maybe Spark Notes. Maybe.

On the other hand, sometimes the depiction of literature in the lives of characters is so true as to break the heart, as when Freaks and Geeks trouble teen Kim is forced to discuss Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in class:

“I hated the book, alright? I have no idea what it’s about, and the writer was clearly on drugs when he wrote it. I mean it just went on and on and on like it was written in a total hurry. If I handed in something like this, there’s no way I’d get a good grade on it. I mean it’s boring, and it’s unorganized, and I only read 30 pages of it anyway.”

Um…that’s a defensible critical position. Just ask Truman Capote.

So even though I’m a reader who watches too much TV (rest assured, I feel guilty about it), I had not noticed a bit of this unsolicited literary product placement on popular shows.

My point: If product placement can sell cigarettes and soda, then it can sell reading, too.

I hereby call on television producers to depict more characters with books in their hands. No, you won’t get paid for it, like you do when Kevin James picks up a bag of Tostidos (or whatever). Consider it the 21st century equivalent of those old public service announcements. Shave a millennia or two off your time in Purgatory.

Hey! One time on “Stargate Universe,” when they all thought they were about to die because the ancient alien space ship was caught in the gravity well of a….oh, never mind. Anyway, they all thought they were going to die in an hour or two — go with me on this — and Dr. Rush, the brilliant but untrustworthy physicist, says he’s going to go read the last hundred pages of a mediocre novel.

But, alas, he doesn’t say what it is. Drat.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Candice Simmons permalink
    June 13, 2011 10:49 am

    All the cool people read books. That’s a universal truth.

  2. June 13, 2011 11:49 am

    “Reading is the gateway to your dreams. Everything you do or dream of doing in life will come through reading.” — Michael John McCann

    Not many care though. Just a few of us.

  3. June 13, 2011 12:30 pm

    Did you see any of the LOST series, Chauncey? The character Sawyer was not only a bad ass but an inveterate reader. There’s hope, I tell you.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      June 13, 2011 3:33 pm

      Yeah, Duff, I blogged about that last year.

  4. June 13, 2011 3:22 pm

    Does it count if the fictional television characters read fictional books?

    If so,
    You failed to mention the quite literate Commander Adama and President of the Twelve Colonies Laura Roslin from THE greatest sci-fi show ever, the 2004 era Battlestar Galactica.

    For more on Arts and Literature of the Twelve Colonies visit:

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      June 14, 2011 9:28 am

      The best sci-fi show ever? You must be joking. Better than The Twilight Zone? Dr. Who? The Prisoner? The Out Limits? Star Trek? Babylon 5? The X-Files? Deep Space Nine? Alias? Lost? Firefly? Farscape? Fringe? In the immortal words of Lady Gaga’s mama: Justify your love.

      • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
        June 14, 2011 9:33 am

        But your point is well taken. Capt. Adama is frequently seen reading. So, for that matter, is Capt. Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation (and let me add that he usually is reading a bound book, even though the producers foresaw what we now call tablet computers and put them in the hands of numerous characters).

        As for the best sci-fi show ever, in some ways I liked Caprica better than BSG, which was less a science-fiction story than a religious allegory. Too much deus ex machina for my usually robust suspension of disbelief.

        Beautifully shot and acted, though.

  5. June 13, 2011 8:56 pm

    On a separate but relevant subject, Chauncey. You once recommended I read TALES FROM THE IRISH CLUB by Lester Goran. I’ve finally gotten around to the collection and I can only say I wish I hadn’t waited so long. You didn’t steer me wrong. He’s a unique and fabulous wordsmith. If you’re still in touch with Goran, please let him know how much I admire his writing. I’ll be after all of his books now. A million thanks.

  6. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    June 14, 2011 9:35 am

    Ah, Duff, I’m pleased no end that you share my appreciation for Lester. His short stories never weary, and his novels are good, too. He should be far, far more celebrated than he is. The vagaries of fame do not always reward talent, John O’Hara notwithstanding.

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