8 Books That Love Reality TV as Much as You Do

Novels about fictionalized reality TV premises, and cultural analysis of the shows we can’t stop watching

Pile of television with glitching screens
Photo by Murai .hr on Unsplash

In the last twenty years, reality TV has shaped our cultural landscape all the way up to influencing elections. Personally, I am a reality TV show binger. Every night my girlfriend and I bounce between shows, Married at First Sight, The Bachelorette, The Circle, or mediocre Netflix cooking shows. Cable networks and streaming platforms are saturated with shows with convoluted premises and artificial drama. Even for social media stars like the D’Amelio sisters (who have a combined 165 million followers on TikTok), getting a reality TV show was their next career step.  

And although it is trendy to dismiss people made famous by our public consumption, they are undeniably important to the zeitgeist. From the Kardashians to the last Presidency, there is something addictive about people who put their lives on display.

If you can’t get enough of reality TV, here are 9 books that fictionalize new reality TV premises, or open conversations about all of the shows we can’t stop watching.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Described as Eurovision meets The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this novel centers on a singing contest that is the only thing stopping intergalactic war. Earth and humans are the newest contestants after discovering that there is sentient life beyond us. However, only one act from the list of pre-approved candidates is able to compete, so Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes need to place above last to save Earth and humans from extinction. 

Eat A Peach by David Chang and Gabe Ulla

The host of Netflix’s Ugly Delicious and founder of Momofuku and Milk Bar, David Chang’s memoir is perfect for food show lovers. Chang grew up in Virginia as the child of Korean immigrants, and he documents his coming-of-age journey with the culinary world. He reflects on his mental health, racial identity, and social movements, as he was thrust into restaurant and food TV success. Incredibly raw and insightful, Eat a Peach gives a glimpse into the individuals behind the screen.

The Answers by Catherine Lacey

The Answers follows Mary, a young woman with chronic pain who applies for “The Girlfriend Experiment,” a supposedly scientific research project that has more in common with a demented version of The Bachelor. Desperately in need of money so she can afford a new miracle treatment, she finds the experiment on Craigslist. The “boyfriend” at the center of it is a popular actor who is determined to build a perfect relationship with various “girlfriends” filling each of his specific needs. Mary navigates being his “Emotional Girlfriend,” while also living with the other women, herself, and her pain.

Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev

A modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Recipe for Persuasion follows struggling chef Ashna Raje as she joins the cast of Cooking with the Stars (think Dancing with the Stars but with food). However, things go awry when the celebrity she is matched with is her first love, a hot Fifa soccer star who ghosted her twelve years prior. While the viewers immediately begin to ship them, the two have to come together to win and overcome their secrets and past.

Tacky by Rax King

Forthcoming this November, Rax King’s debut essay collection addresses the “worst culture we have to offer.” Combining humor, personal narrative, and incredibly precise analysis of low-brow pop culture, King weaves this collection through the aughts and her adolescents. In essays about escaping an abusive relationship with the help of Guy Fieri, bingeing Jersey Shore with her terminally ill dad, and navigating intense friendship while watching America’s Next Top Model, King shows a profound love for the easiest things in our culture to dismiss. 

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

Main Squeeze (basically The Bachelorette) is fashion blogger Bea’s favorite TV program. When she gets asked to join the newest season as the first plus-sized lead, she agrees, but only because she wants to spread body positivity to the millions of young women who watch. But of course, the men are charming, the dates are out of this world, and the drama is addicting, so can Bea keep her promise? One to Watch is fun and frustrating in all of the ways dating shows can be and Bea is a lead worth supporting.

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll

Goal Diggers—a reality TV show about millennial women breaking the glass ceiling—is all the rage. But for the new, fourth season, the producers decide to add a fifth member to the cast: Kelly, the older sister of fan favorite Brett. Growing up, Kelly was the star of their family, but after getting pregnant by a DJ and becoming a single mother, Brett pulls out from under her sister’s shadow. Now the veteran cast and Kelly have to navigate squabbles, plotting, and even murder.

Captive Audience by Lucas Mann

In a unique love letter to his wife, Mann explores the complexities in our addictions with reality TV and how it impacts culture, art, and ourselves. With a sharp and unrelenting eye, he intersperses his wants and desires as a husband and writer with scenes from COPS and Vanderpump Rules. Ripe with authenticity and awareness, Captive Audience speaks to what we value as media consumers, and how our culture is replicating what we once treasured as “real.”

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