8 Books to Read in Between Seasons of Your Favorite Sitcom
Novels you could be laughing at instead of staring at your TV
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You know that feeling, when you’ve spent three…four…five hours on the couch, an empty bowl of popcorn on the floor, your legs slightly numb from misuse, and Netflix deigns to ask you that morbid question: “Are you still watching?” There are few things more embarrassing than when your streaming service passive-aggressively asks you if you have anything better to do with your Sunday afternoon. Then again, perhaps Netflix has a point. It may be easy to pick up the remote control and tell your condescending television that yes, you are still watching. What’s another 25 minutes in the grand scheme of things? But rather than watching the next season of your favorite sitcom (again!) you could pick up that novel sitting on the coffee table next to the forsaken popcorn kernels. Here is a list of novels you could be laughing at or mulling over instead of staring at your television set.
If you like Black-ish, read The Sellout by Paul Beatty
In Black-ish, the patriarch of the Johnson family worries that living the American Dream in L.A., a dual income household from high paying careers (and all the Jordans he could ever need), has a major pitfall — his children are not black enough. Assimilation, as far as Dre Johnson is concerned, should be carefully monitored, even suppressed. This satirical take on life as a black person in America is mirrored in The Sellout, though perhaps in a slightly darker manner. Paul Beatty’s novel, in which the protagonist aims to reintroduce segregation to the U.S., is laced with a similar comedy to that of Black-ish: humor that makes you meditate on what exactly it is that you’re laughing at.
If you like Fresh Off the Boat, read The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe
Ben Philippe’s comical YA novel follows Norris Kaplan as he moves from Canada to Austin, Texas and finds himself with the categorical cliches of every American sitcom that takes place in a high school. Norris, a black Haitian French Canadian, quickly discovers that he does not belong to any of these stereotypes. In Fresh Off the Boat, Eddie, the precocious, hip-hop-loving narrator, finds himself in a similar predicament when his father uproots his family from their comfortable life in Chinatown, Washington, D.C. to the (very white) suburbs of Orlando, Florida. Similarly to Norris, Eddie discovers that, although his personality, hobbies, and passions may be the same as his new classmates, his ethnicity makes it difficult for him to fit in.
If you like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, read Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
When Brooklyn Nine-Nine is not tackling issues of race, homophobia, and injustice or keeping the viewers up to date on Santiago and Peralta’s relationship, it is setting up new cases for the detectives to work. Each episode could be its own mystery or thriller, letting us sit in suspense as we wait for Peralta’s light bulb moment to come and whisk us on an adventure through Brooklyn’s alleyways to catch the perpetrator. Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie Mysteries feature a private investigator solving crime in Cambridge, England. The mystery novels marry humor with mystery in a way that will remind you of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
If you like New Girl, read Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
When Jessica Day moves in with three male roommates, shenanigans and unlikely romances ensue, but at the heart of this sitcom is an eagerness for self-improvement. Jess works endlessly to make her unconventional living situation as comfortable for everyone as possible, while simultaneously climbing up the ladder in her career and getting over her adulterous ex. Nick is trying to finish his novel, or so he says. Winston is on the search for a fulfilling job. And Schmidt is constantly attempting to forget his embarrassing past and better himself in all aspects of his life. Bridget Jones’s Diary combines these desires for self-improvement in one hilarious novel written in the form of diary entries. The laziness, self deprecation, and drive for betterment so apparent in the characters of New Girl find their place in the protagonist of this novel about a woman living in London, intent on losing weight, quitting cigarettes, and finding “inner poise.”
If you like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, read Severance by Ling Ma
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Severance are both apocalyptic stories with a comedic twist, though the former is a tale of a young woman recovering from a doomsday cult while Severance tells the narrative of a young woman joining one in the midst of the world’s demise. Kimmy Schmidt does escape from the bunker where she was held for the majority of her life, but the New York in which she finds herself is slightly more apocalyptic than the one we know today. In her New York, you can easily get a license to be an Uber driver by simply having a learner’s permit and newspapers scream headlines like “De Blasio Pledges to ‘Ruin City.’” In Severance, a satire on capitalism and office culture, the protagonist leaves behind a New York ravaged by a zombie-adjacent disease to join the few survivors left in a mall.
If you like 30 Rock, read The Cast by Amy Blumenfeld
Liz Lemon has a lot on her plate, from unruly employees to a procession of dysfunctional relationships. But her coworkers, the people she writes with and the actors she writes for, are also the fuel to her fire, making her a successful figure in the unforgiving industry of television in New York City. In The Cast by Amy Blumenfeld, the protagonist also finds solace in the relationships she forges with her co-writers — though in this novel her co-writers consist of a group of childhood friends with whom she once wrote and performed a Saturday Night Live-style script.
If you like The Good Place, read A Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir
This increasingly popular new show digs up and dusts off old quotes written by dead white men at least once every episode.The micro-philosophy lessons come from Chidi Anagonye, a former ethics professor who devotes his time in the afterlife to teaching his somewhat questionable morals to a group of particularly amoral people. It’s hard to blame him for the lack of diversity in his lesson plan, though, seeing as Western philosophy has been dominated by white men since Plato wrote The Republic. That doesn’t mean women philosophers don’t exist. When you’re looking for your The Good Place companion novel, try setting aside Sartre for now and picking up a novel written by his lifelong partner, Simone de Beauvoir. A Woman Destroyed is not a humorous book, but it will give you a taste of philosophical text from a different perspective.
If you like Community, read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Community is not sci-fi (although some episodes could be considered in the neighborhood of the genre) so the plot of this sitcom is quite different from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. However, the larger-than-life characters and laugh-out-loud humor of Douglas Adams’ novel will certainly attract those who are fans of Community. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the story of a man who escapes the destruction of Earth by sticking out his thumb, hitching a ride with the nearest alien, and encountering some of the most eccentric people you may ever read about. But those people will remind you of the unconventional study group of Greendale Community College.