On Mad Men, Roger Sterling’s official occupation is wining and dining clients, and maintaining Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s confident public image. Yet his true talents lie in spouting pithy aphorisms, which Sterling (played by John Slattery) commits to history with his fictional memoir Sterling’s Gold: The Wit And Wisdom Of An Ad Man, even as the decline of his agency begins to suggest that “wit and wisdom” is no longer serving him like it used to. Arriving amid the tumult of Mad Men’s fourth season, Sterling’s Gold is a symbol of Roger’s hubristic folly—and by extension, that of men like Roger, whom history is slowly passing by. But the actual Sterling’s Gold (released in November 2010 by Grove Publishing) is something far less portentous: It’s “a commentary on mid-century America,” but more importantly, it’s a source of timeless one-liners like “Remember, when God closes a door, he opens a dress.”
One of the easiest ways to write a book in the voice of a TV character is to cram just under 100 pages full of aphorisms that vaguely fit within the character’s voice. That’s the case with both books by cartoon character Hank Hill, though his “voice” in the books sounds less like the authentically Texan one created by Mike Judge and Greg Daniels, and more like the voice of a hack comedy writer living in an underlit studio apartment, someone who’s maybe heard of Texas once or twice. Cranked out in the brief period where King Of The Hill fever nearly rivaled the fever for the show’s time-slot companion The Simpsons, the books aren’t a way to celebrate the show so much as a “Yeah, whatever, Hank Hill” day-to-day calendar.
The love-hate relationship between occasionally evil, occasionally gay baby Stewie and dryly witty dog Brian was the relationship fans of the unkillable cartoon Family Guy responded to most, so when fans proved willing to buy pretty much anything with the show’s characters slapped on it (seriously, the Amazon.com review section for the Brian book consists solely of three five-star reviews featuring variations on “Every Family Guy fan must have it!”), two books that purported to let viewers be more like their cartoon pals were sent to presses. Both books seemed based on interpretations of the characters from before the series returned from the dead, and as to the question of why anyone would want to be like an evil baby or a martini-sipping dog, well, the easy answer is that no one would want to be like Chris or Meg.
When The Sopranos unexpectedly crossed over from cult series to mainstream hit, HBO proved that while it was better at coming up with groundbreaking TV series than the networks were, it was no better at shamelessly exploiting them. Under the assumption that the series was famous for its many scenes of the characters enjoying delicious-looking Italian food at the restaurant owned by Artie Bucco, the restaurateur’s name was slapped on a generic Italian cookbook with a photo of the cast. Stranger still was the follow-up, a book that assumed people would want to entertain (?) like the Sopranos. The volume was ostensibly written by Carmela, and it came complete with a cover photo of series star Edie Falco grimacing at the camera, as if HBO’s marketing department were holding a gun to her head just out of sight.
The unusually lyrical show Northern Exposure often found its characters pausing to muse on especially heady philosophical topics—particularly John Corbett’s autodidactic DJ Chris Stevens, an ex-con with a poet’s soul, a taste for Walt Whitman, and a habit of unloading winsome, windbaggy monologues on his seemingly never-ending radio show. Chris-In-The-Morning collects those rambles and organizes them thematically to provide a “a veritable Aurora Borealis of Chris’s own recollection, speculations, dreams, and philosophies” on everything from “aging” to “Zen,” for anyone who needs a little chicory tea for the soul and the advice of a guy who’s seen it all, man. The far less pretentious Letters From Cicely reads more like an extended episode of the show, predicated on the premise that the town is enduring a seasonal, months-long bout of insomnia, and collecting various correspondence between the show’s increasingly sleep-deprived characters—primarily Maggie, Maurice, and Joel. It’s a fun diversion offering mostly minor insights. For instance, showtune-loving former astronaut Maurice takes issue with a theater critic calling Guys And Dolls “the most American of all musicals,” when clearly it’s Oklahoma!
The fact that two sub-literates who loathe complete sentences—MTV’s beyond-underachievers Beavis and Butt-head—managed to land several books on the New York Times’ bestseller list is probably, like, ironic or something. But as Butt-Head says in the introduction to Reading Sucks (which collects the previously published Ensucklopedia, Huh Huh For Hollywood, The Butt-Files, and Chicken Soup For The Butt), “The penis mightier than the sword. That’s what I’ve got. Heh heh heh heh. Writing’s cool.” Although the duo offer little beyond multiple puns on the words “wood” and “monkey,” and endless references to boobs and butts, you will find the occasional nugget of wisdom—which is like a butt-nugget, but for your brain—such as this philosophical “thought question”: “How can I live in a world full of dumbasses without becoming a fartknocker?”
No, Stephen Colbert isn’t fictional, but his blustery, bombastic TV persona is, and it was a natural step for that persona to publish a book. As a pundit—even a satirical one—what could be more officious? After all, if conservative “opinutainment” stars Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck can sell books, so can Colbert. The result is what anyone who’s seen The Colbert Report and/or read The Daily Show’s similar America: The Book would expect: a bathroom reader sending up Colbert’s misinformed yet opinionated devotee of “truthiness,” detailing everything wrong with America (“Things That Are Trying to Turn Me Gay”) and how Colbert believes we can fix it—such as replacing the “bases” for various sexual acts with “Abstinence Bases,” where “first base is ‘polite chatter,’ and “second base is ‘eye contact.’”
Barney Stinson seems like a fairly straightforward supporting character. He perpetually tries to sleep with women on How I Met Your Mother, and he has an incredibly reductionist view of male friendship. Yet there’s a mythology to Barney that reveals itself slowly as episodes progress. He has simple needs, but he lives his life by a fascinating rubric of his own creation. The Bro Code offers the first offscreen peek behind the suit; written by Matt Kuhn—who penned the excellent “Slapsgiving” episode—it contains the standards to which Barney holds his friends, like, “Regardless of veracity, a Bro never admits familiarity with a Broadway show or musical.” The follow-up The Playbook was introduced in a 2009 episode of the same name. It’s essentially a list of weird maneuvers Barney uses to pick up chicks, like “The Scuba Diver” and “The Brian’s Friend.” (One involves dressing like an Arabian prince, then insisting that your penis grants wishes.)
The titular author of The Diary Of Ellen Rimbauer is dead long before the events of Stephen King’s 2002 Rose Red miniseries begins, but Ellen Rimbauer remains an important figure in the show nonetheless. King’s bloated, 240-minute entry into the haunted-house genre features a group of psychics and paranormal investigators—led by Nancy Travis as Dr. Joyce Reardon, Diary’s fictional editor—who attempt to delve into the mysteries of the Rose Red mansion. Diary purports to print, for the first time, Ellen’s personal recollections of her time at said mansion, her sexual experimentation, her conviction that she could live forever by continuing to add onto the house, and her eventual disappearance. (Although the book’s foreword references Maine, suggesting to longtime fans that King might have written it, Ellen’s words actually come from thriller novelist Ridley Pearson.) Diary proved surprisingly popular, landing on enough bestseller lists to inspire its own eponymous miniseries “prequel” in 2003. Thankfully, that adaptation was only 88 minutes long, and hopefully answered any lingering questions about the franchise.
In the second-season Lost episode “The Long Con,” Hurley discovers a manuscript among the wreckage of Flight 815 that turns out to be the final draft of a mystery novel by a passenger named Gary Troup. Troup was doubly unlucky: Not only did he perish before getting to see his book published (he’s the guy who gets sucked into the engine during the pilot episode), but his girlfriend, Oceanic stewardess Cindy Chandler, survives, and doesn’t seem to miss him much. Even worse, in a fit of pique, Jack burns the last few pages of the manuscript, assuring that no one will ever figure out whodunit. Troup, being a fictional character, probably took little consolation from the fact that his Bad Twin novel was published in the real world in 2006. A mildly engaging but slight read, Bad Twin was picked up by a number of Lost fans who hoped it would contain clues to the show’s many mysteries. Unsurprisingly, they were disappointed. While the novel contains many references to in-universe Lost characters and institutions (the Widmore family, Alvar Hanso, Paik Heavy Industries, and Mr. Cluck’s Chicken Shack all make appearances), the book, its author, and his involvement with such enigmas as the Hanso Foundation and the Valenzetti Equation turned out to be another batch of red herrings.
On ABC’s Castle, Richard Castle, a successful mystery writer of the Jeffrey Deaver or Sue Grafton variety, teams up with NYPD detective Kate Beckett to solve murders and cull some new story material. The premise is TV-outlandish, but Castle’s resultant books—Heat Wave and Naked Heat have been published so far—are real, complete with an “author photo” of star Nathan Fillion. (The show’s creators have been mum about who actually wrote them, insisting in interviews that it’s “Richard Castle.”) In both books, foxy cop Nikki Heat is forced to work with roguishly handsome journalist Jameson Rook—an oddly familiar premise. The two slowly develop into more than just partners while solving the murders of a notorious gossip columnist and a real estate tycoon. Like a lot of mystery novels—and the show from which they spring—they’re undemanding fluff, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
The cult of the David Lynch/Mark Frost-created series Twin Peaks spawned a short-lived cottage industry of tie-in merchandise, including a string of books that started with The Secret Diary Of Laura Palmer. Penned by Lynch’s daughter, Jennifer Lynch—who later directed the instantly notorious Boxing Helena with Peaks star Sherilyn Fenn—Diary appeared near the height of Twin Peaks mania, shortly after the second season’s première, but before viewers started to get frustrated at the show’s unwillingness to provide answers. Oddly enough, Diary had the opposite problem: It supplied so much lurid detail about Palmer’s life that it made the town of Twin Peaks seem less like a weird locale with murderous undercurrents, and more like something from an ugly porn novel. And it all came breathlessly relayed in Palmer’s scared, horny, drug-addicted voice. Those who enjoyed the upbeat detective personality of Kyle McLachlan’s Dale Cooper, on the other hand, could enjoy an audiobook that extended his tape recorded-missives to the never-seen Diane. Diehards later got the chance to pick up Cooper’s autobiography, which limped into bookstores after the show’s cancellation.
It seems that whenever the writers of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were at a loss for a subplot, they’d have prickly Ferengi barkeeper Quark go off on one of his race’s 285 Rules Of Acquisition. The guidelines were never fully listed, though, and that didn’t change when the maddeningly incomplete book, The Ferengi Rules Of Acquisition, was published. Written “by Quark as told to Ira Steven Behr” (one of the show’s runners and writers), the book only comes up with 70 of the aphoristic, ultra-capitalist, and at times misogynistic rules that the latinum-grubbing Ferengi follow like gospel—among them, “Never ask when you can take,” “Anything worth doing is worth doing for money,” and “Females and finances don’t mix.” Behr wound up exploring the Ferengi race in greater depth in Deep Space Nine, and he even managed to turn Quark from a vile stereotype into a sympathetic, three-dimensional character. Too bad Behr couldn’t have made him a more comprehensive author.
The controversy surrounding Bart Simpson when The Simpsons debuted as a series—won’t someone protect the children from the scourge of “Underachiever And Proud Of It” shirts?!—seems quaint 20 years later. But it helps explain Bart Simpson’s Guide To Life, a product of the early Simpsons age when most of the attention focused on the 10-year-old rapscallion. In the book, Bart offers guidance on everything from food to parents to sex and religion. Although numerous people wrote the book, Matt Groening is the only one credited, and its dense layout recalls Groening’s Life In Hell series. Because characters have developed and the show’s voice has changed, Bart’s Guide To Life is understandably a bit dated 17 years later (see the reference to Simpsons bootleg shirts), but like a lot of the books on this list, it’s a souvenir from a different pop-cultural age.
Presented as the overstuffed day-planner of the title character of the mid-’90s Comedy Central series Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Dr. Katz’s Me At A Glance includes Dr. Katz’s letters, article clippings, notes on his patients, photos, and other miscellany. It’s also a window into Dr. Katz’s unfulfilled yearnings: a questionnaire for a dating service for therapists, song lyrics, a prototype menu for a coffee shop he wants to open in Maine, and an excerpt from a book draft called Stop Hurting Your Own Feelings! An Odyssey Of Self-Realization For Personal Pilgrims Who Want To Rediscover The Untrodden Land Within Before The Tourists Of Self-Doubt Get There.
“Author” is a reasonably glamorous occupation for a soap-opera character: It implies an artistic soul but a practical bent, and leaves the character plenty of free time to engage in complicated shenanigans involving long-lost twins, secret babies, and inconveniently timed amnesia. Maybe that’s why so many soap-opera characters have penned spin-off books. Sometimes they write novels, though those novels are inevitably plot points for their shows, full of scandalous secrets from their own pasts, like the thriller The Killing Club by One Life To Live’s Marcie Walsh, or from other people’s pasts, like Katie Peretti’s Oakdale Confidential, heavily teased on As The World Turns. At the very least, soap-opera books are heavily based on the characters’ own lives, like the chick-lit roman à clef Charm! by All My Children’s Kendall Hart. But soap-opera characters are just as likely to write diaries that double as easy cash-ins for fans—Lorelei’s Guiding Light: An Intimate Diary and Hidden Passions: Secrets From The Diaries Of Tabitha Lenox conveniently get the name of the characters and their shows, plus the promise of salacious revelations, right into the titles. Then there’s a third path: Erica Kane’s Having It All is essentially a how-to book on being a conniving soap-opera queen bee. Not exactly advice everyone needs, but that didn’t keep the book off the New York Times bestseller list.
Murder, She Wrote wasn’t the first TV vehicle for a detective who was also a mystery writer. The show’s creators, Richard Levinson and William Link, had previously worked on the ill-fated, small-screen adaptation of the Ellery Queen novels. But Murder’s Jessica Fletcher—the curiously busy amateur sleuth from the small town of Cabot Cove, Maine, the undisputed murder capital of the universe—remains American’s most beloved. Played with meddlesome charm by Angela Lansbury, the character became so popular by the late ’80s that real-life author Donald Bain was asked to “co-write” a series of detective novels with the fictional Fletcher—which, of course, starred Fletcher as well. The books lived on after the show was canceled in 1996, and 35 installments of the series have been published to date. The relative freedom of the printed word gave Fletcher the opportunity to solve murders in all sorts of exotic locales, which is a good thing: At this point, Cabot Cove’s surviving population must be down to about a dozen.