The Best Books to Read If You’re Really Missing New TV Right Now

updated Sep 29, 2020
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Credit: Liz Calka

By now, you’re likely aware that the pandemic has halted production on many major shows, movies, and other projects that we were looking forward to in The Before Times (or even in late spring, when we had no idea how long this would last). So our televisions are stuck on re-runs, which isn’t a bad thing—I love re-watching “Gilmore Girls” for the comfort and the familiarity—but it also might mean you’re seeking new, fresh entertainment. You know what hasn’t stalled in production? Books.

If your favorite characters aren’t returning to your screen until who-knows-when, consider some of these page-turning alternatives, and create a fall line-up that you can binge-read instead of watch. 

For those who need someone to root for:

If you miss “Atlanta”, try “Queenie

Queenie is raw from a breakup and from constantly being measured against the mediocrity of her white colleagues. She works at a national newspaper, and is constantly trying to fill in the gaps in her own story, attempting to find her place not just in her city, but in her identity, in her history, in her world. The socioeconomic issues that come into play in “Atlanta” also weave through “Queenie”, and both are centered around young, talented creatives who are trying to do the most elusive thing: get it right.

If you miss “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, try “Bowlaway

Though “Bowlaway” doesn’t have brisket, it does have a quirky, single-minded, entrepreneurial woman at its center, Bertha, who brings candlepin bowling (which she claims to have invented) to a small New England town. The similarities between “Bowlaway” and “Maisel” are mostly in the spirit of each story’s heroine; both have a wry, blunt sense of humor and both are thriving in spaces meant for men. There’s some mystery in “Bowlaway” that you don’t get in “Maisel”, which makes it all the more engrossing to read.

For those whose TV shows got weird:

If you miss “Stranger Things”, try “Pet”

Akwaeke Emezi is masterful at crafting stories where the supernatural live among us, an Upside Down that isn’t beneath us, but next to us and within us. But while “Stranger Things” deals with very real, literal monsters being manufactured in labs, “Pet’s” characters grapple with much more sinister monsters that walk among friends and family in a seemingly idyllic town. Consider this read a way to level up your understanding of otherworldly creatures and, of course, the power and bravery of a town’s youngest citizens.

If you miss “Russian Doll”, try “Temporary

I’d like to fully admit that this may be the biggest stretch amongst my recommendations, but hear me out: If you loved the weirdness, the wry humor, and the contemplation of one’s purpose when our days and lives seem unremarkable, I think you’ll love the weirdness and intelligence and meditation on ordinariness that is Hilary Leitch’s “Temporary”. Like “Russian Doll”, it twists the mundane into something layered and urgent, reminding us that the smallest details are the things that hold our world and lives together. Also this is going to be a Top 3 novel of the year for me, I can tell.

For those who love a good cry:

If you miss “This Is Us”, try “All Adults Here

I have to admit I had to stop watching “This Is Us” because it got too sappy for me and I felt like the writers were trying to make me cry. And as a Taurus, I will stubbornly refuse to act in the manner others expect. That being said, “All Adults Here” pulled at similar heartstrings (though not as obviously), as Straub spends a year in the life with Astrid Strick, her three grown children, and her granddaughter who has come to live with her after an incident at school. The five of them work through identity, loss, and what makes a “perfect” family in a heartwarming and satisfying read.

For those who miss the drama:

If you miss “Succession”, try “All This Could Be Yours

Look, it’s going to be really difficult to replicate the absolutely scathing insults that make “Succession” so addictive—more than half the fun is hearing them aloud, things that you could never imagine a person saying. So my actual recommendation for you is to watch “Veep”, but if you’ve already finished that, you might consider Jami Attenberg’s “All This Could Be Yours” for the ways that it similarly deals with familial stress and grief and anger, centered around a toxic patriarch. Maybe it’s an alternate reality of what would have happened if Logan hadn’t survived the stroke, or maybe it’s just that there are enough dysfunctional family stories in literature to tide you over until the Roys return.

If you miss “Good Girls”, try “Want

If you like “Good Girls” for the robbery and the laundering and the badassery of three women who are after independence and power, then maybe you won’t find that in “Want”. But let’s linger on that last piece—if you’re addicted to “Good Girls” because it is honest about women who are chasing what they want, and deserve, and because it’s also brutally honest about how life becomes easier with money, then you might find similar longings and impulses in Strong’s “Want”, where Elizabeth probably would have joined up with Ruby, Beth, and Annie in desperation, to save her home and family.