On the Shelf
10 books to replace your favorite TV shows
If you buy books linked on our site, The Times may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookstores.
With no deal (so far) to end the strikes that have shut down Hollywood, many of your favorite shows, not to mention must-see events like the Emmys, are on hold. Which means you may be looking elsewhere for diversion. (Well, unless your thing is true crime or reality.) If you’ll take your stories in two dimensions, though, you’re in luck. Autumn is the season for big new books and this year is no exception. If you want to tailor your reading to compensate for what’s missing from your screen, here are 10 books that are worthy stand-ins (or even better options) for your favorite shows.
If you miss: “Yellowjackets”
Read: “Girls on Fire,” by Robin Wasserman
When we left our cannibal teen soccer players and their adult counterparts on “Yellowjackets,” things were getting deliciously deranged. Thankfully, YA novelist Robin Wasserman’s 2016 adult debut, “Girls on Fire,” boasts a superfluity of violently intense female friendship to tide us over until Season 3. Wasserman’s novel is a lurid, lucid, incredibly smart story of teenagers — their obsessions, their infatuation, their need to dominate and submit to one another. Perhaps more realistic than “Yellowjackets” but just as dark and satisfying.
If you miss: “Stranger Things”
Read: “My Best Friend’s Exorcism,” by Grady Hendrix
The 1980s? Demon possession? Teenagers? Campy horror? Check. Check. Check. Check. Hendrix’s 2017 cult classic offers up a story right out of the Duffer Brothers’ playbook (or perhaps it’s the other way around). Teeming with humor, nostalgia and straight-up horror, “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” is a perfect placeholder until we can get back to the Upside Down.
If you miss: “Andor” or “The Mandalorian”
Read: “Star Wars: The High Republic” series
Great books aren’t usually what come to mind when thinking about the Lucasfilm empire. And yet, for a while now, Lucasfilm Press has been publishing novels and stories by exciting writers (Alex Segura, Charles Yu, Adam Gidwitz) that have reinvented and reinvigorated the movie tie-in genre. One standout chronicle, the satisfying young-adult “High Republic” series, takes place 350 to 50 years before the Skywalker saga; it’s exceptionally well-crafted, offers a range of voices and moods and easily fills the Death Star-shaped hole where your “Star Wars” spinoffs should be.
If you miss: “Law & Order”
Read: the Ellie Hatcher series, by Alafair Burke
Yeah, yeah, there are reruns, sure. So many. But nothing satisfies quite as much as a “Law & Order” you haven’t seen before, except perhaps a book by Alafair Burke, whose grasp on New York City is second to none. Her exceptionally smart and twisty Ellie Hatcher series is a perfect substitute for the long-running Dick Wolf shows. While the crimes are of Burke’s invention, you will swear they were ripped from the headlines.
If you miss: “House of the Dragon”
Read: “Hild,” by Nicola Griffith
Who needs those dragons when you’ve got an ax-wielding 12-year-old seer? Such fantasy would have been gilding the lily in Nicola Griffith’s brilliant 2013 novel “Hild” — a fictional reimagining of the young life of the girl who would grow up to become Saint Hilda. There’s not a lot of saintliness here but plenty of blood and treachery as Hild navigates the warring kingdoms of 7th century Britain at the dawn of Christianity. Griffith’s novel is mystical, beautiful and poetic, radiant in its adventures and its reverence.
If you miss: “Euphoria”
Read: “All Night Pharmacy” by Ruth Madievsky
As much as I love “Euphoria,” sometimes the show’s exploitation of teenage addiction and sexuality gives me the creeps — or rather, it makes me feel like a creep. Luckily, Ruth Madievsky’s intoxicating neo-noir has all the heart and humor “Euphoria” lacks. Set in a dark, dark Los Angeles cityscape, “All Night Pharmacy” follows a young woman struggling with sobriety, sexuality and the vanishing of her very complicated sister. Madievsky’s prose crackles like a live wire throughout this sometimes hilarious, always harrowing novel.
If you miss: “Severance”
Read: “The Blinds,” by Adam Sternbergh
Sternbergh’s speculative Western suspense novel treads the same landscape as “Severance” — an experimental reality where people are governed by rules beyond their understanding. Sometimes it’s hard to grab hold of exactly what’s at play in “The Blinds,” but that’s precisely the point and the delight of this remarkably original novel of good, evil and human experimentation.
If you miss: “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Read: “Reproduction,” by Louisa Hall
Fans of Bruce Miller’s award-winning adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel need only read the news for a daily dose of governmental interference with women’s bodies and rights. But if you’re looking for something more poetic — and more grounded — about the body horrors of fertility, “Reproduction” will terrify and surprise. Hall’s almost surreal meditation on pregnancy, childhood, parenthood and a planet on the brink of collapse has enough real-world horrors that you won’t miss the slightly speculative televised ones.
If you miss: “The Penguin”
Read: the “Gangsterland” series, by Tod Goldberg
Many of us have been waiting patiently for Craig Zobel’s stylish HBO gangster series featuring Colin Farrell as the Batman villain-cum-mob boss. Fortunately, Goldberg has been at the unusual gangster game for a while now. With the recent publication of “Gangsters Don’t Die,” he wraps up the most improbable and remarkable series of mob fiction ever written (featuring a mob boss who goes into hiding as a rabbi). As always, Goldberg’s latest book is funny, violent and a little bit swank. In other words, just like the best DC villains.
If you miss: “The Last of Us”
Read: “Our Share of Night,” by Mariana Enriquez
“Our Share of Night” is a completely imperfect book — overstuffed and overlong with psychic cults, parallel universes, Argentine political upheaval and even the AIDS crisis. But when Enriquez’s novel has you in its clutches, it’s hard to put down. Like “The Last of Us,” it follows a flawed father figure trying to protect an anointed child from those who fear him or wish to do him wrong. Despite the overblown horrors and the supernatural violence, the book has a beating heart more than capable of ripping yours out.