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    15 Must-Read Books If You Loved These Fantastic TV Shows

    Some pretty perfect pairings!

    It’s the kind of “problem” a person wants to have: with so many entertaining and critically-acclaimed books and TV shows out there, where to begin? One place is by continuing to center Black and other global-majority authors and TV writers. If you’re still reading and watching majority-white perspectives, not only are you reinforcing white supremacy culture and its many harms, but you’re simply depriving yourself of some of the world’s best art.

    As a rabid reader and occasional TV-nerd, all of the TV/book pairings suggested below are ones I’ve personally enjoyed immensely. They are all beautifully written, and provide entertainment that is also nutritious. They are the entertainment equivalent of making a smoothie bowl with all the toppings — a delicious energy rush that lasts longer than the empty fizzy stuff.

    1. If you watched I May Destroy You, read Girl, Woman, Other.

    HBO, Grove Press, Black Cat

    Girl Woman Other is simply one of the best novels I’ve ever read. Written from several different overlapping Black female perspectives in the UK, it is funny, scathingly intelligent, compulsively readable, and so good it inspires you to make art immediately. I May Destroy You also centers on a Black woman in Great Britain, and is similarly defiant of formulaic boxes. Both works are about making art, sex, gender, Black female identity, and the way we think and communicate in this ever-speedy era. If you haven’t read this book or seen this show, you’re missing out on the cutting edge of what good writing is capable of, executed at its highest and most-timely level. Both works are personal and political, tight and epic, and enthrall you into truly new ways of telling stories. You adapt to their unique voice — not the other way around — and emerge transformed.

    Girl Woman Other quote: “...especially when she expressed herself frankly which, as a liberated woman to a liberated man, should have been quite acceptable let’s find out what’s prompting this negative behaviour, shall we? he’d ask, leaning forward in his chair, the half-eaten dinner on the dining table between them, staring so deeply into her eyes she felt, how to describe it? psychologically raped, yes, that was it.”

    I May Destroy You quote: “I say ‘There are hungry children, there are hungry children, there are hungry children. There’s a war in Syria, there’s a war in Syria, there’s a war in Syria.’ Or ‘Not everyone has a smartphone, not everyone has a smartphone, not everyone has a smartphone.’ To remind myself of the bigger picture.”

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    2. If you watched Insecure, read Queenie.

    HBO, Gallery/Scout Press

    Queenie is an entertaining novel about a Black woman in the UK who’s stuck in a job that wants her to assimilate to white supremacy culture in subtle ways. The first season of Insecure shows Issa’s similar experience at work. While Queenie’s protagonist is more depressed than Issa, both engage grippingly with the trials of bad sex and dating as a youngish-woman. Both of these works are romantic, laugh-out-loud funny, compulsively addictive to consume, and a lot of fun without being mindless. If you like one, I think you’ll like the other.

    Queenie quote: “Turns out the sadness that silence from the person you love brings can be temporarily erased by the dull thrill of attention from strangers.”

    Insecure quote: “Granted, having sex with me isn't amazing, but it's like, 'Huh... Okay. Yeah, I'm satisfied. I'd do that again.'”

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    3. If you like Woke, read Such a Fun Age.

    Hulu, G.P. Putnam's Sons

    Both Such a Fun Age and Woke begin with an all-to-common injustice Black people experience: that of being racially profiled. Both engage with the aftermath and “well-meaning” white progressives in hilarious, cutting, and compassionate ways. Both are highly entertaining, and depict the struggle of a youngish person looking for love and stable income. Both are likely to be devoured in one weekend.

    Such a Fun Age quote: “I don't need you to be mad that it happened. I need you to be mad that it just like...happens.”

    Woke quote: “Why is it that us people of color are always having to stand for something?”

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    4. If you watch Twenties, then read Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches.

    BET, Crossing Press

    While they are certainly different in tone, I’m picking Lena Waithe’s highly-entertaining and historic Twenties to go with the Sister Outsider, the iconic collection of the late Audre Lorde’s essays and speeches. Both center on the Black lesbian experience; particularly that of the Black lesbian writer. Lorde’s words, though more academic in tone than Twenties, will provide a certain context for this joyful and groundbreaking show. Waithe fought for years to get Twenties made, and it is one of the first shows ever scripted (some say the first) to star a queer woman of color. It is based in part on Waithe’s own experiences in her twenties — and follows Lorde’s mandate to speak one’s story while refusing limiting boxes. Waithe’s inspiring career (you should also definitely watch her show The Chi if you haven’t yet) could be read as one of the most successful enactments of Lorde’s trailblazing words of encouragement to other creators.

    Sister Outsider quote: “I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self.”

    Twenties quote: “Look, we are living in a new black renaissance, OK? I’m black and I’m gay. Hollywood should be knocking down my door!”

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    5. If you watched Dear White People, read So You Want to Talk About Race.

    Netflix, Seal Press (CA)

    Both these works have gotten a lot of belated-attention this year, and for very good reason. Both use personal stories and broader argumentation to talk about racism in America today. Both are entertaining-yet-brutally true. If you’re white, So You Want To Talk About Race is a more challenging read than watching Dear White People, but the two work well as a pair. Let Dear White People help you digest Oluo’s words. And when you’re done with both all-too-quickly, keep educating yourself (and acting, please!). Me and White Supremacy, How To Be Anti-Racist, White Fragility, and The New Jim Crow are all excellent books to continue an anti-racist education as well. There is no shortage of anti-racist media — only a shortage of excuses not to engage with them.

    So You Want to Talk About Race quote: “Try to remember that the alternative to not being made aware of your privilege (no matter how it may sting) is your continued participation in the oppression of others. Someone is giving you an opportunity to do better, no matter how unpleasant the delivery. Thank them.”

    Dear White People quote: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For some of us maybe. There’s nothing self-evident about it.”

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    6. If you watched Grace & Frankie, read Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close.

    Netflix, Simon & Schuster

    Call Your Girlfriend podcast hosts Amintou Sou and Ann Friedman get refreshingly honest in this book about their epic friendship. Told with all the centering of a romantic love story, Sou and Friedman weave their personal experiences with research and interviews on what we know about female friendship. Certainly, many shows could be paired with this big-hearted book (Twenties and Insecure, also already on this list, would also make excellent pairings). But I had to go with Grace & Frankie here, which always centers the female friendship as its central love story and also features many flowy caftans (a favorite wardrobe staple of Sou and Friedman’s, apparently).

    Big Friendship quote: “Even though we were both stretching for each other to account for distance and illness, the ‘true feelings’ part is where we weren’t doing so great. We were stretching but couldn’t always share our feelings about the stretch in real time. This would come back to bite us later.”

    Grace & Frankie quote: “I’m sorry. I was judging by my experience of you, not the real you. That was wrong of me.”

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    7. If you watched Unorthodox, read The Vanishing Half.

    Netflix, Riverhead Books

    The Vanishing Half is one of the most engrossing novels I’ve read all year (and definitely don’t miss Britt Bennett’s first novel, either, The Mothers). Bennett’s story spans multiple generations and is about a pair of twins, one of whom decides to pass as white. Unorthodox, on the other hand, is about an Orthodox Jewish woman who decides to run away from her patriarchal sect and “pass” as a secular person in Germany. Both women are being hunted by men. Unorthodox is based on a memoir by the same name, but pairs well with The Vanishing Half in its totally-absorbing narrative and themes. Watch them both play out in two totally different contexts and identities.

    The Vanishing Half quote: “But soon she felt comfortable disappearing. You could say nothing and, in your nothingness, feel free.”

    Unorthodox quote: “God expected too much of me. Now I need to find my own path.”

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    8. If you watched Orange Is The New Black, read Are Prisons Obsolete?

    Netflix, Seven Stories Press

    Both the memoir on which Orange Is The New Black is based and The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner are also engrossing books featuring an ensemble multiracial cast, set in a women’s prison. But if you really want to learn more about why prison abolition matters — and not from a white author’s perspective — Angela Davis’ seminal classic Are Prisons Obsolete? is one of the best places to start. Davis’ brief book provides an introduction to the very-necessary argument that we need to abolish our injustice system in favor of humane and restorative justice. (The New Jim Crow and Waiting for an Echo are also important reads that will provide you with lots of context on this topic.)

    Are Prisons Obsolete? quote: “The prison has become a black hole into which the detritus of contemporary capitalism is deposited. Mass imprisonment generates profits as it devours social wealth, and thus it tends to reproduce the very conditions that lead people to prison.”

    Orange Is The New Black quote: “If you’re not building a future, it’s because you don’t believe there is a future.”

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    9. If you watched I Love Dick, read The Pisces.

    Amazon Video, Hogarth Press

    The Pisces by Melissa Broder makes an excellent pairing with I Love Dick. Both are hilarious, sexy, nuanced-yet-feminist depictions of intensely projected female desire. I Love Dick (which is based on the also very-worth-reading novel by Cris Kraus) was a highly underrated one-season show about lust and art. The Pisces, while popular, also hasn’t gotten the level of attention I feel it deserves. They both push the envelope of depictions of female sexuality, and perhaps this is the reason why they are not as famous as, say, Game of Thrones. But (to me anyway), they are far more entertaining.

    The Pisces quote: “I don’t know that I can really enjoy the sex unless the person really wants me. And if the person really wants me, I don’t want them for very long.”

    I Love Dick quote: “You’re seducing her by being so dismissive of her. Your whole cowboy persona plays into the longing she has to be rejected by a quiet desperate man.”

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    10. If you watched Shrill, read The Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love.

    Hulu, Berrett-Koehler Publishers

    The Body Is Not An Apology is an empowering, easy-to-read manifesto on radical self-love, and what that actually means in mindful and compassionate action. Shrill, which is based on Lindy West’s memoir, left me feeling similarly befriending of my body. Both works help dismantle diet culture, and might even make Lizzo’s lyrics — “Thank God, I’m getting thicker” — echo in your head.

    The Body Is Not An Apology quote: “Splattered before us like bugs on the windshield of life are all the ways we have shrunk the full expression of ourselves because we have been convinced that our bodies and therefore our very beings are deficient. We can also see how our inability to get out of our shame story amplifies our feelings of inadequacy.”

    Shrill quote: “I've wasted so much time and energy and money, for what? For what?! You know? I'm fat. I'm fuckin' fat! Hello! I'm fat, you know?”

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    11. If you watched One Mississippi, read Conversations With Friends.

    Amazon Prime, Hogarth Press

    While One Mississippi centers the more mature and hilarious voice of Tig Notaro, I think Conversations With Friends is a good compliment to it. Both are compulsively watchable/readable, and center a female friendship where one woman is lesbian and the other is sexually fluid. The lines between romance and platonic love in both works are allowed to get confusing. Both are funny and highly addictive, and One Mississippi, especially, was over all too soon.

    Conversations With Friends quote: “I searched ‘can’t tell people I’m’ and Google suggested: ‘gay’ and ‘pregnant.’”

    One Mississippi quote: “What if I want to pray the gay to stay?”

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    12. If you watched Pose, read Redefining Realness: My Path To Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.

    FX, Atria Books

    If you’ve enjoyed Pose but still lack context on the Black female transgender experience from a nonfiction perspective, an entertaining place to start is with Janet Mock’s memoir Redefining Realness. If both works of art are so famous at this point that you’re embarrassed you haven’t gotten around to either, then no better time to right that oversight than the present. You will be inspired, entertained, educated, and laugh-cry.

    Redefining Realness quote: “I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act.”

    Pose quote: “How lucky are we? We create ourselves.”

    Get it from Bookshop, Amazon, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    13. If you watched Fleabag, read Pretend I’m Dead.

    Scribner Book Company, Amazon

    While the “depressed-yet-hilarious-and-wry millennial woman” has become a sub genre unto itself (here’s looking at you My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Luster, The Answers…) I especially enjoyed the lesser-known Pretend I’m Dead, which is written from the perspective of a darkly funny cleaning woman with a penchant for exhibitionism. (It would also pair well with HBO’s High Maintenance, since the novel reads almost like a collection of short stories in different client’s houses.) Like the brilliant show Fleabag, Pretend I’m Dead is innovatively smart, funny, sexual, and deals in the taboo fearlessly. Both also star women haunted by a dead friend — and yet manage to be a joy to consume in one weekend. Like Fleabag’s second season, the sequel to this book, Vacuum in the Dark, is as good as the first and can stand on its own. Also exciting is that Jen Beagin’s brilliant books are currently being adapted into a TV show of their own, starring Lola Kirke.

    Pretend I’m Dead quote: “When she did finally go to bed that night, she slept a miraculous twelve hours straight, without once getting up to do the usual things: guzzle water, despond, pee, eat peanut butter from the jar with her fingers, despond again.”

    Fleabag quote: “I sometimes worry I’d be less of a feminist if I had bigger tits.”

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    14. If you watched Mrs. Fletcher, read What Do Women Want?: Adventures In The Science of Female Desire.

    HBO, Ecco Press

    While the novel that Mrs. Fletcher is based on is also a good read, I paired this compelling and sexy HBO show with Daniel Bergner’s journalistic investigation into the science of female desire. It will help contextualize the fluidity and sexual desires of Mrs. Fletcher. Both works also investigate women’s responses to porn and sexual novelty — one through journalistic research and interviews, the other through fictional storytelling. Both are narratively compelling.

    What Do Women Want quote: “About women with the condition the current DSM called ‘hypoactive sexual desire disorder’ or HSDD, she told me, ‘Sometimes I wonder whether it isn’t so much about libido as it is about boredom.’”

    Mrs. Fletcher Quote: “You feel what you fucking feel. You don’t have to apologize to anyone.”

    Get it from Bookshop or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    15. If you watched Russian Doll, read Severance.

    Netflix, Picador USA

    The obvious book pairing with Russian Doll would be Kate Akinson’s Life After Life, which has roughly the same premise, of a woman reliving the same day over and over. Tonally, however, I think Severance by Ling Ma is an even better match right now because both are currently eerily relevant. Severance is about a pandemic that wiped out almost all of New York City/the world, and flashes between the protagonist’s life before and after. Russian Doll is also an oddly-relatable premise for quarantine, since many people may feel they are already living the “same day” repeatedly now. Both works are darkly brilliant and funny, and will make you think about death in a way that’s both moving and pleasurable. Works of art that make you think about life’s biggest mysteries — but keep you so riveted it feels like no work at all? It doesn’t get much better than that.

    Severance quote: "The single heroine, usually white, romantic in her solitude. In those movies, there is almost always this power-walk shot, in which she is shown striding down some Manhattan street, possibly leaving work during rush hour at dusk, the traffic blaring all around and the buildings rising around her. The city was empowering. Even if a woman doesn’t have anything, the movies seemed to say, at least there is the city. The city was posited as the ultimate consolation."

    Russian Doll quote: “Nothing in this world is easy, except pissing in the shower.”

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or your local indie through Indiebound here.

    Correction: Lola Kirke will star in the TV show being adapted from Jen Beagin’s books. A previous version of this post misstated the actor's name.