A Visual History of Literary References on 'The Simpsons'

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From The Bell Jar to Moneyball, from Gore Vidal to Tom Wolfe, countless books and authors have guest-starred on America's longest-running sitcom

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20th Century Fox


With 23rd season of The Simpsons premiering on Sunday, America's longest-running sitcom is still going strong. Despite the perennial complaints about declining quality, the Simpson family maintains a huge audience and the ability to attract new viewers, averaging 7.2 million viewers per episode during the 21st season. An all-Simpsons television channel is rumored to be in the works.

But beyond the series' longevity, The Simpsons has had a notable impact on American society, both as the forerunner for an entire generation of irreverent, animated satire (see Family Guy, or even South Park) and as representing a distinctive form of cultural criticism. The world that extends around 742 Evergreen Terrace looks very much like our own: Politicians, movie stars, artists, and other cultural figures (or at least their caricatures) inevitably find themselves in Springfield U.S.A.

The Simpsons' lives continually mirror objects of real-world social anxieity, from violent video games (Itchy and Scratchy) to fast food conglomerates (Krustyburger). Numerous academic works have been devoted not just to the character of the Simpsons as people, but to the elements of American culture that they reflect, from the language and symbolism of consumer culture to the subject of "intertextuality, hyperreality, and critique of metanarratives." We see our world reflected in the dynamics of family life in the Simpson household and beyond. We are all Springfieldians now.

The focal point for the show's cultural awareness is, of course, Lisa, precocious bookworm and perennial conscience of the family, who laments that she's destined for a life without friends or, even worse, a life confined to "grown up nerds like Gore Vidal, and even he's kissed more boys than I have."

My appreciation for Lisa's bookishness led me and Michelle Legro of Lapham's Quarterly to create the Lisa Simpson Book Club, a single-serving Tumblr devoted to Lisa's ever-expanding catalogue and the best literary references in the show's history. Below, a selection of some of the best shoutouts to the world of literature.

Update: I've added three slides for Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, the Ayn Rand School for Tots, and The Economist. Like the Lisa Simpson Book Club, this list is by no means comprehensive, but a selection. You can find a complete list at the remarkably thorough Simpsons Archive and submit your own screenshot in the comments or through the Lisa Simpson Book Club here.

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Jared Keller is a former associate editor for The Atlantic and The Atlantic Wire and has also written for Lapham's Quarterly's Deja Vu blog, National Journal's The Hotline, Boston's Weekly Dig, and Preservation magazine. 

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