The Books Briefing: Where Books and TV Intersect

From the page to the screen, and back: your weekly guide to the best in books

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The past decade’s reappraisal of the television series as a major artistic medium for storytelling has expanded the overlap between books and TV. Many showrunners, including those adapting novels and nonfiction into episodic formats, have been recognized as narrative innovators and titans of influence in the creative entertainment industry—worthy of as much renown as filmmakers and novelists.

Sunday’s Emmys will feature several shows that began their critical life as books, including the Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. Based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, the series brutally visualizes a system that forces many women into reproductive slavery. An Emmy-nominated take on Catch-22—Joseph Heller’s classic novel about the silly paradoxes underscoring the devastation of war—does its best to capture all the nuance of the nonlinear book, reformatting it into four hours of drama- and satire-packed TV. Last year, Showtime’s Patrick Melrose, inspired by Edward St. Aubyn’s series of novels about the afflictions of the title character, received several nominations for translating the books’ lovely prose into cinematic imagery.

Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the creator of the acclaimed Netflix show BoJack Horseman, is also the author of a short-story collection that, like his TV series, is characterized by its poignant dialogue and sharp humor. Oprah Winfrey’s former self-titled talk show was often a hub for introducing and opening conversation about black authors—including Alice Walker, whose novel The Color Purple reportedly helped Winfrey cope with her own childhood trauma.

What We’re Reading

The challenge of Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale has been a 1990 movie, an opera, a play, a ballet, a one-woman show, and the inspiration for a concept album by the band Lakes of Canada. But over the past three years, as waves of readers have claimed the novel as a symbol of the ‘resistance’ … the fictional world of Gilead has become a phenomenon that threatens to escape its author’s hold.”

📚The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood / 📺 created by Bruce Miller
📚The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood
📚Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood / 📺 adapted by Sarah Polley

A new Catch-22 finds madness and magic in a classic
“In the sense that a TV show can capture the spirit of something, Catch-22 is magical, maddening, tender, and caustic in equal measure. Its upside-down logic confronts you with the beauty of life and the monstrousness of a war whose only objective is to snuff that beauty out at every opportunity.”

📚Catch-22, by Joseph Heller / 📺 adapted by Luke Davies and David Michôd

The glory of Oprah and the power of television
“She got [her belief in a better life] from books, because she read the way many people who have been abused will read—in a deep, immersive way, impervious to the outside world, willing herself into the streets and bright living rooms and spirited discussions of the novels. Books are what got her though the sexual abuse: ‘I knew there was another kind of life,’ she has said of that time. ‘I knew it because I’d read about it.’”

📚The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
📚The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
📚I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
📚From This Moment On, by Shania Twain
📺The Oprah Winfrey Show

Raphael Bob-Waksberg on BoJack Horseman and writing surreal love stories
Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory … channels much of the same caustic humor and heartrending dialogue as [BoJack Horseman]. The stories alternate between surreal, sci-fi–inspired tales and more grounded vignettes, but many are a poignant mixture of both tones.”

📚Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory, by Raphael Bob-Waksberg
📺 BoJack Horseman, created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg

Patrick Melrose is a lacerating tour de force
“The genius of Edward St. Aubyn’s five Patrick Melrose novels is in how relentlessly they amalgamate horror and beauty. The loosely autobiographical series … depicts child sexual abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, and a smorgasbord of emotional torture, but does so in such entrancing prose that it insulates the reader from the unbearable.”

📚 Never Mind, by Edward St. Aubyn
📚 Bad News, by Edward St. Aubyn
📚 Some Hope, by Edward St. Aubyn
📚 Mother’s Milk, by Edward St. Aubyn
📚 At Last, by Edward St. Aubyn
📺Patrick Melrose, adapted by David Nicholls

The Reference Desk

(New York Public Library)

Write to the Books Briefing team at or reply directly to this email with any of your reading-related dilemmas. We might feature one of your questions in a future edition of the Books Briefing and offer a few books or related Atlantic pieces that might help you out.

About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Myles Poydras. He is anticipating The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

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