What Do Our Favorite TV Characters Read?


It’s strange to see a TV character reading a book, since it’s such a solitary activity. But do we really expect them to reference imaginary novels in conversations in their fictional universes? Sometimes there’s a break in the narrative and the outside world comes into the story, alerting the viewer to the fact that both worlds can be fluid. This happens pretty frequently in Mad Men, where time-appropriate novels are read and discussed with bartenders, spouses, or in secret in the ladies’ lounge. (We’re looking at you, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.) Last year, we created a summer reading list of books referenced in the show. This time around, we were inspired by this Tumblr post to expand our focus to include more series, so get ready to discover what your favorite characters leaf through on a lazy afternoon when you’re not around.

Parks & Recreation

In a recent episode of Parks and Recreation, Leslie Knope throws down a copy of Freedom on the desk. Ann asks, “And why am I reading this?” Leslie says, “Because I’m almost done with it and I wanna talk to you about Patty!” It’s the perfect scene because we all know how Leslie feels during the time when you finish a book and have to talk to someone about it immediately.

Mad Men

In one scene, Don Draper quietly reads from Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O’Hara as he walks to the mailbox and drops in the book of poems. You can read “Mayakovsky” in full here. Or, if you’re feeling libertarian, you could always take notes from Bert Cooper and pick up Atlas Shrugged . Another option is the 1946 American anthropological study of the enemy, titled, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword , which is also the title of an episode in the fourth season when the partners meet Honda executives for the first time. You can see more Mad Men literary references here.

The OC

As part of a “Seth Cohen Starter Pack,” the gangly teen gives both Anna and Summer a copy of Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which is perfect, since it’s about a duo of Jewish cousins who fight crime and talk about comics. You know… stuff every teenage girl wants to read. You can read more literary references from The OC here.

The Simpsons

In one of our favorite moments in TV history, Lisa reads Leaves of Grass to a beached whale. There are countless other episodes where literary figures and novels are mentioned, and the best place to find them is this Tumblr. Here, you can find Jonathan Franzen fighting with Michael Chabon about blurbs, and George Plimpton from The Paris Review leveling with Lisa about the sorry state of competitive spelling.

The Wire

Though Henry M. Roberts’ Rules of Order is a dense reference manual on proper Parliamentary procedure, it was also used by Russell “Stringer” Bell as a guide for how to rule Avon Barksdale’s corner lieutenants and street soldiers.


In 2008, ABC launched the Lost Book Club, whereby readers could find specific literary works mentioned in episodes of the popular TV show. In a key episode, Sawyer is seen reading The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares. In the novel, we discover the “impossibility of being the heroic master of one’s destiny” as we read about a lonely fugitive trapped on a faraway island.

Gossip Girl

On the season finale of GG, Serena van der Woodsen is seen with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned. One angry blogger writes, “This was a not-so-compelling story about two spoiled rich kids who are infatuated with each other, get married, waste money on extravagant triviality, and then don’t know what to do when their money runs out.” Caveat emptor, kids!


In the third season, we find out that Jerry has an outstanding fine dating back to 1971 on The Tropic of Cancer. Since Jerry is convinced he returned the book ages ago, he marches down to the library accompanied by Kramer, and inevitably George shows up to vent about their high school gym teacher. At the end of the show, Jerry realizes he accidentally returned Tropic of Capricorn instead, and blames the whole thing on George. We never knew Seinfeld was such a Henry Miller fan until now.

Freaks and Geeks

Freaks and Geeks fans will remember that Kerouac’s magnum opus was discussed in class in the 10th episode — the same one in which Lindsay’s parents forbid her from hanging out with Kim and decide that it’s a good idea to read her diary. “I hated the book, alright?” says Kim, when asked to expound on the theme of the Beat classic. “I have no idea what it’s about, and the writer was clearly on drugs when he wrote it. I mean it just went on and on and on like it was written in a total hurry. If I handed in something like this, there’s no way I’d get a good grade on it. I mean it’s boring, and it’s unorganized, and I only read 30 pages of it anyway.”

The Office

After Pam joins “The Finer Things Club,” she invites Jim to join in on their discussion of Angela’s Ashes. She soon regrets the offer when it becomes apparent that he hasn’t actually read the book. Instead, he starts speaking in a terrible imitation of an Irish brogue while wearing a token flat cap. You can see their startled reactions here.