Thursday, April 14, 2011

Literary Mad Men

It's taken a while, but finally I've watched all Mad Men episodes to date. From the start of the series, it's been impossible not to notice what these wonderfully culturally literate (it is advertising, after all) characters were reading.

I've tried to keep a list of those books that were directly discussed or in the hands of readers. In chronological occurrence of their mention:

  • Lawrence, DH: Lady Chatterley's Lover (S01e03)
  • Jaffe, Rona: The Best of Everything (S01e06)
  • Uris, Leon: Exodus (S01e06)
  • Rand, Ayn: Atlas Shrugged (S01e08, but with several mentions)
  • O'Hara, Frank: Meditations in an Emergency (S02e01)
  • Fitzgerald, F Scott: Babylon Revisited and Other Stories (S02e04)
  • Forester, CS: Horatio Hornblower (S02e08)
  • Porter, Katherine Anne: Ship of Fools (S02e09)
  • Faulkner, William: The Sound and the Fury (S02e11)
  • Gibbon, Edward: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (S03e03)
  • Ogilvy, David: Confessions of an Advertising Man (S03e06)
  • Twain, Mark: Tom Sawyer (S03e06)
  • Hilton, Conrad: Be My Guest, Autobiography of Conrad Hilton (S03e07)
  • McCarthy, Mary: The Group (S03e10)
  • Benedict, Ruth: The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture (S04e05)
  • Keene, Carolyn: The Clue of the Black Keys (S04e09)
  • Berne, Eric: Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships (S04e10)
  • Le CarrĂ©, John: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (S04e13)

Of course, there have been countless literary allusions throughout the series. TS Eliot's The Hollow Men was recited. A reference to The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (Sloan Wilson) is as much a cultural touchstone as it has to do with any novel. Moby Dick. I can't help but think of The Bell Jar when you mention the summer the Rosenbergs were executed, but very likely that's the sort of reference that wasn't necessarily intended.

I've read only a few of those listed, some of them many years ago, but on watching some episodes, I have been inspired to directly seek out some titles, particularly since they are not merely props but have direct bearing on the plot or characters at issue. I know I'm not the only one to be reading up. Frank O'Hara's rediscovery has been widely noted.

Similarly, according to NPR, "Interest in Rand and her philosophy is on the upswing. Since the 2008 presidential election, according to Brook, the novel Atlas Shrugged has sold more than 1 million copies, far more than in any similar period in the book's 54-year history." While this is linked to the rising popularity of the Tea Party, no doubt sales for this particular novel were boosted by its exposure on Mad Men.

But I think my favourite book sighting, late in season 4, is the Nancy Drew mystery in Sally Draper's hands. We've seen the books in the house she grew up in; it should come as no surprise that Sally too should find escape in a good book. Reminds me a little of my own young self, visiting my dad's office and being told to sit quietly — I'd read. Though I can't recall it specifically, I'm sure I read The Clue of the Black Keys — I read them all. I'll be sure to dig this one out of the box in my mom's basement as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

Have you been reading along with the Mad Men?


Emily said...

I DIDN'T KNOW SEASON 4 WAS AVAILABLE! Well that's my weekend blown.

My favorite book-sighting was The Group. It jut seemed so wonderfully fitting, although if I were in these characters' shoes I don't know if I would have the strength of character to face up to my similarities with the grim world McCarthy depicts.

kimbofo said...

I love this list, Isabella! Thanks so much for compiling it.

I missed series 4 when it was screened on TV here in the UK, so will look forward to sitting down with the complete box set and overdosing on it over the course of a weekend at some point!

Isabella said...

Oh, you're going to love season 4!

Emily, I know what you mean. Although, so many people fail to recognize themselves in the books they read, the movies they watch, etc. Betty lives in such a bubble, I think she'd deny any similarities. The Group is near the top of my list of those I'd like to take a closer look at.

Kim, this list is much shorter than I expected it to be. I'm afraid I was so wrapped up in the drama I may have neglected to jot some down.

If I've missed any titles, please let me know.

Stefanie said...

I've never watched an episode of Mad Men. I had no idea it was so literary! Now I just might have to give it a whirl.

Frances said...

I have not been reading along or even watching but knowing that you and Emily do is changing my mind. Seldom watch television but this sounds just right for me. Hmmm.

Anonymous said...

The only one I've read from the list is the Nancy Drew. I also do not watch Mad Men but, like Frances, am also tempted since you and Emily both watch it, hm.

Bybee said...

Mad Men inspired me to go out and look for The Best of Everything.

Was Faye reading /carrying a copy of The Games People Play or did I imagine that?

Isabella said...

Thanks, Susan! I knew Faye was reading something and meant to go back and check what it was. A little googling proves you right. It was Eric Berne's classic on relationships. I've added it to the list above.

Stefanie, Frances, Claire: It really is very smart television. I don't watch much TV, but as far as I'm concerned Mad Men is unmissable.