The Stories We Seek

similar stories

I mentioned recently that I’m in the middle of rewatching Mad Men and, though it started as an episode before bed kind of thing, the show has really been working its way into my brainspace. Between Etsy searches for Mad Men prints to add to our gallery wall and trips back through Tom + Lorenzo’s Mad Style archives, I’ve been thinking a ton about what makes the show stand out for me. Strangely enough, I keep coming back to books.

While I loved Mad Men when it aired, and watched it weekly from the first episode, it’s really made for binge watching. With a week long gap between episodes, the plot could sometimes feel painfully slow (which was often highlighted by Matthew Weiner’s ridiculous “Next Week on Mad Men” teasers). Watching episodes back-to-back has shown me just how brilliant the show’s writing and storytelling was, particularly over the arc of the series, despite the fact that the “action” was minimal.

And that’s also what I seek in my reading. Style and character drive my book choice much more than plot ever does, so perhaps it makes sense that the same would be true for all stories. When I consider my other favorite TV shows, many of them are fairly similar—meticulous writing, overarching plots, and well-developed characters. Though there are certainly exceptions to the rule (hello, Broad City), it seems I know and stick to what I love.

Have you noticed overlap in the type of storytelling you seek out? Are the TV shows you watch similar to the books you read or wildly different?


  • Very interesting question, I think I definitely seek out good characters that develop over a shows lifetime. I’m re-watching Deep Space Nine at the moment and it’s great for that. I also love crime dramas for the same reason, a good mystery is marvelous.

    • Sometimes I think characters are even a little more important for me in TV than they are in books – they can totally make or break a show!

  • Interesting. I’ve never thought about this. Probably because I try not to watch TV. If I did, I would probably look for shows with well-developed characters and a focused plot. TV show plots are sometimes all over the place.

    • I have a tough time with plots that go everywhere or don’t have a focused theme. You’re definitely right that there’s a bunch like that out there!

  • Hm, what a cool topic to think about. I do think there is some overlap, for me — SF/F and historical dramas are my weak spot no matter the medium. I’m loving Ms. Fisher’s on Netflix right now, and I don’t really care about murder mysteries one way or the other, but I *do* enjoy bright, headstrong female characters and that well-done historical atmosphere.

    • Ah, that’s a great point about how certain types of characters can pull you in across genres! I’m the same way with great female characters (Netflix has that category set up for me now).

  • Rebecca Foster

    I hardly ever watch TV nowadays (we got rid of our TV), but I do have some DVD series I keep meaning to catch up on: Breaking Bad, The Big C, and The Americans. I never had a chance to watch past season 1 of Mad Men, which is ridiculous and must be rectified. One novel that really reminded me of Mad Men recently was Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell, which I would highly recommend. There’s a similar vibe to a pre-release novel I’m reading now, The Good Guy by Susan Beale.

    I think I’m more demanding of TV: it had better be fast-paced and engaging. And yet I’m much more willing to put up with a crime/mystery plot than I am in fiction.

  • Oooh – SO interesting! And that’s a great point about Mad Men and binge watching. It’s slowness never bothered me, but it lost me toward the end where the plot just kind of meandered off the rails.

    As far as the stories, I think I tend to like a little more plot than you do, but style and character are still extremely important to me. A plot based book without style and character will generally not work for me, whereas a book that relies heavily on style and character can often (but not always) work for me without plot. I just prefer a bit of plot thrown in. Shelter was a great balance of plot and style/character for me. Others that were great balances for me: The Wife, My Sunshine Away, Only Love Can Break Your Heart.

    • Forgot to address TV (the non-reality ones, anyway) shows that work best for me: Friday Night Lights, The Affair, Fargo, Nashville.

      • I haven’t watched Nashville, but I would totally say that the others are pretty great examples of the three elements being well mixed.

  • Lauren @ Malcolm Avenue Review

    I usually like my TV like I like my books, dark and gritty. Breaking Bad, Deadwood, The Wire. No wonder I’m so depressed all the time. :) On another note, do we get to see pics of that gallery wall? I am now torn between just putting up a few pieces on each wall and doing a salon wall with my largest living room wall. One hand thinks it would be neato, the other hand thinks it would be a busy jumble that would drive me nuts. What is yours looking like?

    • Totally love dark shows, too. Those are three of my faves.
      We haven’t put our gallery wall up in the new house yet (lazy!) and I don’t even think I have a pic of what it looked like at the old house. It was going up our stairway, though, which I think we’re going to do again. They can be tricky and do kind of seem like a jumble at first, but I lived ours once it started to grow.

  • Wow, I hadn’t really thought about the similarities between the books I read and the shows I watch… Really, there aren’t that many overlaps! I like my books quiet/beautiful/dramatic, but I mostly enjoy comedies to keep me entertained (like currently binge-watching That 70s Show). I think I just look for such different things in books and TV…

    • So interesting! It seems like you’re not alone based on the responses – I think it must just depend on what type of escape we’re looking for in our TV/reading.

  • Lord, I love TLo. And I miss Mad Men; I get so sucked into good shows (Mad Men, BSG, etc.) that I’m nervous to start a new one or re-watch one I love because it tends to eat into my reading time. But to your question, yeah, I think the shows I liked are pretty similar to the fiction I gravitate toward.

    • That’s the exact problem I’m running into right now re: reading time ;) We don’t watch much TV (usually just binge one show at a time and the TV is off otherwise), but if it’s something I really love it does suck up a ton of my time.

  • TLo!!! Thank you so much for turning me on to them! Their podcast is the best.

    I hadn’t thought about this, but once again, you are so wise and I would agree with you. My TV and reading habits can be very similar. Sometimes I need mindless superficiality (reality TV and chick-lit) and others I need a whole lot more (dramatic series and movies and literary fiction). I’ve just hit a pinnacle of fabulous fiction and so should probably read something fluffy!

  • Sameish, I think! I value the same things: Plot and character most, style a distant distant third. That’s not to say that I don’t like a stylish-looking show, but it’s nowhere near the top of my priorities list. Hence, I was bored to tears with Mad Men, but I will watch just about anything the CW throws at me.

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  • I teach high school English and when kids need book recs I ask them what they watch- I think there are frequently parallels. I have found that when it comes to movies I embrace the fluffy stuff a bit more than my reading habits, though. I get sort of snobby when it comes to books but admittedly went to the theater with friends to see the Sex and the City movies. Oops.

  • Totally understand the lack of TV! We mostly just use Netflix for whatever show we’re binge watching at the moment. It sounds like you’re pretty similar with your books and the shows you like, too!

  • I rarely watch TV, I tried to calculate it the other day and I came up with an average 45 minutes a week, though most weeks have none. I used to watch more though, and found that my favorites are reflected in my reading quite a bit, dark and gritty with crime (Deadwood and Justified) and/or sci-fi/supernatural (think X-Files). Also, I love when shows have great dialogue, which is also true in things I choose to read.

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  • I think you are on to something here. This may be a great way to suggests books to some non-reading friends.

  • Great post! I’m a moody reader and that goes the same for music and TV/Movies. But shows and books that have rich and smart dialogue always satisfy the most. Parks and Rec, 30 Rock and Seinfeld are comedies and known for crazy characters but the dialogue is my favorite. But then I also love period pieces like Downton Abbey, Outlander, Call the Midwife, so that’s plot, right? Like I said…moody! :)

  • Heather

    My book reading and television viewing is very similar. I’ll read just about anything and watch just about anything (I love all the typical stuff like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones etc.), but I have some steadfast favourites. This is usually anything set in London (or England in general) between the years of 1912-1950. It doesn’t matter what I do, I always come back to those whether it be on tv or printed.