It was the show that the folks over at Melville House called “The Greatest TV Show Ever About Book Publishing.” And it ended on Sunday night. Season two of The Affair, Showtime’s dual (and now occasionally quadruple) narrative about two cheating spouses making a go of it after getting it on one summer in the Hamptons, featured more than just double-crossing, lies, rough sex and deception. As former high school English teacher Noah Solloway began reaping the benefits of literary success, he had to navigate the sharky waters of the Manhattan publishing scene. He landed an agent (who also seemed to act as his editor), did a packed reading, nearly slept with his hot publicist and name-dropped Philip Roth multiple times. All the book talk on the show— Sebastian Junger made a cameo!—got us thinking about publishing on film. As we close out the year, and bid adieu to the latest installment of The Affair, we offer five of our favorite on-screen treatments of the book biz:
Best fictional book campaign: Younger
This book-industry set sitcom on TV Land from Sex and the City creator Darren Star has the feel of a tamer, slightly stayed, version of his HBO juggernaut. It follows Liza Miller (Sutton Foster), a recently divorced forty-year-old mom who says she’s 26 in order to land a job as an assistant at a publishing house. In one episode the imaginative-but-not-very-tech-savvy Liza thinks up a social media campaign for Joyce Carol Oates’s new book which calls for women to share topless selfies of themselves with the hashtag #showusyouroates. Genius? Offensive? A bit of both? Marketing departments, you tell us.
Best book industry meet-cute: The Proposal
To be fair, book publishing isn’t front-and-center in this 2009 rom-com starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. But it cameos. When the workaholic editor-in-chief of Colden Books (Bullock) finds herself in hot water with the INS after attending the Frankfurt Book Fair—to sign Don DeLillo (of course!)—the Canadian needs a quickie marriage to stay in the country. And, since this is book publishing, it’s absolutely no shock that her assistant (Reynolds) is male, straight, hot and game.
Best literary rival: Bored to Death
Jonathan Ames's three-season HBO show about a novelist/amateur P.I., named Jonathan Ames (and played by Jason Schwartzman), had something of a cut following. One of the highlights of the Brooklyn-set sitcom was John Hodgman, who played the hero's literary rival, Louis Green. Louis had a knack for finding Jonathan everywhere, where he could be counted on to greet him with gems like this: “Your most recent publication was unwarranted and undeserved, did you know that?”
Best uncomfortable writing class: Throw Momma from the Train
Both Todd Solondz and Lena Dunham have done the creative writing class proud. He offered a funny-not-funny take on the undergrad version in Storytelling, and she skewered the precious young things honing their craft at the Iowa Writers Workshop in the third season of Girls. But I’ve always had a soft spot for the adult education class Billy Crystal’s blocked novelist teaches in Throw Momma from the Train. Who could forget Mr. Pinsky describing his manuscript, called 100 Girls I’d Like to Pork and featuring chapters such as 'Kathleen Turner' and 'Cybil Shepherd,' as “a coffee table book.”
Best bookselling moment: Seinfeld’s “The Bookstore” Episode
Anyone who works in books likely recalls the Seinfeld episode that skewered the big box store experience. When George is forced to pay for an expensive art book he brings into the bathroom of the Barnes & Noble-esque Brentano’s he repeatedly tried, and fails, to return the item. The book, he quickly learns, has been “flagged,” because of its trip to the lavatory. In anger George utters this gem: “If it wasn’t for the bathroom there would be no books!”