What to Read Next When You’d Rather Be Watching Netflix
At least twice a year, I have to claw my way out of a Netflix-induced reading rut.
Not that binge-watching an entire miniseries in one weekend is a bad thing, but there are times I sense my Netflix patronage getting a bit too… All consuming?
My attention span declines. I find myself lamenting the absence of crown jewels in my life. The reality of my not having been born in the glamorous golden years of the interwar period suddenly takes on existential gravity.
Netflix brain drain can be particularly problematic for writers. Stephen King, in On Writing, talks about why he sticks to a more meager diet of entertainment, avoiding television and movies. To foster creativity, we sometimes have to starve our minds of external entertainment and force it to entertain itself.
Some writers find that highly visual sources of entertainment spark creativity, but I’m definitely not one of them. My mind shrivels up like a carrot neglected at the bottom of my refrigerator’s veggie crisper when I watch more than my fair share of Netflix.
Luckily my finer self knows just when to step in to shut Netflix off and find a book to read.
(Of course, this typically only occurs after I’ve made it through every episode of every series I find remotely interesting, BUT I prefer to think of it as a heroic act of moderation and self-control rather than a begrudging response to an empty queue.)
Just like opening one’s eyes to the first light of day, reading a book after binging on Netflix can be a rude awakening. Where are all the elegant costumes? British accents? Achingly familiar and dramatic intro music that after 8 seasons my brain has come to rely on to regulate its serotonin levels?
Instead of doing what all the self-controlled people do to avoid reverting to bad habits (deleting the Netflix app from their devices, turning off wifi, cutting off their right hand if it causes them to sin, etc. etc.) I prefer a more entertaining path back to books.
It basically involves easing into reading through books that are as closely connected to my Netflix interests as humanly possible.
Here are some examples…
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- Many of the most popular programs on Netflix were based on books. From Mindhunter to Alias Grace, 13 Reasons Why to Outlander, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society to Call the Midwife. Even Downton Abbey was indirectly inspired by a book.
- In some cases, Netflix specials have gone on to inspire books. Michael Griesbach wrote his Indefensible in response to Netflix’s series Making a Murderer about convicted murderer Steven Avery.
- If you’re addicted to The Office (who isn’t?), try reading memoirs by actors who starred in it. My favorites are My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper (who played Erin) and Bassoon King by Rain Wilson (Dwight).
- Stuck on period dramas like The Crown or Land Girls? Seek out books that will draw you into that time period. I’m a sucker for shows set in or around the World Wars, particularly ones that are based on real events, so I’ve also enjoyed books like Sally Bedell Smith’s Elizabeth the Queen, Marion Crawford’s The Little Princesses, and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. I’m also looking forward to reading The Romanov Sisters, Dutch House, and have long been meaning to read the historiography Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting by my friend, Carolyn Harris.
- Some of the most beloved film and miniseries celebrities are also authors or audiobook narrators. I recently listened to the Audible version of Uncommon Type, a diverting collection of short stories both written and performed by Tom Hanks. The listening experience was like curling up on a deserted island next to Wilson the Volleyball and listening to castaway Chuck Noland tell campfire stories (stories, by the way, whose plots have nothing to do with movies Hanks has starred in, but are nonetheless delightful and well written. Plus a typewriter somehow surfaces in every story, which is a fun detail to listen for). Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates on Downton Abbey) is also an excellent audiobook narrator; my favorite was the Audible Original version of Emma she narrated as part of a full cast that included Emma Thompson.
Once I have a few of these books under my belt, my normal appetite for reading usually returns, often to the point that I prefer it over Netflix.
Until, of course, the next BBC period drama or series of Call the Midwife releases. Then all bets are off.