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From Book to TV: Television's Literary Inspirations


Communications - Exhibits - Poster, Television, Digital ID 1667281, New York Public Library

Creators of TV shows get their inspiration from many places, but lately they seem to be turning more and more often to books for their source material. And with quality programs doing justice to the books that inspired them, it's a welcome trend, especially if it leads fans of the shows who have never read the books to seek them out. Here are some to get you started.


In the following booklists, RC indicates Recorded Cassette, DB indicates Digital Book, and BR indicates Braille. NYPL indicates a book or video available in branches of The New York Public Library.

The success of HBO's current fantasy series Game of Thrones is bringing new attention to the book it's based on, the first book in George R.R. Martin's popular Song of Ice and Fire series. The series has already been renewed for a second season, so now's a good time to jump in and read ahead so you can see how closely the filmed adaptations follow the books.

  1. A Game of Thrones - RC 45742 (contact library to request) [NYPL]
  2. A Clash of Kings - RC 49913 (contact library to request) [NYPL]
  3. A Storm of Swords - RC 51406 (contact library to request) [NYPL]
  4. A Feast for Crows - RC 62348, DB 62348 (Download Only)  [NYPL]

The highly rated HBO series True Blood has its origins in Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels. Start with Dead Until Dark - BR 18384, DB 69645, RC 69645 [NYPL].

Science fiction and fantasy has inspired past series, too, with the recently canceled FlashForward, inspired by Robert J. Sawyer's book of the same name, DB 70029 [NYPL], and Jim Butcher's series about wizard PI Harry Dresden that had a brief tenure on TV in 2007 as The Dresden Files. Meet Harry Dresden in Storm Front - DB 67342, RC 67342 [NYPL].

Mysteries also make for good television. Along with all the original mystery, detective, crime, and cop shows are some based on popular novels. One series that brought new readers to the books that inspired it is Showtime's Dexter, based on the mystery series by Jeff Lindsay that focuses on fictional serial killer Dexter Morgan. After following the first book closely, the TV version started to veer off in its own direction. Dexter debuted in Darkly Dreaming Dexter - DB 66175 (download only), RC 66175 [NYPL].

NBC's recently announced Fall 2011 schedule includes a reimagining of Prime Suspect, a British mystery series based on novels by Lynda La Plante. The original Prime Suspect aired in the United States as part of Masterpiece Theater. RC 39341 (contact the library to request) [NYPL]

Robert Parker's Spenser novels enjoyed life on TV in a series called Spenser: For Hire that starred Robert Urich and Avery Brooks, and his Jesse Stone series has been made into a series of TV movies on CBS starring Tom Selleck. Although Parker died in January 2010, his characters will continue in books by new authors. Parker's first Spenser novel is The Godwulf Manuscript - DB 62678, RC 62678 [NYPL].

Sometimes, books are directly adapted from TV shows, providing further adventures of the main characters, such as the Murder She Wrote series starring Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher turned into a series of books by Donald Bain, beginning with Manhattans and Murder - DB 60587, RC 60587.

And finally, TV studios and book publishers sometimes like to mix things up. The current ABC series Castle, starring Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic, takes the world of publishing and turns it upside down. Richard Castle, as played by Fillion, is a mystery writer who talks himself into ride-alongs with NYPD detective Kate Beckett so he can do onsite research for his new series about a female detective, based on Beckett, named Nikki Heat. Which in turn has inspired a series of books by "Richard Castle," starting with Heat Wave, DB 72081 [NYPL]!  As a bonus, the show offers some interesting cameo appearances. Pay attention to the sometimes poker games with Castle and his writing buddies. The buddies are played by real life mystery writers. This past season included Dennis Lehane, author of Shutter Island - DB 56046 (download only), RC 56046, BR 14802 [NYPL], among others. Don't try to think too hard about all of this real life vs fiction; you'll just give yourself a headache. Instead, just enjoy the synergy of the show and the book.


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