It’s become a theme in my life: I’ll be out to dinner with a group of friends or standing around with some colleagues at work and the conversation lands on what TV shows everyone is watching. I’m the outlier, the one who has nothing to add. I don’t watch TV often, so I sit or stand there silently, thinking about all of the recent books I’ve read and wishing I had more people to discuss them with.
That changed this summer. While flipping through Netflix titles with my husband one Saturday night, I came across Outlander. I had recently bought the paperback but hadn’t read it yet, and insisted we give it a try. I was immediately hooked, and binge watched all four seasons within the next two weeks. I finally understood the Netflix obsession that so many of my high school students share. Realizing what a strong force we’re dealing with, I was determined to find a way to capitalize on this in terms of reading motivation.
Librarians often pair books with their movie/TV adaptations as a way to spark student interest. One of my main library displays last year featured such books. Through talking to my patrons, though, I realized that the students who are most excited for a movie adaptation are those who have already read and loved the book; only a minority of readers actually read a book after they’ve seen a movie; and many students see the movie and forgo the book entirely, even if they’ve been assigned the book for class.
I, of course, tackled the 850-page paperback Outlander as soon as I finished watching the series. What I found shocked me. . .I liked the TV series better than the book. Though I recognized author Diana Gabaldon’s brilliance in creating this fictional world and was in awe of her phenomenal research abilities, I found the romance aspect of the writing melodramatic and preferred the more subtle, nuanced acting of the screen characters Jamie and Claire. Because I was so fascinated by the historical content of the story, though, I went on to find several related nonfiction books. I just finished reading The Highland Clans by Alistair Moffat, and am waiting for Culloden by John Prebble to arrive.
And this is where we, as librarians, can take advantage of the Netflix mania. When people are so highly invested in a show, they often devour anything that makes them feel closely connected to it. I’ve watched my own teenage daughter spend hours online looking up facts related to one of the many shows she adores. Pairing TV shows and movies with literary works, both fiction and nonfiction, can satisfy teens’ curiosity while also engaging them with reading.
Fans of the series Stranger Things may enjoy the novels Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury or Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. Related nonfiction titles to suggest are True Stories of Space Exploration Conspiracies by Nicholas Redfern or UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens by Donald R. Prothero and Timothy D. Callahan. For fans of the more literary series Gilmore Girls, we might offer novels like The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan or one of the many other books that Rory Gilmore is seen reading on the show, which include Eva Luna by Isabel Allende, Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Viewers who would like to tap into the psychological elements of the show, might like A Bond That Lasts Forever: A Mother Daughter Guide to a Happy Healthy Relationship by Dawn Hubsher and Cher Hubsher or Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Karyl McBride.
In this age of digital overload, it’s difficult to pull teenagers away from their screens. What we can do is use their viewing habits as jumping off points that can spark interest and excitement about books and reading that complement their favorite programs. While I learned all too well how hard it was to take a break from watching the beautiful, talented actors Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe, I was also reminded how an infatuation can feed into the joy of research. Hopefully we can nurture a generation of Netflix learners who will be empowered to explore topics they never would have dreamed of without the help of their favorite shows.
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.