It’s finally happening: the final season of AMC’s sexy, smoky, scotch-drenched series Mad Men. No other show in the history of television has made us fall so deeply in love with sunken living rooms, bygone fonts, emphysema, and aerodynamic breasts. So, to honor the seventh season, I thought I’d offer up some reading recommendations for the cast. Not that they can really hold a book, what with the tumbler in their left hand and the Lucky Strike in their right, but here’s what I’d have them read nonetheless. Or what I’d read to them. Trust me: I’d gladly host a Mad Men story hour for free or gin or just an awesome retro stapler.
Don Draper: Oh, Don. Of course I’ll begin with you. I thought about assigning you some epic tome of literature, because you are, indeed, EPIC. But Moby Dick and The Odyssey and all those manly page-turners Hemingway knocked off between (during?) benders just didn’t seem quite right for you. They didn’t get at your core—at your broken heart and lonely soul. What you should be reading is This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolff. It’s a memoir of a troubled, nomadic childhood. Of a boy who has plenty of issues and so many problems with self-identity he ultimately changes his name. (Sound familiar?) It’s about a whip-smart kid with lots of promise who ends up getting kicked out of school and heading off to war. It’s about courage and humor and resilience and sadness. It’s about being lost and not quite knowing how to love even when you’re being loved. By Betty or Megan or, say, ME.
Betty Draper Francis: This one’s easy: The Feminine Mystique, by another Betty…Betty Friedan. It’s all about 1950s and ’60s housewives and their discontent and “the problem that has no name,” but that I’m going to call BOREDOM. If you can pull yourself away from looking at your children like they’re roadkill, Betty, this selection might do you some good. Or not. Whatever. (Cue sullen, apathetic shrug.)
Pete Campbell: Boy. Are you a peach or what? I’m going with or what. You need some serious lessons in how to function among other human beings, Pete. So, let’s begin with How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. This best-seller could possibly tone down your sugar-eating grin a notch or two, but if it doesn’t, I think we can find several million viewers who’d gladly slap it away.
Joan Harris: You are, Joan, both a saint and a soldier. A warrior and a woman. Sharp-minded, sharp-tongued, and sharp-breasted. You have taken the agency into war and fallen on your sword (i.e., slept with disgusting men for the sake of accounts). My selection for you is Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by Mark Twain. It’s an impressive, compelling, 12-years-of-research ode to the noblest of women, written by a dry-witted man who worshipped her. I can think of another dry-witted man who worships another Joan. Can you?
Salvatore Romano: You’re long gone but never forgotten, Sal. I’m giving you Maurice, by E.M. Forster. It’s a groundbreaking story of same-sex love that was once very controversial, but is now a classic. Forster not only struggled with its publication, but also with giving the book the happy ending he desperately wanted but feared would make it unlikable. The good news is that, glorious conclusion and all, the book came out. Maybe you should, too.
Peggy Olson: I thought about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I considered Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. Or even something by Ayn Rand. But you don’t need advice on corporate work or meaningless sex or cold objectivity any more than you need Pete Campbell breathing in your ear. What YOU need, Peggy, is to face your demons. Your many, many demons. I’m recommending The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty.
Megan Draper: I think you already know this, but seeing as Season 7 still has a certain someone knocking on your door, remember this, honey: He’s Just Not That Into You.
Sally Draper: Can you think of a book about a teen girl who’s kind of a troublemaker? Who has a beautiful mother, an absent father, and too many brothers? A girl who will ultimately overcome her insecurities to be her father’s savior from darkness? Well, it’s called A Wrinkle In Time, but I just changed it to The Adventures of Sally Draper.
Roger Sterling: That’s right: I saved the best for last. Mostly because I don’t think many people tell Roger Sterling what to do and get away with it, but I’m going to risk having an ashtray dumped down my blouse to tell this stubborn silver fox that he needs to be reading The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I know, I know. We’re all a little tired of it these days (and Leo, too), but this book has a very special message, which is: MONEY WON’T MAKE YOU HAPPY WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE BETTER GET ON WITH LOVE ASAP RIGHT NOW I MEAN IT. I don’t know how to make it any more clear, Roger, so I went ahead and bought the ring and made the reservation. Joanie’s waiting at the bar. Please. Please just show up before you’re dead.
What other books would you recommend to the Mad Men cast?