The Canadian Mad Men Reading List

Don Draper Reading

The seventh and final season of Mad Men premieres on Sunday and, as ever, viewers have no idea what to expect. Except that books and reading will probably be integral to the plot line. Remember how last season began with Don reading Dante's Inferno on a beach in Hawaii? Or the Frank O'Hara poems he mailed to Anna in Season 2? Rona Jaffe's The Best of Everything? Betty reading The Diamond as Big as the Ritz? Not to mention creator Matthew Weiner's noted influence by John Cheever. Books have been a huge part of Mad Men since the very beginning, as attested to by The Mad Men Reading List, which has been compiled on an ongoing basis by a librarian at the New York Public Library since 2010. 

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But what's missing from that list is CanLit. It's true! Megan Calvet isn't Mad Men's only Canadian connection. And to prove it, we've put together a list of Canadian reads for the Mad Men fan, books to read in order to become fully steeped in the atmosphere of Mad Men's world. 

 

The Torontonians, by Phyllis Brett Young:

Karen Whitney is Betty Draper in this prescient Toronto novel that pre-dated The Feminine Mystique by three years, and was reprinted by McGill-Queens University Press in a smart new edition a few years ago. It's 1960 and women have never had it so good, except sparkly new technology has made the housewife's labour redundant and turned her day into a series of soulless, mind-numbing tasks. Bored in the suburbs, Karen is expected to be fulfilled by material goods, interior-decorating schemes and comparing her green lawn to those of her neighbours, and when she fails to be happy with this arrangement, she's told her mental health is the problem. Fortunately, she's got a husband who's more understanding than Betty's, and so there is hope after all, but there is also great humour and fascinating history in Young's celebrated suburban satire. 

The Fire-Dwellers, by Margaret Laurence:

Stacey MacAindra is also like Betty, though she's got a bit of Don about her too, with a background she feels ashamed of and she goes to lengths to hide. Her husband is even in sales, door-to-door selling encyclopedias, until he gets into a racket peddling vitamins, selling his customers better versions of themselves. But Stacey's not buying it, nor is she falling under the spell of her husband's new boss whose made-up name and perfect veneer are right to raise her suspicions. It turns out that nobody is really who they say they are in Laurence's 1969 novel about suburban Vancouver, with the Vietnam war's progress blaring from the television on in the background. As with Mad Men, the novel's characters feel at odds with the shiny new world they've found themselves living in. 

Kings of Madison Avenue: The Unofficial Guide to Mad Men, by Jesse McLean:

For all the Mad Men backgrounder you'll ever need, check out this book, one of ECW Press's Pop Culture Guides. Packed with episode-guides, behind-the-scenes scoops and cast biographies, the guide also offers fascinating sociological context and cultural analysis. The details of historical ad campaigns that are woven into the show’s storylines are provided—, such as Volkswagen Beetle’s landmark “Think Small” campaign, the Nixon/Kennedy presidential push, and the creation of Lucky Strike’s "“It’s toasted” slogan. From a review in Scene Magazine: "For new viewers of Mad Men, this is a good primer for the show. But for fans, it's a book that will ultimately sell itself." 

The Age of Persuasion, by Terry O'Reilly and Mike Tennant: 

O'Reilly might be Canada's best-known (only?) ad-man celebrity, known for a long career in the advertising business but also for his CBC radio shows about the technicals ins and outs of the world so glamourized by Don and Roger. Ok, by Joan. In this book, based on his original CBC series, O'Reilly uses his own experience, as well as historical and sociological details, to show how our culture has been shaped by the advertising all around us. The book also delves into the Mad Men era of the 1960s to give a fuller picture of the world depicted on the show. 

The Girl in Saskatoon, by Sharon Butala: 

This true story of the murder of Alexandra Wiwcharuk in 1962 Saskatoon is as close to philosophy as true crime ever gets, and Butala gives a vivid portrayal of what it was to be a woman during that decade. In her narrative, she links the crime to its era. The day after Alex’s disappearance, she notes, Marilyn Monroe would sing her infamous “Happy Birthday” to the US President. Butala continues, “By August, Marilyn, too, would be dead, the world offering certain undeniable benefits to pretty women, being also very hard on them.”

The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood: 

While the protagonist of Atwood's first novel doesn't work at Sterling Cooper, her adventures in market research map well onto Mad Men's themes, plus the novel has a whole lot to say about the nightmare of being a young woman in the workplace. The Edible Woman is about consequences, natural and otherwise, of being a participant in a consumer-driven society, and also a hilarious biting(!) satire. 

Designing Fictions, by Michael L. Ross

The final chapter of the book—which examines whether imaginative fiction has the latitude to critique advertising as an industry and as a literary form—considers Mad Men, where the tension between artistic and commercial pressures is especially acute. Written in a straightforward style for a wide audience of readers, Designing Fictions argues that the impact of advertising is universal and discussions of its significance should not be restricted to a narrow group of specialists

Wood by Jennica Harper: 

"The Sally Draper Poems" make up the final section of Wood, which was recently nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. in these poems, Harper imagines Sally into the future reflecting on her complicated relationships with her parents, but mostly with her father. From "Sally Draper Struggles to Buy a Christmas Gift":

He might wear a tie,
but I can’t bear to buy
him something so dull.
So I choose The Spy
Who Came In From the Cold.
Maybe he’ll see
the symbolism –
a man wanting
out. Hope. The girl.
And if not,
maybe he’ll at least
wonder
why this book, what does it mean,
and he’ll realize I’m
interesting.

April 9, 2014
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