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THE B-LIST: 8 books about great movies, comics and TV shows

Want to know more about the people and process behind iconic media? These award-winning, best-selling books are a great place to start.
Want to know more about the people and process behind iconic media? These award-winning, best-selling books are a great place to start.

When you're enthusiastic about your media, you always wish there was more.

This week's column is for those of us who devour behind-the-scenes peeks, internet think-pieces and DVD extras; the fans who love retrospective documentaries and interviews.

Here are eight books that dive deeper into great TV shows, comics and movies.

8. "SHOCK VALUE: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror" by Jason Zinoman. A must-read for any gorehound. Zinoman dives into how the '70s — and "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" – were a pivotal turning point for the horror genre, as the low-budget went from camp to shockingly realistic.

Counterculture directors like Wes Craven, John Carpenter and Brian De Palma jettisoned the old monsters — vampires and werewolves — and brought in more real world terrors: serial killers, mad cults and suburban violence that were increasingly unsettling and nihilistic.

With the advancement of special effects and improved film equipment, these shoestring filmmakers revolutionized horror and paved the way for its current political relevance and power.

7. "THE PRINCESS DIARIST" by Carrie Fisher. Carrie "Space Mom" Fisher's final book — released five weeks before her untimely death — is a nostalgic swan song: a curated collection of her diary entries from her days on the sets of "Star Wars."

As irreverent, unapologetic and funny as you'd expect from Fisher, it shines a light on some of the shenanigans she instigated and hurdles she faced in bringing Princess Leia Organa to life, making an iconic mark on Hollywood at the tender age of 21.

6. "THE ART OF AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER" by Brian Konietzko and Michael DiMartino. I wholeheartedly believe "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is the best, most satisfying, most complex animated show ever made. I'll even go a step further: it's the best TV show of all time. Period.

A Nickelodeon kids' series based on Asian and indigenous cultures, it crossed generational divides while tackling extremely adult issues — genocide, abuse, child soldiers, propaganda, pollution and deforestation, spirituality — and was still funny, heartfelt and beautiful thanks to its stunning art and incredible characters.

This book, edited and compiled by series creators Konietzko and DiMartino, charts the show from preliminary concepts to the finished masterpiece, with plenty of "behind the curtain" details to deepen any fan's appreciation.

5. "THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick" by Mallory O'Meara. Milicent Patrick was one of Disney's first female animators — and the only woman to design an iconic Universal Monster. So why don't more people know her name?

Enter horror producer/screenwriter O'Meara, who dove into Patrick's story to uncover the truth. "Lady" is the result: a biography and detective yarn still relevant in the #MeToo era, that lauds a creative mind that has been shamefully overlooked after her contributions were usurped by a male colleague.

And O'Meara doesn't stop there: she also calls out the monsters still lurking in Hollywood and the toxic systems that continue to reward its badly-behaved men.

4. "GUILLERMO DEL TORO'S THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE" by Matt Zoller Seitz. Del Toro may be the most intentional director alive; before the cameras roll on one of his movies, he spends months — sometimes years — crafting the stories, characters, even the color schemes in fully-illustrated leather journals. Every prop, every piece of set decoration, serves a purpose.

"The Devil's Backbone" — possibly del Toro's greatest film to date; definitely my favorite — is no exception. There are layers upon layers of subtext in this tale of orphans and ghosts during the Spanish Civil War.

And this art-heavy book, which features excerpts from del Toro's private journal, is a gorgeous eye-opener. Even if you've seen the movie a dozen times, this will show you something you've missed.

3. "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY: The Screenplay and Diaries" by Emma Thompson. A two-in-one gem: not only do you get Thompson's Oscar-winning screenplay for one of the greatest Jane Austen adaptations, you also get selections from the diary she kept during the filming.

And yes, they're all just as cackle-inducing as you'd expect from the incorrigible actress/screenwriter.

"Kate (Winslet) came down stone stairs very carefully in order to protect her leg, slipped and hurt her wrist. She's at the hospital now having an X-ray. Frankly, I'm not expecting her to survive the night," quips Thompson in one. (And apparently Alan Rickman constantly swore on set; why am I not surprised?)

2. "THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN" by Jill Lepore. Did you know the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, also invented the first lie detector? Certainly adds a new layer of context to the Lasso of Truth, huh?

And here's an ever bigger bombshell: he based Diana, Princess of the Amazons and the most famous female superhero, on his wife and co-inventor, Sadie — and their lifelong live-in partner, Olive Byrne.

That's right, folks. Wonder Woman's creator was a polyamorous psychologist and outspoken feminist. Lepore's book dives into the Marston household and the rise of early 20th century feminism, illuminating how the unconventional family and campaigns for female empowerment birthed an iconic heroine.

1. "MONSTERS OF THE WEEK: The Complete Critical Companion to The X-Files" by Zack Handlen and Todd VanDerWerff. What's better than watching a show? Watching a show and then picking every single episode apart! "Monsters of the Week" is a collection of meta-tastic essays — covering all 11 seasons and both films — and interviews with the folks behind the camera, from the writers and directors to the stars.

Handlen and VanDerWerff are diehard X-Philes I'd love to get drinks with, but they don't let their love of the show blind them to its faults, either. "Monsters" is honest and insightful, and will make you look at the iconic sci-fi series in a new light.

• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer and columnist for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers pop culture, history and literature, contact her at

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