Matt Weiner Discusses The Books That Influenced Him When Writing ‘Mad Men’

04.28.14 4 Comments

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The Sunday Book Review section of yesterday’s New York Times contained an interview with Mad Men creator Matt Weiner about, well, books. Included in the discussion were, of course, some thoughts on what writers and books have influenced the show.

What other books have informed your approach to “Mad Men”?

I’m going to leave two of the most important books out for the purposes of answering the next question, but there has been a split between the literary influences on the show and the historical influences. I love the books that cross these boundaries. The fiction of John Cheever has a voice filled with irony and comedy and pain that, on some level, I’m always seeking to emulate. His short stories present themselves as episodes of TV do — with plenty of story and flawed characters presented without judgment. A story like “The Lowboy” focuses on siblings fighting over an inherited piece of furniture. That’s the kind of world I want to live in creatively. Other books include “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” by Jane Jacobs; the work of Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg; “Civilization and Its Discontents,” by Sigmund Freud; and of course, “Winesburg, Ohio,” by Sherwood Anderson. It’s worth mentioning that I love diaries and letters, and not just those of famous people. Nothing gives you insight into the human experience at any time in history more than the things people write to themselves.

Are there any books particularly about women of the period that have been helpful or informative to the process?

After ruminating on the “Mad Men” pilot for two years — I was mostly occupied by paid work — I finally sat down to write it. During this final moment of procrastination, through lucky curiosity, I read “Sex and the Single Girl,” by Helen Gurley Brown, and “The Feminine Mystique,” by Betty Friedan, in the same week. Through both of these women’s exquisite writing, I felt I was presented with the deep conflict that existed in my female characters of that period. Obstacles in the career and at home, motherhood, the pill and sexuality — all impossible to navigate. The identity of a woman in our culture was in complete crisis. Now I know that it wasn’t just that period.

Interestingly, there was no mention of Dante’s The Inferno, which was featured prominently in the show last season.

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