This summer, House fans were treated to two separate book releases about the series. One was put out by the show and is called House M.D.: The Official Guide to the Hit Medical Drama, written by Ian Jackman with a foreword by the man himself, Hugh Laurie. The other book is written by Barbara Barnett, a renowned blogger in the House community. You can find her well-written and spot-on analysis of the show on her blog, “Welcome to the End of the Thought Process.” Her book is titled Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D.
I was lucky enough to meet and interview Barbara Barnett in July and was given a book to read and review. Over a four hour lunch in Chicago we talked House, writing, and about how she balances her full time job with what has now become her other full time job: writing. I wasn’t able to interview the author of the “Official” guide, but I’ll do my best to remain unbiased. Throughout this article, I’ll be referring to the books as “Official” and “Unofficial.”
House M.D.: The Official Guide to the Hit Medical Drama
I read the “Official” guide first. There were several perks right off the bat. First of all, this book takes the average House fan through the ins and outs of filming the show. Numerous interviews with the cast, crew, and even a foreword by Hugh Laurie do a great job of setting up an insider look at the world’s most popular show. Information wise, this book gave me a lot including, but not limited to, things about the cast’s favorite food (cheesy eggs and Panda Express), that Olivia Wilde and Anne Dudek tried out for each other’s roles in the show, and that Lisa Edelstein has good taste in television (Mad Men, Big Love, True Blood).
Reading this book pulled me right into the process of making a show like House, which as anyone would guess, isn’t easy at all. The “Official” guide takes someone who is familiar with the show as an audience member and pulls them into conversations with David Shore, Katie Jacobs, and other important producers, writers, actors, and crew members. Chapters on casting guest actors for the show, costuming for each character, props, and the medicine of the show were enlightening to read as were interviews with each cast member regarding their characters, the relationships on the show, and sometimes their acting history.
There were some nice color photos in the middle of the book and scattered throughout the 316 page guide were interviews relative to chapters on set design, acting ability, and House’s state of mind throughout all six seasons. However, what the “Official” guide was missing was exactly what Barbara Barnett’s book brought to the table.
Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D.
When I first received Barnett’s book, my roommate assumed it was a textbook. Needless to say, it’s quite sizable. Barnett informed me that the book would have several features that her blog via blogcritics.org doesn’t have: an interview with a Holmes expert, a comprehensive episode guide, and her own take on our beloved Dr. House including a comparison to the Byronic clan of anti-heroes. Where the “Official” guide gave readers access to numerous interviews with actors, writers, and directors, Barnett’s did the same, but not with the same amount of access, but this was the trade off. Barnett’s access, while well above and beyond the average viewers, still functions as a fan-expert’s take on the show, hence the “unofficial” in the title.
In Barnett’s book, readers are brought in to an expert’s passionate view of the show and its characters. The “Unofficial” guide delves much more deeply into character, music, literary parallels, and House’s drug and pain battles. The largest part of the book, however, is the most comprehensive episode guide I may have ever seen. This part of the book can serve as a reference guide. What was that episode about the guy who was in Buffy or the one where the patient actually did have lupus? What about that one Huddy scene where they kissed under such dire circumstances? And why was that episode entitled “Both Sides Now”? It’s all there, but truly as I consider myself knowledgeable about most episodes, I would rather the large part of the book be more of Barnett’s ideas on character and relationships as I want to read more theories about each character’s vulnerabilities, than recaps of the episodes I know. The guide works when it delves deeply into the important episodes, which are all starred throughout the guide.
What I enjoyed about the “Unofficial” guide is that it showed House as more of a romantic character. When I talked to Barnett, we discussed how some fans view the show as turning too soap opera. We both agreed that House still has a lot of life left and that the show is, much like after the third season, resetting itself. I asked her if she thought it was masochistic to love such a generally depressing show. She laughed and talked about how there is beauty in such vulnerability and the only time to see such vulnerability is in his pain, although I’m sure with this upcoming season, we’ll be getting vulnerability through House giving himself fully to love via Cuddy. Anyone else getting excited?
These two books work to complement each other. The “Official” guide takes us inside the show giving us information that can’t be known by anyone that doesn’t operate on the series. Barnett’s “Unofficial” guide gives us more of a literary analysis of House and an episode guide that tells loyal viewers exactly what they need to know from each episode.
If you’re a House fan, make room on your shelf for both books. And while you’re at it, clear your calendar. September 20 at 8/7 central is taken.