When you get right down to it, the concept of books about books is a little weird. After all, if you'd read the book in question, what could you have possibly missed that required another book to explain to you?
Well, it turns out a lot. Sometimes you're dealing with a huge series that is so full of characters and details that the average person simply can't keep up with every little tidbit. Other times, you've got something so in-depth that even repeated reading will not reveal all the tiny Easter eggs hidden with the author's work. With those parameters in mind, we highly recommend the following companions for your bookshelf.
Most of us have read Anne Rice's acclaimed vampire books, and many of them still stand the test of time. Granted, that's because we didn't know how bad vampire books could get, but we still pick up Interview from time to time. Better than the vampires, though, is her trilogy following the lives of the Mayfair Witches.
Truth be told, you don't really need The Witches' Companion to fill in any mysteries surrounding the Mayfairs since Rice lays the whole thing out pretty clearly. The Companion does have one indispensable section, though. The Mayfair line is pretty damned inbred, and while people joke about their family tree being a stick, actually tracing out the bloodlines is a lot harder than you think. Until we picked up this book, just trying to gave us a splitting headache.
Kim Harrison's Hollows books are another paranormal mystery series, but they manage to capture the audience with some unforgettable characters like Jenks, whose swear words involving Tinkerbell's dildo were the focus of a previous article. It's good brain candy fun about witches, vampires, fairies and a planetwide fear of tomatoes.
The recently released Hollows Insider is amazing not only for the deeply forensic way in which it approaches its magical world, but also for the sheer readability of the book. We're given a whole new character to narrate the lexicon, a reporter who is obsessed with series protagonist Rachel Morgan after a misfired spell causes him to lose all his hair. The Insider is arranged like a file, complete with journal entries, newspaper clippings and other bits of random information that is gripping even if you haven't followed the Hollows books. It's unique on this list for being a fair piece of literature just on its own.
Neil Gaiman's Sandman changed comic books forever, and launched the career of one of the best writers currently in the game. The comic series is an existential journey into the heart of belief and change itself, and has won more awards than we even knew existed.
The Sandman Companion is like the Hollows Insider in its wonderful readability. There are a great many interviews throughout the book, and it reads like one long, incredibly in-depth Rolling Stone article. The sheer amount of mythology, both conventional and comic book, that Gaiman incorporated into the tale requires a lot of exposition, and now we finally know a word that means red and green at the same time.
The word is that J.K. Rowling is planning to eventually release her exhaustive notes on the Harry Potter series so that a real companion book can be put out; in the meantime, we're stuck with the online wiki. Why should the Harry Potter wiki get a place on the list when the legion of other wikis that cover book series don't?
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Mostly because Rowling has dropped tidbits of the characters' post-series lives in various interviews, Web chats and the like over the years and the wiki has exhaustively gathered them. The fates of almost every character are given at least a sentence or two straight from the author. In a weird way, the work on the wiki allows the story to never end.
Alan Moore's comic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen combines characters from across hundreds, maybe thousands, of literary, film, musical and television works and incorporates them into one, coherent adventure story. If you're not reading it, then you are missing out on the sum of centuries of pop culture working like a well-oiled machine.
Though Jess Nevins's series of annotated guides to the League are unofficial, he is a well-known expert on Victorian and pulp literature, and his painstaking panel-by-panel perusal offers insights into just how far Moore delved into his sources to put together his comic. Everything from major characters like Sherlock Holmes to obscure pornographic texts from the 19th century, and Nevin track down all of it. No League fan should be without this series.