What’s on Hank and Marie Schrader’s bookshelf?


Last week, I thought I had finally found an aspect of “Breaking Bad” that no one else had delved into.

I should have known better. As into the series as I am, I knew that there were people out there who apparently have no lives whatsoever, and they’re always going to be several steps ahead of me.

But here’s my post on the subject anyway…

Volumes have been written (although probably not yet actually assembled into physical volumes) about the main characters, such as this one last week wondering if Hank Schrader was turning into Walt White. Or rather, into another Heisenberg.

But how do you really get to know somebody? Well, you go to his house, and you look at what he’s got on his bookshelf. (Or, if you’re Rob Fleming in “High Fidelity,” you look at his records, and then judge him unmercifully.)

Last week (the episode before last night’s, that is), we got a look at Hank’s and Marie’s bookshelf. Jesse Pinkman walked over and idly picked up a copy of Edmund Morris’ Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. I half-expected Jesse to remark on it, but he didn’t. (If he had, what would have had said, yo?)

Since Jesse said nothing about it, I froze the screen and looked at what else was there. A sampling:

  • They’re into Stephen King; I see four books by him.
  • There’s The Final Days, except it doesn’t look right. That WoodStein classic should be thicker, and have a white background rather than a maroon one. Turns out it’s actually this later book, which has the subtitle, “The Last, Desperate Abuses of Power by the Clinton White House.” Which gives us a different impression, but one more suited to what we know of Hank and Marie.
  • Western themes are amply represented — Horse Sense, The Body Language of Horses, Crazy Horse and Custer, The Indians’ Book, Black Range Tales, and so forth. We Easterners suppose Westerners spend their time thinking about such things. There’s also a DVD set of “Deadwood.”
  • Tom Clancy makes an obligatory appearance with Rainbow Six, which you would also find on my bookshelf. One of his lesser-known works, centering around John Clark rather than Jack Ryan, but the one that launched a family of first-person shooter games. Which, I like to speculate, is how Hank got into it. After all, the game was released before the book.
  • One is not surprised to find books based on, or collecting, works of Paul Harvey and Lewis Grizzard.
  • There are various business self-help books, including not one, but two copies of Who Moved My Cheese?
  • I’m intrigued by Citizen Lazlo, by Don Novello. (You know, Father Guido Sarducci.) I’m even more intrigued that Amazon says that people who viewed that also viewed Cold Mountain, which can also be found on Hank’s and Marie’s shelves. I don’t know what the connection might be.

Anything else jump out at y’all as revelatory?

I love details such as this. I’ve always thought I’d love to work in movies (or good television). I’m fascinated by the people who come up with these little obsessive details to put in the background, details that reveal character subtly, or which reflect an era accurately — when done right.


13 thoughts on “What’s on Hank and Marie Schrader’s bookshelf?

  1. Bryan Caskey

    I kind of liked “Crazy Rhythm” until I Googled it and saw that it’s a memoir of someone who was a confidant of Nixon. I was hoping that it was going to be an instructional dance book. I like the idea of Hank taking Salsa lessons because Marie nagged him about it forever.

  2. Bryan Caskey

    “Jesse Pinkman walked over and idly picked up a copy of Edmund Morris’ Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. I have-expected Jesse to remark on it, but he didn’t. (If he had, what would have had said, yo?)”

    I was expecting something along this line:
    JESSE: Hey, Ronald Reagan wasn’t Dutch! He was an American, yo.
    GOMEZ: (looks at Hank and rolls eyes)
    HANK: (aside to Gomez) Don’t worry. This is going to work out.

  3. Mark Stewart

    What’s revelatory is that the characters have bookshelves. What’s on them is probably 2/3rds about how the books and items are arranged. What the books are about is probably nothing beyond “get books that might appeal to Westerners to mix in with general interest ones”.

    Obsessing about someone else’s obsessive contemplation of the work of obsessive prop handlers says to me that once again I forgot to eat lunch today and I better go do that as my blood sugar is dropping just thinking about this stuff – or something like that.

    1. Doug Ross

      Reminds me of a question recently asked of author John Irving about the symbolism of bears in his novels. Many literary critics have spent many hours analyzing and expounding on what the bears mean.
      Irving’s response: “”Ah, well — bears. My readers who like them are possibly more interested in them than I am. … I honestly don’t feel that the bears in my novels “symbolize” anything. They are smart animals; if you see one, you have to give it your complete attention (or you should). ”

      Unless the show’s writer/producer say the books mean anything, they don’t mean anything except they fit the request made to the prop guy.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Once, an English prof at Memphis State was making some sort of point about symbolism in whatever we were reading at the time. I wasn’t persuaded by what she was saying.

        I interjected something about Beatles lyrics. She seized up that, thinking that’s how she could reach this long-haired kid, by being the cool teacher. She started expounding on the rich symbolism in such songs as “I Am the Walrus.”

        I shattered her bubble (or tried to, anyway) by pointing out that Lennon was in the habit of writing down little bits of wordplay on scraps of paper and tossing them into a drawer. One day, he pulled them out and strung them all together, and that was “I Am the Walrus.”

        That wasn’t very friendly of me, was it?

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        As for the Schrader’s books…

        I think they DO mean something. And I say that because I know that it’s in vogue to be that detail-oriented on the better TV dramas.

        The nephew of one of my wife’s best friends played a bit part in an episode of “Mad Men.” It was the one in which some young jerks at a rival ad agency were dropping water bombs out their window onto civil rights picketers. He was one of the young jerks.

        Anyway, he said that they were lectured about being extremely careful not to spill the water on anything, because the props were irreplaceable. Everything, including the paper clips in desk drawers, was original and real. I thought that was pretty cool. Obsessive, but cool.

        As for the books — I’m thinking that at the very least, the prop man (or woman) was told to pick books that Hank and Marie might have. I suspect at least a split-second’s thought went into each volume (“this? yes. this? no.”).

        Or maybe they just went to the home of somebody on staff who has tastes like Hank’s and Marie’s, and grabbed a few shelf-fuls.

        But I think some process went into it. Because nothing jumps out at me as, “They wouldn’t read THAT…”

        1. Mark Stewart

          Right. But it was still left to the interns and the prop wranglers to sort the shelf. Then some production designer “may” have walked by and removed this or that book – and probably rearranged for color, location, etc.

          But what’s on the shelf isn’t about adding to the storyline; it’s just about not looking silly with a wrong note. The bookcase itself appearing was the storyline propeller.

          As is often the case, the forest canopy has more meaning than any individual tree.

  4. Burl Burlingame

    The property master and art directors generally need approval from the episode director on such details.

    I too froze the bookshelf frame. When I’m in somebody else’s house I always check the bookshelves.

    But what about the Shrader’s use of purple as an accent color?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m not sure about some of these color theories, but I think the books are meaningful. I think the makers of this series go deeper than the obvious touches, such as the DEA cup from which Jesse is drinking — “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies… My cup runneth over.”


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