Wednesday brought exciting news for any Anchorman fans looking for extra tips on staying classy: Later this year, Random House will publish Let Me Off at the Top!, an "autobiography" by famous — and fictional — newsman Ron Burgundy. In a press release, the character — played by Will Ferrell in 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and an upcoming sequel — promises that the book will offer "a rare glimpse behind the camera into the real life of a man many consider to be the greatest living news anchor."
We know, we know — the idea of a fictional character writing an actual book sounds ridiculous. But Ron Burgundy's Let Me off at the Top! is just the latest in a long and surprisingly robust tradition of real-life novels, memoirs, and how-to books being attributed to fictional characters. What other fictional authors could Burgundy count among his peers? Here, a guide:
1. Fringe: September's Notebook, by "September" (Fringe)
Fox's cultishly beloved sci-fi drama Fringe aired its series finale in January, but just a few months later, fans got one last treat: September's Notebook, an exhaustive tome purportedly written by one of the show's mysterious "Observers." Publisher Insight Editions, who worked on the book for more than a year, say that the book offers "September's handwritten observations, covert photographs, personal sketches, and musings" on the events of the show's five seasons (while quietly acknowledging that those so-called "handwritten observations" were actually written on a computer by authors Tara Bennett and Paul Terry).
2. Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America, by Leslie Knope (Parks & Recreation)
Anyone who's watched NBC's Parks & Recreation knows how passionate protagonist Leslie Knope is about Pawnee, the small (and tragically fictional) Indiana town she calls home. For the show's fourth season, the show's producers took her obsession into the real world by teaming up with Hyperion to release Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America, an exhaustive town guide "written, compiled, researched, typed, collated, proofread, and run through spell check" by Knope. In an impressive feat of synergy, the book actually appeared in an episode, as Knope attempted to convince a local talk show host to give Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America the Pawnee equivalent of an Oprah's Book Club sticker.
3. Heat Wave, Naked Heat, Heat Rises, and Frozen Heat, by Richard Castle (Castle)
ABC's police procedural Castle stars Nathan Fillion as the titular mystery writer, who tags along with police detective Kate Beckett as inspiration for his novels. But Castle is the rare fictional writer to be credited with some genuine bestsellers: When his first book, Heat Wave, was actually published, it peaked at number six on The New York Times Best Seller list. Heat Wave proved successful enough that it spawned a full-blown series of "Richard Castle" mysteries; three more have since been published, with a fourth, Deadly Heat, due out in September. Through it all, the publisher's commitment to verisimilitude has been impressive: No one knows who actually writes the "Richard Castle" books, and there's nothing on Castle's author page on Amazon that betrays his small-screen origins.
4. God Hates Us All, by Hank Moody (Californication)
Castle isn't the only show to see a fictional writer launch a real-life career. Hank Moody, the mercurial author played by David Duchovny on Showtime's Californication, is best known for writing a book titled God Hates Us All — and several years after the show premiered, God Hates Us All popped up on actual store shelves. Though credited to Hank Moody, the tawdry mess of a novel was eventually revealed to have been written by former professional poker player (and current ghostwriter) Jonathan Grotenstein.
5. Charm!, by Kendall Hart (All My Children)
In an attempt to get loyal soap opera viewers racing to their local bookstore, All My Children character Kendall Hart wrote Charm! — a novel that doubled as a thinly-veiled attack on her enemies in the show — which Hyperion actually published in 2008. Reviewers were surprisingly kind — but in the end, the novel made a much bigger splash in the All My Children universe than it did in the real world.
6. Sterling's Gold: Wit and Wisdom of an Ad Man, by Roger Sterling (Mad Men)
A central storyline in Mad Men's fourth season followed John Slattery's Roger Sterling as he penned and published a slim, self-indulgent memoir. But the book's real-world publication turned out to be even more of a disappointment; while superficially resembling the book in the series, the Sterling's Gold that hit actual store shelves was a mere compilation of the character's quotes from the AMC series.
7. The Playbook, The Bro Code, Bro on the Go, and Bro Code for Parents: What to Expect When You're Awesome, by Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother)
Barney Stinson, the breakout character played by Neil Patrick Harris on CBS's How I Met Your Mother, is the author of several bro-centric lifestyle guides in the series. But the real-life publication of books like The Playbook and The Bro Code, which formed the basis for plot points in How I Met Your Mother, have spun the character into an unlikely second career as the "author" of books never mentioned on the series, including the recent Bro Code for Parents. But never let it be said that Barney won't share the wealth; though Stinson is still the ostensible writer, more recent books have been co-credited to How I Met Your Mother staff writer Matt Kuhn.
8. 24: The Official CTU Operations Manual (24)
Think you could be the next Jack Bauer? Though it's not credited to an official writer, The Official CTU Operations Manual purports to be an essential how-to guide for working at the Counter-Terrorism Unit at the center of Fox's action drama 24. (No word on whether it explains when you're supposed to go to the bathroom).
9. The Sopranos Family Cookbook: As Compiled by Artie Bucco and Entertaining with The Sopranos by Carmela Soprano (The Sopranos)
Tony Soprano and the rest of his mob crew aren't the most authorial of men, so HBO and Grand Central Publishing got a little more creative with their officially licensed Sopranos tie-ins. In the bestselling Sopranos Family Cookbook, supporting character and restaurateur Artie Bucco shares the recipes behind many of the popular dishes at his in-show restaurant, Vesuvio; in Entertaining with the Sopranos, family matriarch Carmela shares Tony-approved recipes and tips for hosting large family parties.
10. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by Newt Scamander and Quidditch Through the Ages, by Kennilworthy Whisp (Harry Potter)
In an effort to raise money for U.K. charity Comic Relief, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling published two spinoff books used by Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the main series: Newt Scamander's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Kennilworthy Whisp's and Quidditch Through the Ages (a history and rulebook of the wizard sport repeatedly described in the series). Slight as they are, the Hogwarts "textbooks" have proven enormously successful; according to Comic Relief, combined sales of the books have netted the charity more than $25 million.
11. Bart Simpson's Guide to Life, by Bart Simpson (The Simpsons)
When Fox's animated sitcom The Simpsons was at the height of its merchandizing empire, HarperCollins released a self-help book packed with advice on everything from dealing with parents to getting through the school day. But compared to a slew of lazy cash-ins like T-shirts and video games, Bart Simpson's Guide to Life was surprisingly effective; though it was first published in 1993, it remains in print today.
12. The Autobiography of Special F.B.I. Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes and The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (Twin Peaks)
In the midst of America's brief obsession with discovering who killed Laura Palmer, several books were published attempting to cash in on Twin Peaks, including two purportedly written by the show's characters: An autobiography of the show's protagonist, Dale Cooper, and the secret diary of murder victim Laura Palmer, which featured prominently in the mystery. Though Twin Peaks later provided further details that contradicted the narratives of both novels, both books are surprisingly engrossing reads that remain popular with fans; The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer even earned a reprint by Gallery Books in 2011.
13. The Book of Bond, or Every Man His Own 007, by Lt.-Col. William "Bill" Tanner (James Bond)
Think all these books "written" by fictional characters signal the decline of the publishing industry? Don't take it too hard — it's been happening for decades. For one example, see The Book of Bond, or Every Man His Own 007. Designed to capitalize on the popularity of both Ian Fleming's books and the Sean Connery-starring films, The Book of Bond is a kind of how-to book for being a Double-0 Agent, purportedly written from the perspective of M's Chief of Staff Bill Tanner — but actually written by none other than Kingsley Amis, who is widely regarded as one of the great British writers of the past century. Maybe there's hope for all these fictional characters after all.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- Why does Fareed Zakaria still have a job?
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Save the world... by changing how you pee
- 4 simple steaks you can cook in a pan
- Does solar energy have a battery problem?
- 7 common estate-planning mistakes
Subscribe to the Week