With this week’s recent announcement that season 4 of GLOW—which would have been the show’s final season—was canceled, many fans were left devastated. Sure, there are other ways to watch women wrestle on TV, even during the social distancing era—but where are we going to get our explorations of female friendship and community? Our body diversity? Our thoughtful, nuanced explorations of identity? Our ‘80s music cues? It would take a lot of books to fill GLOW’s wrestling boots, but we’ve given it our best go with a variety of reading options covering different aspects you might miss about the show.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Into GLOW’s exploration of the ‘80s, intensely intimate friendship between women, and complicated artistic tensions? Swing Time tackles all of these topics with Smith’s exuberant and eloquent prose. The narrator and Tracey meet in a tap dancing class in 1982, London; as the only two mixed-race girls in the class, they stand out—and become fast friends. Smith traces how their life trajectories diverge from one another, asking questions about lineage, talent, and racial inequality. (And if you want more books set in the ‘80s, check out this list.)
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw
Filming the show provides a way for GLOW’s female characters to find a community, expressing sides of themselves they weren’t previously allowed to explore. (How dare they deny us more Sheila as Liza Minnelli!) In a similar vein, Philyaw’s debut collection of short stories explore the lives of churchgoing Black women. Whether eating brussels sprouts together or finding solace in a parking lot, Philyaw’s characters explore what it’s like to publicly follow the rules of the church whilebreaking them in private, discovering new truths about themselves.
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
Do you love the meta-framing of GLOW, the shooting of a show-within-a-show? Trust Exercise shows just how important narrative framing is, and asks similar questions about who gets to tell which story. Set at a performing arts high school, Choi’s novel begins with a passionate affair between two theater kids—but what starts out as a typical-seeming love story spirals out into anything but. Choi masterfully juggles topics like class, age gaps, friendship loyalties, and the idea of “fiction” itself.
Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
Our society tends to undersell friendship, usually placing romantic relationships or familial ties above being “just friends.” If you love how GLOW puts friendship (and the consequences of having a falling out, cough cough Debbie and Ruth) at the center of its narrative, try Sow and Friedman’s non-fiction book. The authors, co-creators of the podcast Call Your Girlfriend, talk frankly about what it means to have and sustain a “big friendship”—embracing both its messiness and gloriousness.
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
If you appreciate how GLOW tackles stereotypes, Interior Chinatown might offer a topsy-turvy lens into Hollywood stereotyping and racial microaggressions. Willis Wu, a self-identified “Generic Asian Man” who acts in bit roles for a never-ending cop show—the most Willis can hope for is to achieve the status of “Kung Fu Guy” (not unlike Jenny, reluctantly trapped in the role of Fortune Cookie). Structured as a screenplay itself, Interior Chinatown is a deft satire of the entertainment industry and stereotypes.
Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History and Rise of Women’s Wrestling by Pat Laprade and Dan Murphy
Are you one of those viewers that are super into the wrestling sequences? Have you sought out the original GLOW footage—and rewatched it many times? Take a deeper dive into wrestling with this thoroughly researched, detailed study on women’s wrestling. From the 1800s carnival circuits and to contemporary matches, the book tackles politics, big personalities, and the history of wrestling in the U.S. After this book, you’ll find yourself well-armed with information to beat anyone at wrestling trivia.
The Sea of Light by Jennifer Levin
If you’re interested in how GLOW explores queer sexuality in tandem with the intense physicality of wrestling, try Levin’s novel about competitive female swimmers. The Sea of Light focuses around three women, each driven to success: Brenna Allen the coach, swim captain Ellie Marks, and recruited athlete Mildred “Babe” Delgado. As a tentative community forms between the women, they must balance their desires with societal pressures.
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
Are you into the backstage escapades of the GLOW crew? Can’t get enough of the big ‘80s hairstyles? Big Yolanda/Arthie shipper? Jump even further back in history and amp up the glitter with Tipping the Velvet. Set in the 1890s, the book centers on the relationship between Nan King and Kitty Butler, a male impersonator performer. Although Nan begins as Kitty’s dresser, the two run away to London to begin a double-act. Gender performance, disreputable women, and self-discovery take center stage in Waters’s debut novel.