There’s a lot to love about pop culture, but not everyone can get every reference. Sometimes you need an actual reference book—or a memoir, an essay collection, an oral history, or something written by an expert. These nerdy nonfiction books are perfect for brushing up on all the incredibly niche parts of the science-fiction/fantasy world that you might not know much about... yet.
The Princess Diarist
Carrie Fisher’s memoir is a must-read for Star Wars fans and anyone who admired Fisher throughout her career. Compiled from the journals she kept on-set during her time filming in the ‘70s and ‘80s, this biting tell-all is an incredible look into what was really going through Fisher’s head during her meteoric rise to stardom.
Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master
This slim graphic novel is an insightful biography into the genesis of video games as we know them. Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master starts with Pong and goes all the way up to the White House, and explores the fierce competition between Atari founder Nolan Bushnell and Ralph Baer, the grandfather of the video game format.
The Fan Fiction Studies Reader
A collection of essays on some of the nerdiest topics in nerd-dom, The Fan Fiction Studies Reader is one of my personal favorites, collecting some of the formative canon writings on fan studies. It features essays from fandom luminaries Harry Jenkins and Francesca Coppa as well as other fan studies academics. It’s a bit of a heavy read, but I love it.
Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now
Full of infographics, nostalgia, and wonderfully vivid illustrations, Rise is an incredible account of the way that Asian-Americans have influenced pop culture.
The Art and Business of Acting for Video Games
From voice and casting director Julia Bianco Schoeffling comes a practical guide on how to break into the voice-acting industry. It breaks down the parts of a casting call and demystifies the process, offering tips on how to prepare for an audition, acting exercises, and more.
Slaying the Dragon
Ben Riggs’ Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons explores the genesis of the tabletop role-playing game, as well as Gary Gygax’s struggles within TSR, the original D&D company.
Broken Places & Outer Spaces: Finding Creativity in the Unexpected
Part memoir and part creative manifesto, Nnedi Okorafor’s Broken Places & Outer Spaces examines both her own drive to become a writer and how other artists pushed past their perceived boundaries in order to create works of art. This is a short read based on a TED talk that Okorafor gave, and is a really nice pick me up if you’re ever feeling down about your work.
You’ve Been Played
Game designer Adrian Hon delivers part searing social indictment and part psychological deep-dive in You’ve Been Played, a book about the gamification of our everyday. It’s a fascinating, if at times rather dire, read.
Escape Into Meaning
Escape Into Meaning is a book about finding what matters in your obsessions.
Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan
Jiro Kurwata’s Bat-Manga was a serialized, officially licensed Batman comic series published in Shonen King in the ‘60s and ‘70s. This translated collected series explains the history of the spinoff and showcases a unique take on Batman and Robin.
Cosplay: A History
Andrew Liptak, a pop culture journalist, io9 alumnus, and a member of the well-known cosplay/charity group 501st Legion goes in deep on the history of cosplay and what helped facilitate its rise in popularity.
Black Nerd Problems
A little bit autobiographical memoir and full of essays that challenge the narrative, Black Nerd Problems is a funny and insightful look at pop culture through a Black lens.
Fight, Magic, Items
Aidan Moher’s book explores the history of Japanese role-playing video games, exploring the technical challenges, narrative decisions, and creative rivalries that spurned the meteoric rise of the genre in America and Europe.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman
Historian Jill Lepore turns her pen on William Moulton Marston, the original creator of Wonder Woman, who had a non-traditional relationship with two women and had deep roots to the suffragette movement. This is an exacting, detailed look at the character, as well as a creator who inspired generations.
The Dark Fantastic
The Dark Fantastic dives into the live of four Black characters from across popular pieces of media and analyzes their arcs, interpretations, and fan reception, creating a portrait of popular culture as seen through the eyes of Black fans and Black characters.
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