And the Oscar Goes to…

The 89th annual Academy Awards are this Sunday and it should be an interesting night considering the current political climate and the range of nominees in each category. However, as Richard Brody wrote in an Oscar predictions piece in the New Yorker this week, most of the relevant statements have already been made, but maybe it will be still be a good show.

With that, here’s an Oscar-inspired book list for your entertainment, before, after, or even during the Oscars. Fortunately, this year’s slate of Best Picture nominees provides an excellent range of genres to choose from.

Hello, Goodbye, Hello: a circle of 101 remarkable meetings, by Craig Brown: In the spirit of La La Land, here’s a book that celebrates chance encounters. Each chapter describes a brief entanglement, conversation, or meeting between two famous figures. Each encounter is linked to the next by one of the two famous people. Marilyn Monroe meets Kruschev, Elvis Presley meets Paul McCartney, Oscar Wilde meets Marcel Proust, Michael Jackson meets Nancy Regan who meets Andy Warhol and so on. But the names are only the beginning – the circumstances of each encounter are the real story.
The Story of Your Life/ Arrival by Ted Chiang: Arrival, starring Amy Adams, is based on a short story called The Story of Your Life by Chinese author Ted Chiang. Re-released under the movie’s title, it’s been considered a brilliant work to science fiction fans since its debut in the late 90s, celebrated for its minimalist, precise writing, as it explores the way language alters perception.
August Wilson/ Lorraine Hansberry/ Arthur Miller. Read August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences, written in 1983, but also read A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, a remarkable play, written in 1959, about the black experience in the forties and fifties. Also try Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, similarly about a working class man trying to square his experience and existence with the world he thought he knew.
Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz: Like Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, Diaz’s brilliant mesmerizing novel tells a deeply affecting tale of a marginalized young boy, whose family life is less than perfect, and whose surrogate family relationships ultimately lead him to love and some sense of acceptance. The novel’s most brilliant features are the way the rhythm of the language, at first almost indecipherable, soon begins to overtake the reader, and the allusions to myth and culture.
The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman: Like the emotionally wrenching Manchester by the Sea, The Light Between Oceans features characters caught in dilemmas larger than they are equipped to handle, struggles that smash their quiet existences. Stedman’s novel is set in the years after WWII, where a young man and his wife tend to a light house on an island off the shore of Perth, Australia. One day, a baby washes ashore, and the couple begin to raise it as their own, fatefully forgetting to question the baby’s origins for the sake of finally having a child.
The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick DeWitt: While the Sisters Brothers may be a more historical approach as opposed to Hell or High Water’s modern heist, in both we get brothers in a western setting doing bad things. The Sisters Brothers, Charlie and Eli, are hired as assassins to murder an ingenious prospector who has developed a formula for detecting gold under the ground’s surface. However, the brothers’s focus shifts once they are in the midst of the California Gold Rush. The Sisters Brothers will be its own movie in 2018.
Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly: Though there were some mildly controversial changes made in the nominated movie of the same name, the story is totally inspiring in print and on film. The author grew up in Langley, VA, where her Dad was employed in the defense industry. She said she never really thought about the number of women she saw from all different backgrounds until she started working on the book, but soon realized their amazing accomplishments. Also try The Girls of Atomic City for the story of another historically significant group of women.
A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley / Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid: The film Lion is based on a true story, related in the memoir A Long Way Home. Another title to try is the Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, a riveting tale of a Pakistani immigrant reconnecting with his home country. Though a more difficult tale than Lion, they both describe the challenges in reconnecting with one’s identity, and the social and cultural differences and difficulties experienced in other parts of the world.