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What's making us happy: A guide to your weekend reading, listening and viewing

This week, NPR released its list of the best games of 2022 so far, quidditch rebranded itself as "quadball," and J. Lo is now Jennifer Lynn Affleck.

Here's what NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour crew was paying attention to — and what you should check out this weekend.

The Protagonist's Journey
/ Palgrave Macmillan
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Palgrave Macmillan

The Protagonist's Journey: An Introduction to Character-Driven Screenwriting and Storytelling

I don't think I can talk about Beyonce's "Break My Soul" anymore without getting mad, so I moved onto a book I'm enjoying called The Protagonist's Journey by Scott Myers. It's an introduction to screenwriting and storytelling led by character-driven narratives.

The book is very simple and easy to read, but it also provides a lot of thoughts, especially if you're in the middle of writing and get stuck. You can just flip through the pages and be given great ways to generate some new ideas.

Myers is an incredible writer who's worked in Hollywood for about 30 years, so to have all that knowledge in one book is very enjoyable. — Joelle Monique

Hurricane Season and Paradais

Fernanda Melchor
/ New Directions
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New Directions

I think one of my favorite feelings is to find an author that makes you excited about reading. There's this Mexican novelist, Fernanda Melchor, who has two books now that were recently released in English: Paradais and Hurricane Season. She's a bit of a heavy read, in the sense that she writes about ecosystems of desperation, misogyny, and poverty that result in terrible violence.

Her debut book, Hurricane Season, is the one I would most recommend. It centers around the murder of the local witch in this Mexican town (she's the kind of person you go to if you need your employer to fall down the steps, and you'd have to drink some kind of potion or something). Through the characters, the author creates different entry points that lead you to how the witch was killed and what resulted in her murder.

Melchor writes in these really long, William Faulkner-type sentences, the kind that can lead you across decades and in and out of physical and psychological spaces. She makes it feel as effortless as breathing, as she writes about all the different elements that can create this perfect storm of violence.

It's not an easy read. There are some passages in which I had to put the book down because it was just so disturbing and uncomfortable. But she's such a gifted writer, and I couldn't recommend it highly enough. It's really mesmerizing; it's one of those books that you'll be thinking about when you're not reading it. Paradais is a shorter and easier read, but it's just as harrowing. — Marc Rivers

A Strange Loop

Last week, I got a chance to go see a live theater show for the first time since the pandemic. I happened to find myself in New York City again, and I saw A Strange Loop. We've talked about it in other Pop Culture Happy Hour episodes on our Tony Awards season, and it is just as fantastic as everything I've heard and read about it says.

The musical is written by Michael R. Jackson, and it's about a black, fat, queer young man. His name is Usher, and he's an usher at various Broadway plays, including The Lion King, which is referenced many times in the show. He wants to make his own musical theater play, but he's also dealing with coming out to his parents, his parents not accepting him, and his parents wanting him to write a Tyler Perry play, because of the Lord.

The cast is also made up of Usher's six thoughts, six individual blocks played by six different actors, including "self-loathing" and "horny." If you find yourself in New York, you should absolutely try to go see the show. I've been listening to the soundtrack on loop (ha-ha) for the last week or so. I loved it, and I want to see it again. — Aisha Harris

More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter

by Linda Holmes

I have been listening to the audiobook of Patrick Radden Keefe's excellent collection Rogues, which brings together years of his longform reported stories about criminals and wrongdoing and generally bad behavior. You'll hear about government corruption, death penalty defense, El Chapo, and Mark Burnett. It's an excellent book, and his narration is exceptional. (Note: His publisher shares a parent company, Penguin Random House, with mine.)

You've probably already seen Emmanuel the emu, right? Staring into the camera getting ready to peck it senseless while his best friend tells him, "Emmanuel, don't do it?" Well, make sure you're following the account, Knuckle Bump Farms, because it's a lot of fun.

It sounds kind of depressing, but the series Dan Kois is running over at Slate on the 50 Best Fictional Deaths is really interesting and covers a lot of ground. Good stuff.


NPR's Maison Tran adapted the Pop Culture Happy Hour segment "What's Making Us Happy" into a digital page. If you like these suggestions, consider signing up for our newsletter to get recommendations every week. And listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.
Aisha Harris
Aisha Harris is a host of Pop Culture Happy Hour.
Joelle Monique
Marc Rivers
Maison Tran