You're Planning Your Annual Viewing of Groundhog Day, Part 2
Want a 24-karat read or consumed a ton of Sundance Festival news
I hope you had a great weekend. My dog Ellie and I went to see our friends at East City Bookshop. We both walked away happy — I got new books, and she got a treat.
Last week was a rough for book lovers, as cases of book banning popped up across the country. A Tennessee school board voted unanimously to ban Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning graphic memoir about his parents’ lives as Holocaust survivors. A mayor in Mississippi is threatening to withhold library funds until books with LGBT themes are removed from shelves. In Missouri, a school board voted to pull Toni Morrison’s classic The Bluest Eye from shelves.
I’ve long believed the best way to fight these misguided efforts is to read banned books, so I do. And I’m challenging you to do the same. My previous banned book recommendations include The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. Share your favorites in the comments.
Now, what to read if…
You Celebrate Groundhog Day with a Viewing of the Bill Murray Classic
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren
I made a book recommendation celebrating the 1993 film “Groundhog Day,” last year, and given the movie’s subject matter, it seemed appropriate to do so again this year. For the uninitiated, the film stars Bill Murray as a grumpy weatherman stuck reliving the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania again and again.
In a Holidaze features a similar time loop device, but set at Christmas instead of on February 2, making it a cross between “Groundhog Day” and a Hallmark holiday movie. Mae Jones wakes up on December 26 panicked. The night before, after one too many glasses of spiked eggnog, she kissed the brother of the man she’s been in love since she was a child. On top of that, family friends unexpectedly announced they’re selling the Park City cabin where Mae and her loved ones have spent Christmas for years. Then, as Mae, her parents, and brother drive to the airport, they’re hit by an oncoming car. As she regains consciousness, she’s not on the road next to broken glass but on the plane to Utah on December 20. Blessed with a do-over, Mae sets out to use the chance to build a life that will make her happy.
In a Holidaze is a charming, fun read, with a cast of loveable characters and a cozy cabin setting. Duo Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, who write under the pen name Christina Lauren, infuse the book with their characteristic warmth and humor. I read it in a single day after Christmas, lounging in my pajamas and wishing all the best for Mae.
Reminder rec: Last year’s “Groundhog Day” book was 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, which applies a time loop to a classic English house party murder mystery.
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You’re Looking for a “Sparkling” Read
Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian
I listened to Gold Diggers in mid-December and have been dying to highlight it since then. I’ve decided I just can’t wait any longer.
As the book opens in W. Bush-era Atlanta, our narrator Neil Narayan, the son of immigrants from India, is floundering a bit. He struggles to meet the high expectations of his parents and their Asian American community. All that changes, though, when he discovers his childhood friend Anita is drinking an alchemical concoction, nicknamed “lemonade”, made of gold stolen from their friends and neighbors. The pinched gold imbues the drinker with the ambition of its original owner and Neil begins to partake as well. Suddenly, he’s at the top of his class until a tragedy strikes, and the pair abruptly give up the gold and separate. Flash forward a decade or so, Neil and Anita are suddenly reunited and consider mixing up a new batch of “lemonade.”
Gold Diggers is a magical realist Little Fires Everywhere — a clever, funny coming-of-age story with a golden twist. As someone who attended a suburban high school in the mid-2000s, I can say Sanjena Sathian nails the experience, and I appreciate the book’s satire of the model minority myth. Gold Diggers would be an excellent pick for a book club looking for a robust discussion or for a solo reader looking for something to sink their teeth into.
You Wish You Were on the Sundance Jury
A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer
The Sundance Film Festival was held virtually last week, with “Nanny,” a horror film about a Senegalese immigrant working for a wealthy New York family, winning top honors. Reading coverage of the film festival, I was reminded of A Kim Jong-Il Production, a 2015 book about the former North Korean dictator’s attempt to shore up his country’s film industry by kidnapping the first couple of South Korean cinema.
Kim Jong-Il was a cinephile, the only person in the totalitarian country allowed to view Western films (he particularly loved James Bond). Before becoming North Korea’s leader, Kim ran the country’s propaganda film studio and was consistently dismayed by the low quality of movies. His remedy was to kidnap Choi Eun-Hee, South Korea’s most famous actress, and her ex-husband, Shin Sang-Ok, a star director. For years, the pair was held captive in North Korea, forced to make movies exalting “The Fearless Leader,” as they plotted — and ultimately executed — their escape. In between chronicling this outrageous tale, Paul Fischer documents the history of North Korea between 1950 and Kim’s death.
Fans of film, world history and anyone who loves a “how is this true” story will find a lot to like about A Kim Jong-Il Production. It’s a well-researched, entertaining tale — complete with a car chase worthy of James Bond — that gives a peek into a country completely closed to the world.
Thanks for reading! I have a few programming notes:
Thanks to the nearly 50 (!) people who signed up for the paperback swap. If you’d like to send and receive a used book this month, you can register here. Sign-ups end Friday, February 4th.
I want to extend a quick welcome to everyone who found this newsletter last week through Substack’s feature on What To Read If and my Q&A with the wonderful Valorie Clark. I send three recommendations every Monday and Q&As every other Thursday. I’m so happy you’re here.
This week, I’m happy to share a guest recommendation from Laura Sackton. She writes Books and Bakes, a weekly newsletter that includes three book suggestions and a recipe for a treat. Laura recommended Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body by Megan Milks.
“This queer coming-of-age novel breaks every rule of genre, and every rule of girlhood, and every rule ever made about how stories are supposed to be told. It's dizzying and surprising, often disturbing and always weird, stacked with so many messy truths about bodies and friendship and family and gender, about what it means to be a girl — or not. I haven't been able to get it out of my heart and brain since I read it, and I plan to go on shouting about it forever.”
What to Read If is a free weekly book recommendation newsletter. Need a rec? Want to gush about a book? Reply to this email, leave a comment or find me on Twitter @elizabethheld.
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I just read New Kid by Jerry Craft after hearing a This American Life episode about the book being banned by a school district after parent complaints. This young (8-12 yr olds) YA graphic novel is funny, sweet, interesting, and should not be banned. Highly recommend and glad that my local library is keeping it circulated.
Was so happy to have you! Also, I've had Gold Diggers sitting on my bedside table for nearly a year--this bumped it up to the top of the pile!