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

This week, we fell in love with movie trailers, watched a movie about an eco-heist, and coined the term "podia-pic."

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

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

/ Penguin Random House
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Penguin Random House

I just finished Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld, and I enjoyed this novel so much. It is a fun, breezy read. I was in a complete reading slump, and this took me out of it, so shout out for that. This novel is about a woman who is a writer for a show that is essentially Saturday Night Live, down to a kind of sphinx-like Lorne Michaels type. Sparks fly between this comedy writer and that week's celebrity guest host, who's a male pop star.

Curtis Sittenfeld, honestly, is such a pro, I love her novels. The writing in this book has a pretty high level of difficulty because the main character is a comedy writer, so she has to be funny. Her conversations with her friends and co-workers on the show have to be funny. There's scenes where they're pitching sketches and they're punching up each other's jokes, and it's all actually funny in a way that if it hadn't worked, the novel would have been completely unreadable. But it actually made me laugh out loud.

The other thing is this book, part of it is set during the early part of the pandemic. There's a whole epistolary section in the middle where they're trading emails during lockdown, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to revisit 2020 so soon through a novel or through any art, to be honest. But it worked. I think she pulled it off. There's lots of laugh out loud moments and swoony moments. I finished this book in like three sittings and then immediately lent it to a friend, so I really recommend it.

- Wailin Wong

Tess Monaghan series by Laura Lippman

/ HarperCollins
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HarperCollins

What is making me happy is the Tess Monaghan series by Laura Lippman. It's a 25-year-old P.I. series, which I randomly discovered because I was logged into my digital library account through Howard County, and I was like, what's available now? I don't want to wait, and I also don't want to travel to the library that's a mile away. What can I check out right now on my phone? And it was one of the Tess Monaghan books.

I am really enjoying the series, I'm flying through them. They basically are self-contained. There's like a case per book. It's set in Baltimore, which is where I worked for eight and a half years, so it's nice to read places that I recognize, and I'm just really enjoying the flow of the writing. The character Tess is a very no nonsense P.I., used to be a journalist, so it's hitting a lot of those sort of digestible, fun, tense boxes that I enjoy when I'm into this genre. And again, I can just check it out on my phone. I can never get over the convenience of the modern library. So that's what's making me happy.

- Roxana Hadadi

/ Penguin Random House
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Penguin Random House

I want to shout out a really great graphic novel for kids that I read recently. It's called Grace Needs Space by Benjamin A. Wilgus and Rii Abrego. It is set in this kind of sci-fi world where humans have colonized other planets. Grace, the titular kid, goes on a space road trip with her mom. Lots of kid feelings ensue. And I think the coolest part about this book is that there's a lot of actual science baked into it. So they do talk a lot about how space travel works and how humans, you know, might live in space one day. So if you've got a kid who's into NASA or engineering, this would be a great read for them.

- Jordan Morris

WTF with Marc Maron

/ Spotify
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Spotify

We did a show about the Netflix series Beef earlier this week, and you know, you're going to hear it from me last. Beef is good. Go watch Beef. But Marc Maron had one of the stars, Steven Yeun, on his podcast, WTF. Maron is not a consistent interviewer, put it that way. But when he and the guest get each other in a real way, not in just a "your guys" kind of way, they can really go some interesting places. Yeun is really smart about what he's doing and why he's doing it. They get into representation and specificity in fiction and who that is for, which is a really chewy topic, and they make a meal out of it. I took notes! Not something I normally do on a podcast.

- Glen Weldon

More recommendations from the Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter

by Linda Holmes

I've been watching the YouTube series Every Frame a Painting, which is about film technique and visual language, and I strongly recommend it to you if you've never seen it.

The podcast Bullseye reran my interview with Sarah Snook (who plays Shiv on Succession) this week. I loved talking to her, and she has an amazing laugh that you don't really hear when she plays Shiv.

Writer Sara Schaefer, who's written for TV and lots of other things, made an amazing video that lays out some of the arguments her guild is making as they vote on a possible strike authorization, and while she was at it, she showed her process in making a miniature model of a writers' room. It's a great watch.

Maris Kreizman's podcast, The Maris Review, which features thoughtful author interviews, reached its 200th episode this week. I recommend it, even the episodes other than mine. Which, not to brag, was all the way back at Episode 12, so I am a Maris Review hipster.


NPR's Tilda Wilson 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 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Wailin Wong
Wailin Wong is a long-time business and economics journalist who's reported from a Chilean mountaintop, an embalming fluid factory and lots of places in between. She is a host of The Indicator from Planet Money. Previously, she launched and co-hosted two branded podcasts for a software company and covered tech and startups for the Chicago Tribune. Wailin started her career as a correspondent for Dow Jones Newswires in Buenos Aires. In her spare time, she plays violin in one of the oldest community orchestras in the U.S.
Roxana Hadadi
Jordan Morris
Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.
Tilda Wilson