A Literary Guide to the Oscars

A Literary Guide to the Oscars

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With the Oscars coming up on Sunday, you may be revisiting films that are up for awards this year. Some, like “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “Black Panther,” were adapted from books, while others, like “Roma” and “Capernaum,” may encourage you to learn more about their subject and time period. We’ve rounded up a reading list inspired by some of 2018’s biggest films.

Spike Lee’s movie — about a black police officer, Ron Stallworth, who infiltrates his local Ku Klux Klan chapter in the 1970s — is adapted from Stallworth’s memoir. BLACK KLANSMAN” (Flatiron) details the detective’s investigation and efforts to derail the organization, even managing to befriend David Duke.

Linda Gordon’s “THE SECOND COMING OF THE KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition” (Norton) is a sobering account of the group’s history and role in society. The KKK exercised huge influence over local politics and everyday life, to a jaw-dropping degree; our reviewer said the book “should be required reading.”

For a novel that deals with many of the movie’s central themes, check out Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut, “WE CAST A SHADOW” (One World). Set in the future, in a deeply racist American South, the story’s narrator is a black lawyer who goes to extraordinary lengths to protect his biracial son from experiencing racism. Our reviewer said the book “asks some of the most important questions fiction can ask, and it does so with energetic and acrobatic prose, hilarious wordplay and great heart.”

If you’d like to spend more time in Wakanda, the universe of “Black Panther,” check out Ta-Nehisi Coates’s reprisal of the comic, illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze. In their first volume, “A NATION UNDER OUR FEET” (Marvel), a superhuman terrorist group is rattling the nation, and the leader T’Challa must lead the country through the uprising and help determine its future.

For another fantastical, sprawling story set in Africa, look to Marlon James’s new novel, BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF (Riverhead), the first of an expected trilogy that’s been compared to “Game of Thrones.”

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s epic novel, KINTU” (Transit Books) is set in present-day Uganda, and follows one family’s efforts to evade a curse that’s followed them for generations.

[ See our full list of reading recommendations for this movie. ]

Nadine Labaki’s movie, the latest Lebanese film to be nominated for an Oscar, follows a young refugee, Zain, and the horrors he faces, from cutthroat traffickers to the realities of being stateless.

The refugee crisis in Lebanon dates back decades, the result of longtime instability in the region. For an overview of the Middle East’s political and cultural upheavals, consider “HOUSE OF STONE: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Anthony Shadid, a former Middle East correspondent for The Times. Shadid, who died in 2012 on assignment, was of Lebanese descent. His book examines the long-lasting effects of the region’s convulsions.

Wendy Pearlman’s WE CROSSED A BRIDGE AND IT TREMBLED: Voices From Syria” (Custom House) brings together accounts from refugees scattered across the Middle East and Europe, showing the extraordinary heroism of ordinary people.

In her highly personal graphic novel “BADDAWI” (Just World Books), Leila Abdelrazaq explores the childhood of her father, who grew up in a Lebanese refugee camp in the 1970s.

This film isn’t particularly kind to Queen Anne, the feckless monarch at its core, but history hasn’t been, either. In QUEEN ANNE: The Politics of Passion” (Knopf), the historian Anne Somerset tries to defend the monarch.

Ophelia Field’s biography, “SARAH CHURCHILL: Duchess of Marlborough: The Queen’s Favourite” (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), delves into the life and times of the queen’s longtime companion, a politically savvy, controlling woman who, in a moment of desperation, sought to blackmail the queen and out her as a lesbian.

Skipping ahead to the Victorian era, Sarah Waters’s lush novel TIPPING THE VELVET (Riverhead) explores an illicit romance between two women with sensitivity and verve.

Barry Jenkins’ film is based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, and follows a young couple in 1970s New York whose lives are thrown into chaos when the man is wrongly imprisoned.

If you’d like to explore more by Baldwin, consider his debut novel, GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN,” the loosely autobiographical story of a man growing up in Harlem in the 1930s.

For a more contemporary story, there’s AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE” (Algonquin) by Tayari Jones, which follows a young African-American couple “on the come-up” whose lives are upended after the husband is convicted of a rape he didn’t commit.

To understand the devastating effects of the mass incarceration of black men, look to James Forman Jr.’s LOCKING UP OUR OWN: Crime and Punishment in Black America” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). His book shows the role of black mayors, judges and police chiefs, taking office amid a surge in crime and drug addiction, in putting in place measures that would prove devastating for poor black neighborhoods.

[ See our full list of reading recommendations for this movie. ]

In their novel “THE NANNY DIARIES” (St. Martin’s Griffin), Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus — both former nannies themselves — include plenty of hilarious details in their story of child care among wealthy Manhattanites.

Don’t let the title of Leila Slimani’s novel deceive you: THE PERFECT NANNY” (Penguin) is a chilling psychological thriller ripped right from the headlines, with a family’s caretaker who snaps and kills the children. The book was named one of The Times’s 10 Best Books of 2018.

The author P. L. Travers wrote six Mary Poppins books, but was an intensely private woman. Valerie Lawson was determined to tell the author’s story in “MARY POPPINS SHE WROTE: The Life of P. L. Travers” (Simon & Schuster), which serves as an intrepid guide to a surprisingly difficult topic: Travers fascinating, though confusing, personal life.

[ See our full list of reading recommendations for this movie. ]

In “Roma,” Alfonso Cuáron sets out to capture the Mexico City of his childhood, following a family and their beloved nanny during a turbulent political moment.

For a thorough account of the city’s — and Mexico’s — history, look to “LA CAPITAL: The Biography of Mexico City” (Random House) by Jonathan Kandell, a veteran journalist in Latin America.

No guide to books set in Mexico City should overlook Roberto Bolaño’s novels. One of his best-loved works, “THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), unfolds largely in the 1970s, following a young poet and a group of literary guerrillas.

In Mexico and elsewhere, there’s a growing movement for authors to write in indigenous languages — including Zapotec, which Cleo, the film’s central character, and the family’s maid speak. For an introduction, look to Natalia Toledo’s poetry collection “THE BLACK FLOWER AND OTHER ZAPOTEC POEMS” (Phoneme Media).

Adam McKay’s movie foregrounds Dick Cheney’s role in America’s military campaigns during President George W. Bush’s tenure. For a deeper look, check out James Mann’s RISE OF THE VULCANS: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet” (Viking), which focuses on Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and others, with an eye to how the Vietnam War shaped their strategies and interventions.

President Bush wrote a campaign memoir, A CHARGE TO KEEP” (William Morrow) before he was elected, that offered hints about what his presidency might look like.

Thomas Mallon’s latest book, “LANDFALL” (Pantheon), is a blackly comic novel set during George W. Bush’s administration, and shows off a side of the president that no one knows.

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