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What's making us happy: A guide for your weekend watching, listening and reading

Snail Mail's sophomore album is called <em>Valentine.</em>
Tina Tyrell
Courtesy of the artist
Snail Mail's sophomore album is called Valentine.

This week, Baby Yoda flew above the streets of New York at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Ridley Scott's House of Gucci made its debut and the Grammy nominations were announced. Here's what NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour crew was paying attention to — and what you should check out this weekend.

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

<em>Piranesi,</em> by Susanna Clarke
/ Bloomsbury Publishing
Bloomsbury Publishing
Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

I loved Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, both the 2004 novel and the 2015 BBC adaptation. But somehow I never got around to her 2020 novel, Piranesi, which is about a credulous young man who lives in a massive house made up of vast halls and vestibules that are lined with statues. For all he knows, the house is the entire world. He's lived there for as long as he can remember, which isn't very long.

It is such a dreamlike setting that at first you almost wonder if it's going to work as a narrative or if it's going to do more Murakami dream logic stuff, which really isn't my bag. But then he starts interacting with someone else who lives in the house, and we, the readers, start to intuit a lot of things about what's going on. The mystery of it starts to give way to something more concrete and more dark. The book, and the audiobook version, read by Chiwetel Ejiofor, cast a spell. It might not work for listening around the house, so save it for a long trip. It's only four hours long. — Glen Weldon

The Fergamerican National Anthem: A Civic Story by Rob Anderson

Picture this. It's 2018. You're watching the NBA All-Star Game and then this happens. Fergie performed an infamous rendition of the national anthem that year.

The reason I bring it up again is because YouTube star Rob Anderson created a children's picture book that commemorates this moment. It's called The Fergamerican National Anthem: A Civic Story, and he recently shared an amazing tweet pairing Fergie's audio with a tour through each page of the book. It just made me so happy. — Aisha Harris

Valentine, Snail Mail

We are coming up on the end of the year, which means the whole NPR music team has been picking over the year in music to identify the best songs and albums. At the same time, several major album releases have come up, and we're frantically trying to assess, "Is the Adele record one of the best of the year? Is the Silk Sonic record one of the best of the year?" These late-in-the-year albums can run the risk of getting lost in the shuffle. And one that jumped out at me is Valentine, by Snail Mail.

The album came out in November, and I think it is one of the best rock records of the year. It manages to be slick and warm at the same time. — Stephen Thompson

Epicurious YouTube channel

Recently, I have been greatly enjoying the YouTube channel for Epicurious, and specifically, two related series I love very much. One is one where a regular home cook and a professional chef put together the ingredients that they would use to make something, whether it's roast chicken or macaroni cheese or something like that. Of course, the professional chef will have $250 dollars worth of ingredients, and the home chef will have, you know, $15 worth of ingredients. They'll swap and then they cook with each other's ingredients.

I'm also a fan of a series that they refer to as "Four Levels of Chefs": they have a beginner chef, an intermediate chef, and a professional chef make their version of a dish — they've done chicken nuggets, fried rice, even eggs benedict. Then a food scientist, the "fourth level," takes stock of what they've done. What I love about this series is that it's not intended to say the food that's made by the basic level chef is bad. It's just meant to show that as you put more work into food that you make, it changes. — Linda Holmes

NPR Kroc Fellow Mia Estrada adapted this Pop Culture Happy Hour segment into a digital page.

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Aisha Harris is a host of Pop Culture Happy Hour.
Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
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.
Mia Estrada
Mia Estrada is a 2021-2022 Kroc Fellow. She will spend the year rotating through different parts of NPR, including the Culture Desk, National Desk and Weekend Edition.
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.