Aisha Harris recommends 6 books that have formed and informed popular culture

The critic and podcast co-host suggests works by Ann M. Martin, Mark Twain and more

Aisha Harris.
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Critic Aisha Harris is the co-host of the hit NPR podcast "Pop Culture Happy Hour." In her new book, "Wannabe," she examines how all of us, including herself, are shaped and reshaped by the music, movies and television of our time.

Reel to Real: Race, Class and Sex at the Movies by Bell Hooks (1996)

Hooks approached film criticism as astutely as she did feminism and race, and of course these subjects often overlapped. Her ruminations on Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, "Waiting to Exhale," and other popular culture of the '90s were an invaluable resource as I crafted "Wannabe." Buy it here.

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Kristy's Great Idea (The Baby-Sitters Club No. 1) by Ann M. Martin (1986)

The book that launched an indelible franchise. Kristy Thomas — budding teenage entrepreneur and founder of the Baby-Sitters Club — became a poster child for tomboys of the '80s and '90s, myself included. Buy it here.

American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now edited by Phillip Lopate (2006)

A murderer's row of essays and writers here, including James Baldwin, J. Hoberman, Pauline Kael, and Molly Haskell. I first encountered this anthology in college and return to it often for reference or inspiration; it's a nice introduction to the history and evolution of American film criticism. Buy it here.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)

The origins of the "Black friend" trope, found in so many movies and TV shows of the past few decades, can be traced at least in part to the enslaved Jim, Huck Finn's traveling companion. He's famously complicated — at once an assemblage of stereotypes and a fascinatingly sympathetic figure. Buy it here.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman (1991)

As a child, decades before Disney reimagined a mermaid as a Black woman, I encountered this story in which a Black girl aspires to be cast as Peter Pan in her class play. She faces peers who say she can't play the role because she's not a white boy. The book's lessons ring true to this day. Buy it here.

The Circle of the Snake: Nostalgia and Utopia in the Age of Big Tech by Grafton Tanner (2020)

Nostalgia is inescapable, and Hollywood exploits it to the nth degree. Tanner's examination of our preoccupation with (and romanticization of) the past in the digital era is useful for putting all those reboots and franchises into perspective. Buy it here.

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