Book Buzz: Oscars 2021 Read-alikes

The results of a Google keyword search for “watch Academy Award movies” are full of invitations to stream and watch online using various paid-subscription platforms. In past years, the Oscars—a celebration of stories that are considered exceptional, at least by the 8,469 eligible Oscar voters—were accessible to anyone who could afford the price of a movie ticket. Experiencing the Oscar-nominated films this year requires paid subscriptions to several streaming platforms, as well as sufficient data or internet connection to stream the films.

If you are missing your usual Oscar immersion, here are some read-alike suggestions for stories that share the same themes as some of this year’s Best Picture nominees.

Let’s start with Nomadland, nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Based on a book with the same name by Jessica BruderNomadland is a story of a new tribe of houseless temporary workers formed by economic hardship—“vanilies,” as they like to call their family-of-circumstance groups—finding community in campgrounds and at the annual Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. Nomadland is the one Best Picture nominee based on a book, which is available in print, large print, audio CD, eBook and eAudiobook formats.

Sound of Metal stars Riz Ahmad as a heavy-metal drummer whose life threatens to self-destruct when he suddenly loses his hearing. The most remarkable thing about the film is how effectively it brings hearing people into the experience of those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Suggested read-alikes for this film are Life After Deaf: My Misadventures in Hearing Loss and Recovery by Noel Holston, who, like the main character in Sound of Metal, also experienced sudden and full hearing loss and had cochlear implant surgery. Also try Sound: A Memoir of Hearing Lost and Found by British novelist Bella Bathurst, her account of losing and regaining her hearing over a period of 12 years.

Following a Korean-American family who move from California to an Arkansas farm, seeking to fulfill their own American Dream, Minari is a tender family drama with hope at its center. The novel Shelter, by Jung Yun, shares story elements with Minari—the son of Korean immigrants who wants to provide a better life for his family, the importance of the church in their family life, anger and violence ultimately leading to hope. For reading that focuses more on the aspect of starting over in rural America, try The Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today’s America by Mark Sundeen, which follows three families seeking a better existence through off-the-grid, back-to-the-land lifestyles.

Finally, Judas and the Black Messiah is a biographical drama about FBI informant William O’Neal’s infiltration of the Black Panther Party and his betrayal of Illinois chapter chairman Fred Hampton. Although not specifically about Hampton’s life, the recently published graphic novel The Black Panther Party by David Walker provides a comprehensive, accessible history of both this group’s revolutionary activity and its dedication to community service.

Prior to the 2021 Academy Awards which air starting at 5pm Sun., April 25, if you are able to join an online event, consider registering for the Whatcom County Library System program “Academy Awards 2021” at 7pm Thurs., April 22, where film historian Lance Rhoades shares highlights and controversies from previous ceremonies, discusses the current nominees, and even offers his own Oscars predictions.

Lisa Gresham is the Collection Services Manager at Whatcom County Library System, which brings the power of sharing to rural Whatcom County. Visit to place holds on library materials and learn about curbside holds pick up, in-person and other library services.

(Originally published in Cascadia Weekly, Wednesday, April 14, 2021.)