110. Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes

Chelsey and Sara discuss Langston Hughes’s 1930 novel: Not Without Laughter,  the story of a young boy coming of age in small-town Kansas with his matriarchal family. His mother Annjee works as a maid and cook for a wealthy white family, his grandmother Hager takes in laundry work, and his Aunt Harriet has big dreams of performing. His wandering father, Jimboy makes appearances as does his upper class Aunt Tempy. As a collective, these characters reveal varied philosophies and histories of the Black diasporic experience. 

We expected to enjoy Hughes’ use of language and imagery, but we did not anticipate the rich tapestry of history and themes explored in this  short classic. We hope you take something away from this spoiler-free episode before, during, or after listening, whether you choose to pick up the book or one of our contemporary pairings. These pairings include complex families in fiction, sweeping historical accounts, and blues-y musings on the power of music. 


Are you ready for deeper reading in 2023? This spring we’re exploring the world of Classic Children’s Literature in your podcast feed and with our Patreon community. Together, we’re learning to be better, more critical and thorough readers of classic and contemporary literature. We love discussing books and reading with all of you and hope you’ll join our group of nerdy readers at patreon.com/novelpairings. Annual subscriptions are now available at a discounted price.


Pairings Timestamp: 29:50

Books Mentioned

A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby

Perish by Latoya Watkins

Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm by Laura Warrell

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Links & Things Mentioned:“Done Made Us Leave Our Home”: Langston Hughes’s Not without Laughter–Unifying Image and Three Dimensions – R. Baxter Miller (JSTOR)

109. Reading classic children’s literature with Alice, Anne and Aslan

This spring semester, we are trying something a little different. We hope you all are up for venturing into uncharted territory together as we spend a few months reading Classic Children’s Literature! From fantasy to historical fiction to adventure, we will explore the influences of children’s stories on contemporary literature. Using our signature literary lens, we intend to reflect on some of our favorite books as young readers while scrutinizing how well they hold up to the modern kid lit canon. 

We will discuss each of these selections on the main feed, but if you’d like to dive deeper into the themes, history, and connections between these texts, consider joining our Patreon community at patreon.com/novelpairings

A quick note: we don’t share which books are our book club selections for each month, because we haven’t chosen them yet! We’ll put out a poll on Patreon.

Novel Pairings Spring 2023: Classic Children’s Literature 

February: Fantasy 

March: Historical Fiction

April: Orphans and Scamps

May: Books in Translation

108. Our favorite (and least favorite) books of 2022

Today we enter the towering stack of “Best Book” lists, but we like to think our annual episode stands out from the crowd. Instead of narrowing down a list of favorites every year, we share superlatives to include a wider variety of genres, themes, and reading experiences in our year end wrap up episode. Check our stories at @novelpairingspod on Instagram for templates to share your 2022 superlatives, and please do not forget to tag us! We would love to see which books you select in each category.

For more superlatives, go to patreon.com/novelpairings. We will share a bonus episode on Friday FULL of more titles we loved this year. 

Podcast episodes mentioned:

Maryanne Wolf and Ezra Klein discuss “deep reading”

All about hyped books

Buzzy summer 2022 books we both read

Books mentioned:

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
Babel by R.F. Kuang

Bomb Shelter by Mary Laura Philpott 

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Trust by Hernan Diaz

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford

Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk

Search by Michelle Hunevan

Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Invisible Storm by Jason Kander

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa 

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

A Dangerous Business by Jane Smiley

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

When We Lost Our Heads by Heather O’Neill

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro

A Certain Appeal by Vanessa King

The Long Answer by Anna Hogeland

The Trees by Percival Everett

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

Recitatif by Toni Morrison

Have I Told You This Already? By Lauren Graham

Now is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

These Precious Days by Ann Pachett

Slippery Creatures by KJ Charles

Share your own superlatives! Here’s the list:

  • Lived up to “the hype”
  • Didn’t live up to “the hype”
  • Most likely to become a modern classic
  • Best surprise
  • Biggest disappointment 
  • Most comforting/helped through a hard time
  • Best characters 
  • Best UNlikeable characters
  • Kept you thinking the long after reading
  • Most discussable
  • Best under the radar
  • Best audiobook experience
  • Book you would recommend to a friend

107. The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo and adapting the classics for modern readers

Join us as we discuss the sumptuous, sexy, and speculative adaptation of The Great Gatsby: The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo. We adored Vo’s language, voice, and inventive storytelling and will give you a heads up for brief spoilers [20:35-25:00]. In addition to classic themes with a contemporary twist, we also discuss what we’ve learned over the course of this adaptation-themed semester in Novel Pairings University. 

We are not offering pairings for this episode, but we highly recommend checking out our popular bonus episodes on classic literature from the 1920s Part One and Part Two.  

If you’ve enjoyed our eclectic and educational content this season, we would love for you to join us for our exciting December and January events in our Patreon community. You can find calendars and details in our newsletter or on our Patreon page. 

Listen to the episode in your favorite podcast app or right here.

To support Novel Pairings:

Books & Links mentioned:

106. Revisit West Egg with Novel Pairings: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Readers, today we are taking it way back to September 2020 (a lifetime ago!) when we discussed The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This month’s book club is The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo (a Gatsby retelling) so we’re taking this opportunity to refresh our memories about the plot, characters, and themes of Fitzgerald’s iconic work. We hope you enjoy this blast from the past, and we’re so excited to discuss Vo’s novel with you next week!

Listen HERE or in your favorite podcast app.

Books mentioned:

Chelsey’s Pairings:
Let Us Dream by Alyssa Cole
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavincencio
The Diviners by Libba Bray

Sara’s Pairings:

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
The Affairs of the Falcons by Melissa Rivero
Severance by Ling Ma

Coming Up
Next Week: The Chosen and The Beautiful by Nghi Vo

To support Novel Pairings:

105. A stack of sparkling novels set in the Roaring 20s

In anticipation of this month’s book club read, we’re sharing a whole stack of novels set in the 1920s. We are giving you a little bit of everything in this list: historical fiction, romance, mystery, backlist books, and new releases to help you step back in time and witness the opulence and turbulence of the Roaring 20s. We hope you find the perfect glittering, scandalous, or suspenseful novel to escape into. 

Listen here, or in your favorite podcast app.

Books Mentioned:



Coming Up

November: The Chosen and The Beautiful by Nghi Vo

To support Novel Pairings:

104. The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare and pairings for theatrical, political, or fantastical readers

Today, Chelsey and Sara discuss Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth. It’s been awhile since we discussed a Shakespeare play and we’re thrilled to be back with the Bard for spooky season to chat about witches, ghosts, murder, and betrayal. Take a listen to hear us discuss why Macbeth feels different from other tragedies, the way staging decisions can impact the meaning of this play, and how much of this story is inspired by the real King James I’s fears and paranoias. We also touch on what we actually admire about the Macbeths’ marriage and just how much Game of Thrones owes to the Scottish Play. For today’s pairings we have a Macbeth retelling set in Appalachia, two tales of things gone wrong in the theater, plus a modern classic, an epic fantasy novel, and a quiet meditation on the power of prophecy. This episode is great for Shakespeare lovers as well as readers less familiar with his works.

Listen HERE.


All’s Well by Mona Awad

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter


The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith 

Serena by Ron Rash

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Coming Up

November: The Chosen and The Beautiful by Nghi Vo

To support Novel Pairings:

103. Shakespearean titles to topple your To Be Read stack

Today, we are toppling your TBR with Shakespeare-inspired stories, retellings, and adaptations! We have ten books for you today, but there are so many more that we could have discussed. Join our community over on  Patreon for three additional recommendations from each of us! 



If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

That Way Madness Lies, edited by Dahlia Adler

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

All’s Well by Mona Awad


The Third Witch by Rebecca Reiser

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Coming Up

October (next week!): Macbeth by William Shakespeare

November: The Chosen and The Beautiful by Nghi Vo

To support Novel Pairings:

102. Perplexed by Persuasion on Netflix

Today, Chelsey and Sara are discussing the new Netflix film adaptation of Persuasion starring Dakota Johnson, Cormo Jarvis, and Henry Golding. We lament the anachronistic language, mull over the casting, and consider the obvious influences of Fleabag, Bridgerton, and Schitt’s Creek, all while attempting to figure out just what this movie had to say about Jane Austen’s most romantic novel. Additionally, we talk about the Austen adaptations we wish we had and which supporting cast members saved the movie for us.

This episode is made possible by our supporters on Patreon. Join us this month for all things Shakespeare, including a class on deciphering difficult texts, a live book club discussion of Macbeth, and a Macbeth movie watchalong. In joining our Patreon community, you also get access to weekly bonus episodes along with the archive of all previous bonus content. Your Patreon support keeps our podcast afloat and allows us to keep creating the coziest corner of the bookish internet.


Turning Persuasion into Fleabag was a truly terrible idea

Persuasion review: The Netflix film is an absolute disaster

Persuasion review: The present intrudes into the past

Brandon Taylor’s review: persuasion is a hate crime

101. Ask a Shakespeare Professor

Welcome to Shakespeare 101! It’s a perfectly fitting episode number for today as we invite a Shakespeare professor to answer YOUR questions about the Bard’s staying power, how to read his works, and how to interpret Lady Macbeth. We always say we won’t get TOO academic here, but we’re getting pretty academic thanks to Chelsey’s former Shakespeare professor.

Professor Doug Green taught at Augsburg University, including Shakespeare and Renaissance literature, writing, drama, and film. He also helped develop and taught Augsburg’s first course in queer studies. He has an abundance of knowledge and advice to share with us as we read Macbeth together this month, so jump in and travel back to the college classroom with us today. 

Listen to the episode.

Books, authors, and resources mentioned:

Paradise Lost by John Milton

Samson Agonistes by John Milton

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan 

The Bacchae of Euripedes 

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Ben Jonson

Beaumont & Fletcher

John Dryden

Alexander Pope

Theater Mu

Penumbra Theater



Holinshed’s Chronicles


The Guthrie Theater

Classical Actor’s Ensemble

10,000 Things


Tony Kushner 

Colson Whitehead

James McBride

Toni Morrison

Louise Erdrich

Margaret Atwood

Robert Frost

Mary Oliver

Lucille Clifton

Ross Gay

Richard Blanco

Elizabeth Alexander

Shakespeare Supplements:

The Oxford English Dictionary

Folio Facsimile

The Folger Library

MIT Global Shakespeare

Norton Shakespeare

Macbeth on Film:

Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021, stream on Apple TV)

Polanski’s The Tragedy of Macbeth (1970, stream on Amazon Prime)

Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957, stream on HBO Max or Amazon Prime)

Find Doug’s work: Jumping the Median with Doug Green