42. Superlatives for underrated, surprising, and well-loved books we read in 2020

Instead of the “best books of the year” or our “favorite reads from 2020,” we’re sharing 12 bookish superlatives to highlight some underrated gems, popular favorites, academic reads, and more. Whether you love dark and moody literary fiction or genre-bending contemporary stories, we hope you find a new title to add to your TBR list today.

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We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry (Amazon)

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn (Amazon)

Beach Read by Emily Henry (Amazon)

Enter the Aardvark by Jessica Anthony (Amazon)

Unscripted by Nicole Kronzer (Amazon)

You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat (Amazon)

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (Amazon)

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Amazon)

Little Weirds by Jenny Slate (Amazon)

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London (Amazon)

Beloved by Toni Morrison (Amazon)

On Beauty by Zadie Smith (Amazon)

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (Amazon)

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (Amazon)

Lovely War by Julie Berry (Amazon)

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (Amazon)

A Castle in the Clouds by Kerstin Gier (Amazon)

The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda (Amazon)

Writers & Lovers by Lily King (Amazon)

Sisters by Daisy Johnson (Amazon)

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin (Amazon)

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (Amazon)

Emma by Jane Austen (Amazon)

41. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and contemporary book recs inspired by the March sisters

Today Chelsey and Sara are discussing Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. We share what we admire about Alcott and her iconic children’s classic, as well as the reasons why it doesn’t hold a fond place in our readerly hearts. We know that many readers adore this sisterly, warm-hearted book, so we’ve backed up our opinions with extra-nerdy analysis. 

Plus, as always, we’re recommending six contemporary books to pair with our classic, including books about the writing life and one of Sara’s favorite moody books from this year.

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Books Mentioned:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Amazon)

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (Amazon)

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Amy Boyd Rioux (Amazon)

So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures by Maureen Corrigan (Amazon)

March by Geraldine Brooks (Amazon)

Also mentioned:

Episode 40 with Annie B. Jones

Skip to the pairings with this timestamp: [36:14]

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Chelsey’s Pairings:

Sara’s Pairings:

Home Cooking Podcast

Why the British Tell Better Children’s Stories

40. The joy of nostalgic reads and books that Jo March would love with Annie B. Jones, owner of The Bookshelf

Today, Chelsey and Sara talk about favorite books from childhood, Little Women fashion, and family stories to read this winter with Annie Jones, owner of The Bookshelf in Thomasville and host of the bookish podcast From The Front Porch. There’s lots of nostalgia, laughter, and book recs in this episode, plus tips for helping your favorite local bookstores thrive during trying times. Note: this episode includes some spoilers for Little Women

A special treat: Right now, listeners of Novel Pairings can get 10% off their purchase of a shelf subscription with the code NOVELIDEA2020. This 10% off code applies to shelf subscriptions only, and it lasts through January 31, 2021. 

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Find show notes on our blog

Follow Annie on Instagram, follow The Bookshelf on Instagram, and find From the Front Porch wherever you download your podcasts. 

Books mentioned:

Our book list includes a mix of affiliate links and links to The Bookshelf inventory. If you want to own one of the books we talked about today, we hope you consider supporting The Bookshelf with your purchase. 

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

The Baby-Sitters Club Box

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Franny & Zoey by J.D. Salinger

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konig

Bloomability by Sharon Creech

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Amy Boyd Rioux

Jo & Laurie by Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer

Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel

House Lessons by Erica Bauermeister

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Ex Libris by Michiko Kakutani 

HRH by Elizabeth Holmes

Passing by Nella Larsen

Emma by Jane Austen

Also mentioned:

The Baby-Sitters Club Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Literary Fiction

39. My Antonia by Willa Cather, plus books about community and survival to read this winter

Today Chelsey and Sara are discussing My Antonia by Willa Cather with a special guest: Michelle Timmins, English literature student and Novel Pairings assistant extraordinaire. There’s plenty to discuss in this wintry classic, including stunning imagery, surprising connections to an American Girl Doll, and where Cather’s novel fits into the American literary canon.  Plus, as always, we’re recommending six contemporary books to pair with our classic,  including a Western, an arctic memoir,  and a nonfiction book about grief.

Books Mentioned:

My Antonia by Willa Cather (Amazon)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Amazon)

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (Amazon)

Also mentioned: Deconstruction Theory

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Michelle’s Pairings:

Sara’s Pairings:

Chelsey’s Pairings:

38. The Best Audiobooks We Read in 2020

Have we mentioned how much we love audiobooks? We’ve both been avid listeners for a long time, but between pandemic life and Sara’s Aspen Words reading,  this has been a banner year for audiobooks. Today, we’re each sharing twelve of our favorite listening experiences. With a mix of literary fiction, romance, nonfiction, and YA, today’s episode has an audiobook recommendation for every reader. 

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Chelsey’s Favorites:

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

The Switch by Beth O’Leary // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Here for It: Or How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas. // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Sara’s Favorites:

The City We Became by NK Jemison // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Members Only by Sameer Pandya // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Stamped The Remix by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Intimations by Zadie Smith // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit // Amazon // Bookshop

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Annaparra // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

The Remains of the Day // Amazon // Bookshop // Libro.fm

37. Quarterly Favorites: the best books we read in Fall 2020

Today, we reflect on our favorite reads from the last three months. These quarterly reflections might be our favorite episodes to record. It’s lovely to take time to consider our favorite episodes, our favorite reads, and what we’ve learned over the course of the season. We’re sharing a bunch of book recommendations in this episode; shop our recs here

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Books mentioned:

Some of our links are Bookshop affiliate links. We earn a small commission when you make a purchase using these links (plus, you support independent bookstores).

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia

Luster by Raven Leilani

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

Like Lovers Do by Tracey Livesay

On Beauty by Zadie Smith 

Intimations by Zadie Smith

Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest

I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

The Next Great Jane by K.L Going

The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

She Come by It Natural by Sarah Smarsh

All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad

How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole

The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafa

Winter lineup:

December

My Antonia by Willa Cather

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

January

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

February

There is Confusion by Jessie Redmon FausetThe Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

36. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told by Alex Haley, with Traci Thomas of The Stacks

Today, Traci Thomas of The Stacks podcast joins Chelsey and Sara to discuss The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm, X, as told by Alex Haley. We loved diving into this iconic nonfiction classic with our favorite nonfiction expert, and we’re so excited to share this conversation with you. 

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Shop Traci’s book recs 

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Our discussion includes:

  • What makes this a “life-changing” book?
  • Does The Autobiography of Malcolm X belong in the classroom?
  • Which parts of the book ring especially true today
  • Brilliant storytelling and an incredible use of rhetoric

Plus, as always, we’re recommending a bunch of contemporary pairings to read along with this classic.

Shop the pairings:  https://bookshop.org/lists/novel-pairings-for-the-autobiography-of-malcolm-x

Traci’s Pairings:

Sara’s Pairings:

Chelsey’s Pairings:

Also mentioned:

The Stacks Ep. 60 Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Stacks Ep. 135 The Autobiography of Malcolm X

35. A 2020 Gift Guide for every literary taste

If there’s one thing we enjoy as much as immersing ourselves in a great book, it’s pairing just the right book with just the right reader. That makes holiday gifting a pretty big deal around here. We had a blast putting together our gift guide and selecting the very best books and goodies for the book lovers in your lives. In this guide, you’ll find books for every literary taste alongside bookish pairings that make for cute, thoughtful gift bundles. You can shop this post through our affiliate links by clicking the photos below. We hope this guide will help you find the perfect gifts for the readers in your life and maybe find some treats for your own wish list. Happy shopping and happy gifting, readers!

Classics Nerds

These gifts are perfect for the English major (or English major at heart), the reader who seems to have read everything, and the one who’s steadily making their way through those “best books of all time lists.”

General Crowd Pleasers

Some books just seem to work for every reader. With their engaging plots, relatable characters, and crisp writing, these books will please just about everyone on your list.

History Buffs

History buffs are the embodiment of the lifelong learner; no matter how many WWII or American history texts they devour, they always want more. These books range from the expansive to the hyper-specific to satisfy the any history lover on your list.

Fantasy Escapists

Everyone is going to need a little escape at the end of this rollercoaster of a year, and what better way to do that than through an epic fantasy. These books are perfect for the hardcore fantasy lover as well as readers who are just breaking into this genre.

The Romantics

Romance readers love their HEAs (Happily Ever Afters). Give the gift of pure joy with these rom-com recommendations and flirty bookish items.

True Crime Podcast Listeners

True crime devotees can seemingly never get enough of their favorite genre. These books and accessories will make sure even the most hardcore fan never runs out of murders, mysteries, and cold cases.

The Environmentalists

Shopping for people who are trying to consume less can be hard. These gifts will remind your environmentalist what they’re fighting for and why their commitment matters.

The Austenites

These gifts are for anyone whose copy of Pride and Prejudice is tattered and torn, who has a definitive ranking of Austen movie adaptations, and who wishes they could have attended the Netherfield ball. Austenites are our kindred spirits, and we know first hand that you can never have too much Jane in your life.

Aspiring Writers

In giving an aspiring writer a beautiful notebook, the perfect pens, or a book about writing, you’re also giving them the gift of seeing them as a writer. These gifts will help inspire and encourage the writer in your life.

Miscellaneous Bookishness

Bookish gifts are the best gifts, so we couldn’t help but add a few more fun treats for all the bibliophiles on your list. Many of these are currently on our own holiday wish lists!

34. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie and twisty, atmospheric mystery novels

Today Chelsey and Sara are discussing And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. We’re sipping some red wine while we talk about this classic locked-room mystery and pair it with some atmospheric, page-turning reads. We discuss Christie’s legacy in the mystery world (and her impact on literature in general), what we look for in the mystery genre, and that wild ending.

Our discussion includes:

  • How Christie’s novels have shaped today’s literary landscape, perhaps more than any other classics [17:18]
  • The appeal of locked room mysteries [23:00]
  • Spoiler alert: the twisty ending [26:42]

Plus, as always, we’re recommending six contemporary books to pair with our classic,  including a Japanese mystery in translation and a Christie-inspired campus novel.

We do discuss some spoilers in this episode, but we’ll give you fair warning.

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Support our show AND independent bookstores. Use our Libro.fm affiliate link to get an audiobook subscription for yourself or as a gift

Today Chelsey and Sara are discussing And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. We’re sipping some red wine while we talk about this classic locked-room mystery and pair it with some atmospheric, page-turning reads. We discuss Christie’s legacy in the mystery world (and her impact on literature in general), what we look for in the mystery genre, and that wild ending.

Our discussion includes:

  • How Christie’s novels have shaped today’s literary landscape, perhaps more than any other classics [17:18]
  • The appeal of locked room mysteries [23:00]
  • Spoiler alert: the twisty ending [26:42]

Plus, as always, we’re recommending six contemporary books to pair with our classic,  including a Japanese mystery in translation and a Christie-inspired campus novel.

We do discuss some spoilers in this episode, but we’ll give you fair warning. 

Books Mentioned:

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Shop the pairings:  https://bookshop.org/lists/novel-pairings-for-and-then-there-were-none

Chelsey’s Pairings:

Sara’s Pairings:

Picks of the Week:

Chelsey: The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jane Ashford

Sara: Clue

33.5 Discussing the new Netflix adaptation of Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, starring Lily James and Armie Hammer

Readers, today we have a special treat, a bonus episode! We watched the new Rebecca adaptation on Netflix, and we have OPINIONS. We’re talking about how we feel about DuMaurier’s original, what we loved about the movie, what we hated, which spooky and suspenseful movies we’re excited to watch this Halloween weekend, and what we’re currently reading. Did you watch the new movie? What did you think?

P.S. We discuss the movie in depth, so spoilers abound! 

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Watch Hitchcock’s Academy Award winning adaptation here

“Lily James Looks Like an American Girl Doll in Rebecca

Lily James stars in The Pursuit of Love

Books mentioned:

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

The Winters by Lisa Gabriele

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell