Today Chelsey and Sara are ready to topple your TBRs with highly anticipated winter releases and backlist books. Our goal is to hype up the buzzy new books and under-the-radar releases while offering pairings that are easier to get at the library (or more affordable in paperback).
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Campus novels feel most appropriate in September when the air is just beginning to cool and we’re either returning to school or longing to do so. But I for one am eager to stay in the pages of academia a little longer. If you’ve devoured the campus novels we recommended in episode 29, and are still craving that back-to-school feeling, check out these 9 additional novels transported me right back to my campus days.
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. If you always wanted to go to boarding school, this book may be the one to change your mind. It follows Lee Fiora, a sharp but quiet scholarship student during her four years at the Ault School in New England as she adjusts to the customs and rituals common among her wealthy classmates.
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon. The Incendiaries combines two sub-genres with die-hard fans: it’s both a campus novel and a cult novel. The book follows the devolution of the friendship between Will and Phoebe as Phoebe becomes enamored with a cult-like group and Will fails to understand her grief and desires.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. A campus novel for English majors, The Marriage Plot follows Madeleine over the course of her senior year as she writes her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot and navigates a romance of her own.
The Idiot by Elif Batuman. Set between the Harvard campus, Paris, and Budapst, The Idiot explores the Ivy League from the perspective of the compassionate and creative daughter of Turkish immigrants.
The Other’s Gold by Elizabeth Ames. The quick and unbreakable bonds that form between college friends is one of the reasons we pick up campus novels. The Other’s Gold explores the friendship of four very different women who support and push each other in their life together as roommates.
Members Only by Sameer Pandya. This sharp and witty book tackles campus culture wars from the perspective of an Indian-American professor. Over the course of a week, Raj’s missteps leave him in a precarious position on campus, at home, and at his beloved tennis club.
Real Life by Brandon Taylor. Taylor’s debut is the story of a passionate weekend love affair between two biochemistry graduate students. This beautiful and heart wrenching story also offers commentary on race and class in higher education.
We Wish You Luck by Caroline Zancan. Set during the on-campus weeks of a low-residency MFA program, We Wish You Luck is keenly observant and sharply cunning. Zancan uses first-person plural narration to convey the intensity and closeness that comes with campus life.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith. Witty, expansive, and biting, Zadie Smith turns the campus novel on its head with On Beauty, her gorgeous retelling of Howards End. This novel examines cultural clashes on campuses and who exactly elite universities serve.
As a classic, The Remains of the Day combines a few of my favorite things: lush but quiet writing, an examination of the British aristocracy, and a gradual revelation that shapes your understanding of the book and its characters. It’s also full of secrets and gossip. Our episode about The Remains of the Day is one of my favorites from the past six months.
Today, I’m excited to share five more books to pair with The Remains of the Day that explore the fascinating world of the monied classes. Ranging from serious to silly, each of these novels touches on the complicated relationship between servant and employer and the secrets these great estates can hold.
The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn. I received this compilation in a Page One subscription box back when they offered theme boxes. The subscription I chose was Downton Abbey and these Edward St. Aubyn novels, while darker, really do have Downton vibes. The Patrick Melrose Novels are a series of five books that span over forty years. They begin with a novel that takes place in one day in 1960s England and as the Melrose family waits for a visit from guests, we see the level of abuse and neglect five-year-old Patrick is experiencing. The rest of the books (I haven’t finished the series yet!) deal with the lingering impact of Patrick’s childhood and his eventual sense of freedom and redemption. While these books deal with heavy topics, St. Aubyn’s writing, much like Ishiguro’s, is witty and sharp, making this a great pairing for The Remains of the Day.
The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse. In The Remains of the Day, Stevens is fixated on the concept of dignity and what makes a great butler. He’s determined to fashion himself into that definition of greatness no matter the cost. P. G. Wodehouse’s series of short stories and novels that follow the oblivious Bertie Wooster and his manservant Jeeves offer a more humorous and riotous depiction of servitude and the British aristocracy. You can start with any of the stories in the series (and many of the short stories are available online) but The Code of the Woosters is considered the best and most famous so it’s the one your bookstore is mostly likely to stock.
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin. Goodwin is now famous for novelizing the real lives of glamorous and wealthy women, and her debut American Heiress is sparkly, gossipy goodness. The book follows the life of wealthy and beautiful Cora Cash (I promise you, that’s her real name) as she travels Europe in search of a titled husband. When Cora gets her wish and marries one of England’s most eligible bachelors, she’s swept into a monied world of scandals and betrayals and must decide if her title is worth the price of admission.
Pale by Edward A. Farmer. Set in 1966 Mississippi, this is a book about a family’s secrets and the insidiousness of white supremacy. When Silva, a Black house servant at the Kern plantation, invites her sons to the property to pick up some odd jobs, it awakens a spiteful and vengeful streak in the Missus, who has long felt envious of Silva. The Missus begins a malicious campaign against Silva, flirting with her son, Jesse, and drawing the boys into a dangerous game that will shatter families and destroy lives. This book is compelling, unnerving, and increasingly intense, and it’s a uniquely timely work of historical fiction that exams white rage and the racist roots of American life.
Snobs by Julian Fellowes. Stemming from the brain of Downton Abbey creator, Julian Fellowes, this is a must-read for Downton fans. It features a marriage that may be motivated more by money than by love, a fiery and cantankerous Dowager Lady called “Googie,” and a TV crew filming a period piece at the family’s estate. Fellowes is a master at bringing the English aristocracy to life and this comedy of manners is particularly fun in its portrayal of the intersection between titled British elites and the glamorous world of film and television.
Readers, what books would you pair with The Remains of the Day? Tell us in the comments!
One of the things I adore about Jane Austen’s Emma is the variety of complex female characters in the novel. Obviously, there’s quite a variety of personalities among the women in this story. To name just a few, we have Emma herself, who is outgoing and headstrong; we have Harriet, who is meek and uncertain; we have Jane, who is reserved and well-mannered; and we have Isabella, who is affectionate and family-oriented. It’s particularly interesting to consider these personalities against the backdrop of the Regency era, where societal expectations were quite strict for women. Whenever there’s a novel with women and strict societal standards, there always seems to be the trope of the women who conform versus the women who rebel.
Chelsey and Sara’s Emma pairings included books with romantic heroines, strong female friendships, and women who buck tradition. I’m thrilled to be offering you four additional pairings for Jane Austen’s Emma each with a complex but lovable heroine of its own.
Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith. This take on Emma sticks very close to the original story but makes the context accessible for today’s readers–all of the characters are the same but their lives have been updated. In Austen’s novel, Emma is a young lady from a wealthy, mid-19th century family who enjoys finding her friends significant others while she herself plans to remain single. In Smith’s book, Emma is a modern woman who has just graduated from college and is on the prowl for matchmaking jobs. To me, this is the type of novel a modern Jane Austen would write because her works are largely based on her observation and critique of 19th-century courtship and society. Smith follows this exact style, only he’s looking at the 21st century.
The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner. I suppose this book could technically be a pairing for any Jane Austen novel, but it feels like Emma is mentioned a little more often than Austen’s other novels. Jenner offers just the right amount of Austen background while also weaving her own story about a group of people who come together in the name of preserving Austen’s legacy. I really enjoyed the female characters in this one. Like Emma, the story incorporates women with varying perspectives and age ranges, from a Hollywood starlet to a young girl to an older “spinster” and more.
Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce. In England during WWII, Emmy Lake is doing what she can to support the war effort, but her real dream is to become a lady war correspondent. She takes a job writing for the local newspaper, thinking this will get her one step closer to her goal. But the job turns out to be a surprise—she ends up writing for a women’s advice column where she can only respond to the most benign of inquiries. Frustrated, Emmy decides to secretly reply to the letters that are too uncouth for the magazine, but she has to make sure that her boss, Mrs. Bird, doesn’t find her out. Emmy reminds me a lot of Emma because she is independent, determined, and does what she believes is best, even if it means breaking the rules. While Emmy does have a love interest, he is not central to the plot and she gets along just fine without a man. Her best friend is equally strong (unlike Harriet) and their friendship makes this book even more special.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walkby Kathleen Rooney. Set in New York City on December 31, 1984,the plot follows the elderly Lillian Boxfish as she reflects on her life and career as the highest-paid woman in American advertising of the 1930’s. As Lillian enjoys her leisurely New Year’s Eve stroll, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, and a variety of other people. She both learns from and imparts wisdom on those she meets all while reviewing the major historical movements she has experienced in her lifetime. Lillian and Emma Woodhouse have a lot in common–they are both brave, intelligent, opinionated, and ahead of their time. They don’t let anyone tell them to change who they are. (TW: suicide)
And we can’t forget about a bonus pick of the week…
Clueless (1995, Directed by Amy Heckerling). This movie is another modern retelling of Emma. Cher and her best friend Dion rule their high school but decide to give the unpopular, fashion-challenged, new girl a makeover when she transfers to their school. Cher is so busy with this project that it takes her a while to remember she has needs, too.
Readers, who are your favorite headstrong literary heroines? Leave a comment below!