46. Love letters to books: nonfiction books about the reading life

Readers, today’s episode is inspired by Helene Hanff’s love of books, nonfiction, and observation. We’re sharing a bunch of nonfiction books about books, reading, and readers. Some of these are longtime favorites and others are on our endless TBR lists. This episode is extra nerdy, a little nostalgic, and supremely bookish. We hope you find a title to add to your TBR today. 

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Nonfiction loveletters to books

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (Amazon)

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence (Amazon)

Ex Libris by Michiko Kakutani (Amazon)

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders (Amazon)

I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel (Amazon)

The Possessed by Elif Batuman (Amazon)

Well Read Black Girl edited by Glory Edim (Amazon

The Dark Fantastic by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas (Amazon)

Bezi @beingabookwyrm

The Library Book by Susan Orlean (Amazon)

Susan Orlean on Twitter

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (Amazon)

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman (Amazon)

Bibliophile by Jane Mount (Amazon)

Diverse Spines by Jamise Harper and Jane Mount (forthcoming)

The Toni Morrison Book Club by Juda Bennett,  Winnifred Brown-Glaude,  Cassandra Jackson,  Piper Kendrix Williams (Amazon)

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy by Anne Boyd Rioux (Amazon)

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland (Amazon)

Books Promiscuously Read: Reading as a Way of Life  by Heather Cass White (Amazon)

The 2021 Novel Pairings Reading Challenge

Hey readers! Welcome to our (very casual) Novel Pairings reading challenge. Neither of us is great at completing prescriptive reading challenges, but we do enjoy perusing them for inspiration when it comes to choosing our next reads. With that in mind, we created this bingo board filled with reading prompts so you can choose your own adventure! Want to go for blackout and read a book in every category? We love it! Shooting for a bingo? You’re awesome! Checking off the Austen box and calling it a day? Go for it! The goal of this reading challenge is to inspire readers (including ourselves) to pick up a wide range of books and to expand the boundaries of what we consider classics.

If you do participate in any way, please share your board on Instagram (see our story highlights for the template!) and tag us @novelpairingspod so we can see what you’re reading! We can’t wait to see what you pick up.

We’ve picked out a few categories to tackle ourselves this year (not necessarily for the podcast, but you never know!). We’ll share recommendations for every category on Instagram or here on the blog as the year continues. You’ll see from our selections that we’re interpreting the categories broadly. For example, Dust Tracks on a Road was published in 1942, after the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance, but it’s an autobiography from one of the most iconic Harlem Renaissance writers. We hope you find inspiration rather than limitation with our reading challenge and the following suggestions.

Chelsey’s Reading Challenge TBR

1970’s: Sula by Toni Morrison

Poetry: What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer

Audiobook: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Harlem Renaissance: Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston

Shakespeare: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Sara’s Reading Challenge TBR

Austen: Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomlin

Baldwin: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Play: Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz

Short Story: from The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty by Eudora Welty

Classic Genre Fiction: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

44.5 Anticipated book releases for winter 2021 and backlist books to read while you wait

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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Shop our book recs below (affiliate links):

January 5

The Push by Ashley Audrain (Amazon)

Long Bright River by Liz Moore (Amazon)

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour (Amazon)

Members Only by Sameer Pandya (Amazon)

Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant (Amazon)

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (Amazon)

Outlawed by Anna North (Amazon)

True Grit by Charles Portis (Amazon)

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Amazon)

January 12

The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell (Amazon)

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (Amazon)

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (Amazon)

The Captive by Fiona King Foster (Amazon)

Scribe by Alyson Hagy (Amazon)

January 19

The Divines by Ellie Eaton (Amazon)

The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams (Amazon)

The Girls by Emma Cline (Amazon)

January 26

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (Amazon)

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (Amazon)

Troy by Adele Geras (Amazon)

February 2

The Removed by Brandon Hobson (Amazon)

Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson (Amazon)

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (Amazon)

My Year Abroad by Chang Rae-Lee (Amazon)

The Idiot by Elif Batuman (Amazon)

February 9

A Lady’s Formula for Love by Elizabeth Everett (Amazon)

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn (Amazon)

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (Amazon)

My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh (Amazon)

February 16

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey (Amazon)

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (Amazon)

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Amazon)

March 2

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Amazon)

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan (Amazon)

March 9

Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology by Jess Zimmerman (Amazon)

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (Amazon)

Currently reading:

There is Confusion by Jessie Redmon Fauset (Amazon)

Anna K by Jenny Lee (Amazon)

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!

9 campus novels to help you linger in academia all autumn

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.

5 Upstairs-Downstairs Books to Read with The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

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!