A reintroduction, some classic literature, and a highly anticipated release
Plus great book club reads and the best books of the year so far
To those of you who found me through Electric Literature’s list of literary newsletters, welcome to my little corner of the internet! Since there are so many new folks here, I thought a reintroduction would be in order. My name is Sara, and I love books. FictionMatters began as a graduate school project when I was working towards my MA in Literature, and I’ve enjoyed sharing my reading life publicly ever since. I taught high school English for 7 years, and still can’t help bringing my former teacher, forever student energy to all of my reading. I consider myself a pretty eclectic reader, but gravitate mostly towards literary fiction and modern classics. While I’m easily distracted by new books, I always try to make time for backlist book and I never regret it. In this weekly newsletter, you’ll find mini reviews of the books I read each week, book lists, publishing news, and the things I’ve been watching, listening to, and loving lately. You can read all of my past newsletters and even search to see if I’ve reviewed specific books here.
In addition to the newsletter, I run a book club on Patreon. I know I’m biased but this is the best book club I’ve every been a part of. It’s filled with the smartest, most thoughtful readers, and I come away from every meeting with completely new insights on the book. Books are selected twice yearly based on our members’ reading moods. They’re typically backlist, and always highly discussable. Some books we’ve read together include On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu, This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell, On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee, and What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons. We have a great line-up for the second half of the year, that includes a few big books I’ve wanted to read for ages alongside some lesser known works, including three works in translation. You can visit this link to learn about what we’ll be reading over the next few months. We’d love to have you join us!
This week in books.
This week I read…
Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion. The FictionMatters Book Club wanted to read a modern classic in June, and this selection proved to be particularly timely this weekend. I ended up really enjoying Didion’s writing and came to view this book as a missing piece of the American literary landscape that I had somehow missed in all my reading. This book viscerally evokes its time while still having much to say to our present age—and what more could you want from a classic work of literature? Amazon | Bookshop
When We Lost Our Heads by Heather O’Neill. Set in late 19th-century Montreal, this strange and provocative book explores the relationship between Marie, the spoiled and cherubic daughter of a sugar baron, and Sadie, the clever and ambitious daughter of a neighboring middle-class family. The book opens with the two young girls committing a heinous and violent act, and that proves to be just a taste of the weirdly dark subject matter explored throughout this book. I appreciated this novel—the writing is gritty, but at times it sparkles. O’Neill is almost retelling the story of the French Revolution, recasting the main players as girls and women. This is a book for readers who enjoy seeing women writers experiment and explore the realms of female power and desire. The book has been (positively) described as perverse, and that definitely fits. It won’t be for everyone—and sensitive readers should certainly look up content warnings—but fans of Ottessa Moshfegh and Mona Awad may enjoy this surprising and twisted bit of historical fiction. Amazon | Bookshop | Libro.fm
Now I’m reading…
Persuasion by Jane Austen. I’m not impressed with the looks of the trailer for the new Persuasion movie, but I’m sure I will see it at some point. I decided to revisit this most romantic of Austen’s books to re-familiarize myself with Anne Elliot’s story and escape into Austen world for a bit. Amazon | Bookshop | Libro.fm
Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner. Another literary escape, this book primarily follows three women who work at the Bloomsbury Bookshop in London after World War II. I loved Jenner’s debut The Jane Austen Society, and I was happy to see some characters from that novel show up in this one. So far I’m not as charmed by this book as I was by her last, but it’s a nice historical story that explores an interesting corner of the literary world. Amazon | Bookshop | Libro.fm
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. This massive Pulitzer winner is the summer selection for Novel Pairings. We’ll be discussing the book with our Patreon community throughout the next three months and sharing discussion episodes about it in August. I can’t believe how instantly absorbing this book has proven to be, and I can’t wait to continue reading and chatting about it. Amazon | Bookshop | Libro.fm
The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid (out 8/2). I absolutely loved Exit West and this is one of my most highly anticipated releases of the year. I’m only about 20 pages in but it’s short so I’m hoping to be able to read and and review it for you next week. Amazon | Bookshop | Libro.fm
Links I love.
This very newsletter was featured in Electric Literature’s article “The 14 Literary Newsletters You Need in Your Inbox.” It was a true honored to be alongside some of my personal favorite newsletters, and I highly recommend visiting the list and adding a few to your subscription list!
Looking for a great book club book? This list is here to help.
Vulture’s list of the best books of the year so far is populated with works that I haven’t heard much about at all, and I added several to my reading list.
I love Angela Garbes, and this interview with Terry Gross about her new book and the lonely toil of motherhood is fantastic.
I have such fond memories of reading Shel Silverstein, and I very much enjoyed this deep dive into his poetry.
This list will make you feel like you’ve journeyed to Stockholm without ever leaving your couch.
I wasn’t particularly invested in The Old Man so I think our next attempt might be Under the Banner of Heaven. I read the book years ago and remember very little about it, but I think the show sounds pretty compelling.
All the news podcasts, of course, plus continuing on with the new Slow Burn about Roe vs. Wade.
Reading our new DK board books with Louise. Full disclosure, I participated in a paid Instagram campaign with DK, but they didn’t ask or pay for inclusion here, and I’m truly loving them! We have so many fun story and sing-songy books that Louise likes, but the books they gifted us are totally different from what we’ve been reading with her. They include these amazing combinations of illustrations and photographs (alongside lift-flaps and textures) and she loves to examine them like a little investigator. These are great if you’re looking for fun summer books for your little explorer!
Readers, I’m so glad you’re here to talk books with me. For questions, comments, or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to reach out by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or responding directly to this newsletter. I love hearing from you!
If you’re looking for more book recommendations and delightful bookish community, consider supporting FictionMatters on Patreon.
And if you enjoyed today’s newsletter, please forward it to a book-loving friend. That’s a great way to spread bookish cheer and support the newsletter!