Book clubs, buddy reads, and my favorite books of the year

Plus my Nordstrom sale wishlist and book to TV adaptation trends

Hey, readers!

This week I finally put together a blog post sharing my favorite reads of the year so far. In reflecting and ranking my 2021 reads, I became more appreciative of my literary life this year. Frankly, I was feeling like my reading had been sub-par in 2021, both in terms of quality and quantity. But as I looked back, I noticed that there are many books that struck a chord with me and even a handful that will become forever favorites. Perhaps it’s just that my memory and attention span have decreased with other major life events happening—and so I’m glad I took the time to look back.

One pattern I noticed is that many of the books I think back on as favorites are the ones I discussed with other readers. Whether it was with Chelsey for the podcast, the FictionMatters Book Club crew, or a more casual buddy read, the books I’ve had the opportunity to talk about are the ones that have stuck with me. I think that has to do with the way a conversation cements the book in my memory, but also that hearing multiple perspectives on a book adds layers of meaning and nuance to the book itself. I’m looking forward to more book discussions in the months and years to come, because it’s impacted my reading life in the very best way.

This week in books.

This week I read…

  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. I started this Women’s Prize for Fiction winner last year, but after getting bogged down with Aspen Lit Prize submissions, I had to put it aside. I was so glad to pick it up again, this time as a buddy read with some FictionMatters patrons. In this tight and breathtaking novel, Shamsie uses the framework of Sophocles’ Antigone to explore questions of faith, family, nationalism, and loyalty. Shamsie hits the ground running from the first line, “Isma was going to miss her flight,” and then perfectly paces this novel alternating between languorous prose that provides rich character development and short, propulsive chapters to build the tension. I also love how nuanced the themes and characters are in this novel, and the way Shamsie pushes back against common stereotypes. The story did rely on a couple of tropes that I tend to dislike, which kept this from being a runaway hit for me, but it’s certainly going to be a book I think about and recommend for years to come. I’m really looking forward to discussing this one more with the Patreon buddy readers, because I know I’ll get even more out of it after hearing their thoughts. Amazon | Bookshop

  • The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon. I needed something light to fit in between Home Fire and The Tiger’s Wife and Solomon’s romance novel based in the world of public radio was just the ticket. This delightful romp follows two ambitious radio station colleagues who start a talk show where they pretend to be exes and discuss all things dating and romance. Of course, the catch is they find each other incredibly attractive, which could put their deception and entire careers at risk. While this book was super steamy and both of the leads were infinitely likable, I found myself not caring all that much about their relationship. Perhaps strangely though, I didn’t mind that! I was more invested in the larger story, the public radio station setting, and the characters’ individual journeys, and that was totally fine by me because it still made for a really fun read. This book is definitely open door and if you hate romances whose plots are largely based on a lack of communication, you may want to steer clear of this one. Amazon | Bookshop

Now I’m reading…

  • All’s Well by Mona Awad. Awad’s super dark and strange campus novel Bunny was a favorite of mine a couple years ago, so I was delighted to receive an early copy of her August release. This story follows Miranda, a former theatre actress who takes a job as a professor and director after chronic pain keeps her from the stage. This year, she decides to stage a production of All’s Well that Ends Well, but her mutinous students demand to put on Macbeth instead. It’s Mona Awad, so things get weird quickly in the very best way. Amazon | Bookshop

  • The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. I finally started the July FictionMatters Book Club pick. It’s been on my TBR for ages, and it won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2012. But so far it’s received a lot of mixed reviews from FMBC members, so I’m very curious about how it will go for me. Amazon | Bookshop

Links I love.

On the FictionMatters blog, I ranked my favorite reads of the year so far. The list includes new releases, backlist books, and classics I read for Novel Pairings podcast episodes.

Libro.fm asked me to pair audiobooks with summer activities, and it was super fun to put this list together.

BookRiot’s contributors shared their best books of the year so far.

I was fascinated by this article about the way the rise of TV adaptations for streaming sites is changing the publishing landscape.

Looking for your next audiobook? The NYT’s has suggestions for every level of attention span. And this essay details how graphic novels become audiobooks.

I weirdly enjoyed reading this history of assigned summer reading. My take? Kids of all ages should be required to read in the summer, but allowed to read whatever they want.

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s masterpiece The Sympathizer is getting a TV adaptation starring Robert Downey Jr.

How do different cultures define happiness differently?

I love watching the Olympics, but the more I learn about everything that happens behind the scenes, the more I wonder if these events are worth it.

End notes.

Watching: Friends on HBO Max. I needed a short mindless show for background noise when I do mindless work so a Friends rewatch it is, I guess.

Listening: I’ve really been enjoying the reboot of the Witch, Please podcast. I completely understanding wanting to avoid all Harry Potter related content, but if you’re looking for something that examines the series critically, this is a good one. The hosts are both literature PhDs so it’s very academic and heavy on the literary theory. I particularly liked the episode on disability studies and disability representation (or lack thereof) in The Chamber of Secrets.

Making: We made the perfect summery shrimp and corn Instant Pot dish from the Milk Street cookbook. It will definitely be on repeat in this house.

Loving: Building my Nordstrom sale wishlist. I don’t have a Nordstrom credit card so I can’t shop early, but that’s okay because it gives me more time to think about what I really need. I like to preview the sale, add a bunch of maybe items to my wishlist, and then edit waaayyy back as the sale date (July 28th!) approaches. Here’s what’s caught my eye so far:

And for baby…


Readers, I hope you always have shelves big enough for your book collection. For questions, comments, or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to reach out by emailing fictionmattersbooks@gmail.com or responding directly to this newsletter. I love hearing from you!

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Happy reading!

Sara


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