Discover more from FictionMatters Newsletter
Page-turning reads for stressful moments
Plus a surrealist dystopian novel and how books teach us to forgive
We have the first week of preschool under our belt and the whole household is feeling excited, eager, and a little shell-shocked by the experience. I was anticipating an extra clingy toddler in response to such a big change, but I wasn’t fully emotionally prepared for how exhausting this brand of clinginess would be. I know it’s going to take some time to settle into a rhythm—and then everything will change again and we’ll need to find a new rhythm—but I’m feeling a little beaten down by the week and am having to work to stay positive about it. Some gems to come from the experience have been Lou telling us that she loves her teacher “so much” and, when asked what she played at school, she said “I don’t play. I just watch kids” 😂 Here’s hoping there’s more playing and less strife in the weeks to come.
Speaking of rhythms, one thing I’m looking forward to with the increased reliability of our childcare situation (though, trust me, I know nothing can be considered reliable with a toddler), is creating a more consistent writing and posting schedule for this newsletter. I have a lot of ideas of what I want to add and improve, and I’m looking forward to getting creative and expanding what I have to offer. I’ll be taking next Sunday off for Labor Day, but beginning in September, you can expect newsletters arriving weekly on Sundays and Tuesdays, with an additional post for paid subscribers on Fridays. Details about those weekly posts are forthcoming. Don’t forget that if you are experiencing email fatigue, the Substack app allows you to keep and read all your subscriptions in one place without cluttering your inbox.
Additionally, mark your calendars for my fall reading guide dropping on September 10th. Just like last year, I’ll be sharing Five for Fall—my hyper-curated, only the best collection of literary fiction titles—free for all. Additionally, paid subscribers and Patreon members will get the 2023 Fall Reading Compendium. This will be a resource to help you navigate your fall reading journey. Whether you’re looking to explore the buzziest books of the season, wade into new-to-you genre territory, or diverge from the well-trod path of Big Five publishing, I’ve created a roadmap to guide you through what’s shaping up to be one heck of a publishing season.
This week in books.
This week I read…
The Queue by Basma Adbel Aziz. This was the FictionMatters Book Club selection of August and I can’t wait to discuss it. Set in an unnamed country in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, this surrealist novel focuses on an authoritarian regime where citizens must wait in a never-ending line seeking permission from The Gate to do just about anything. The exploration of the regime’s bureaucracy and brutality makes this short novel a smart, intriguing, and important addition to the long tradition of political dystopian fiction. I’m so glad I read it and I know I’ll get even more out of it after our FMBC dicussion. Amazon | Libro.fm
Now I’m reading…
I informally polled my Instagram audience this week to see if people more highly value trusted reviews on much anticipated new books or insight into less popular books when it comes to seasonal reading guides. The results were extremely close, but less hyped books took a slight lead so I’ve been focusing on that for my final weeks of previewing fall books.
If you are an international reader or just prefer UK covers, you can also order books through my Blackwell’s affiliate page!
Elaine asks: I will be traveling in a few months, packing light so I plan to only bring my Kobo and I need something that will distract me while I am flying (I have become quite the anxious flyer!) I am looking for a plotty book that still has good character development and if possible, a strong sense of place. I would love any recommendations for books that will just keep you turning pages but not too grisly! Examples of books that have worked for me are Yellowface, Miracle Creek and Bad Blood.
Alright, Elaine, you and I seem to have similar taste in airplane books so I’ll share a few that have worked for me. Long Bright River by Liz Moore and When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain are mysteries with complex characters and themes, much like Miracle Creek. And if it wasn’t aready on your radar, Angie Kim’s new book Happiness Falls is getting great reviews and is out this Tuesday. Attica Locke’s mysteries are great for this vibe as well, especially her Highway 59 series beginning with Bluebird, Bluebird. I also think a book with short, alternating POV chapters might work well for you because of all the cliffhangers propelling you along! Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid and anything by Kate Morton (my favorite is The Forgotten Garden) come to mind. Because you enjoyed Bad Blood (which I also loved!) I wanted to share some plotty, page turning nonfiction as well. The Art Thief by Michael Finkel might be absolutely perfect for you, and it’s short enough to read in a couple of flights. I find David Grann’s narrative nonfiction to be completely transporting, and either The Wager and Killers of the Flower Moon would be a good place to start. I’ll also throw out Rebecca Yarros’ Fourth Wing which is this summer’s sensation and (while not my usual cup of tea) is undeniably captivating.
SF asks: I’m (also) a teacher who doesn’t have time or mental capacity for heavy books during the year, and I’m just now getting around to (and loving) A Little Life. That said, what I’m really looking for are light-hearted, quick reads as brain break books and for when I’m catching up on reviews. My go-to genre for this used to be romance, but I am taking a hiatus from reading romance novels as I work on my mental health and my relationship, so I would love help finding some joyful alternatives. Thanks!
I can deeply relate to this (perhaps unanticipated) consequence of teaching. I also struggle to find light books I love. That being said, I do have a few that I can highly recommend and will hopefully work for you! One of my favorite books from last year was Search by Michelle Huneven, which is on the lighter side, but also surprisingly deep and propulsive. Robin Sloane’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is utterly delightful, and I’ve heard great things about Sourdough as well. In the realm of genre fiction, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet or A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers are excellent cozy sci-fi picks. And if you enjoy mysteries and happen to be a Jane Austen fan (that’s pretty specific I know 😂) The Murder of Mr. Wickham and its sequel completely delighted me. I like these genre options for you in particular, because if you love them you can keep going with the author or series. For literary fiction, I highly recommend Ann Patchett’s latest, Tom Lake. There’s also some wonderfully joyful nonfiction coming out these days. Collections from R. Eric Thomas, Ross Gay, and Samantha Irby could be fun, especially if you enjoy audiobooks. Good luck with the new school year and thank you for your hard work!
Have a reading dilemma or need a book recommendation? Use this form to tell me your current reading mood, share a book you love that you want a readalike for, or pose a reading life dilemma you need help solving. I’ll select requests for responses in the regular Sunday newsletter while I’m previewing books for my fall reading guide.
Links I love.
I really appreciated this essay about forgiveness in literature. It gave me a lot to think about along with some great book recommendations.
My friend Cornelia wrote this wonderful piece about country dances and Jane Austen for LitHub.
We’re in for a slew of literary historical fiction novels this fall. Here are some past award winners in the genre that will be easier to get from the library.
Wondering what books will be big this fall? Here are some early frontrunners.
This week in views, listens, eats, and moments of joy.
I have been looking for the perfect house shoes for years and I finally found them. These are comfortable, cute enough, hard-soled for stepping out in the yard, and versatile enough to wear through every season. I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend this much but if I think about it as cost per wear it’s not bad at all. They don’t come in half sizes so if you’re between two sizes, size down.
I splurged on this Papier planner for the new academic calendar and I have no regrets. It is gorgeous and the layout is minimal while still including everything I need to stay organized.
My husband made this simple turkey chili and it was a major crowd pleaser (spicy though!).
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