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Pages Upon Pages: 5 Favorite Books-Within-Books


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Metafiction is the ultimate analog binge-reading experience, and we love literary inception in our reading diet, and a lot of it. As unapologetically obsessive bookworms, we will take all of the stories we can get stuffed into a single volume. And nesting doll stories about writers and writing, the horrors of the creative process, and the mental toll of making shit up for a living (or stealing it) is so rife with satisfying plot twists and questionable character behavior, we find ourselves returning to the proverbial well time and time again. 

In our latest novel, The Rule of Three, we had a blast crafting our own contribution to this category. In our case, the story features a wildly popular book club pick that may or may not be directly linked to a double homicide.

There are so many books that we adore that fall into this category, but for the sake of getting back to our TBR piles quickly, we picked a handful of our favorites. This list could easily be much, much longer.

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More Than You’ll Ever Know by Katie Gutierrez

In her dazzlingly lyrical first novel, Gutierrez deftly explores the malleable nature of truth as she asks a fundamental question: who gets to tell – and thereby shape – those narratives that unspool before the public eye? Cassie Bowman, a young true-crime devotee and aspiring author, stumbles upon the story of Lore Rivera, an international banker who had, decades earlier, managed to lead a double life juggling two families, until the fateful, fatal day when one husband tragically confronted the other. Cassie initially sees the sordid tale as the perfect opportunity to make a name for herself in the literary world, and manages to earn the trust of the media-wary Lore. But as the women grow closer, and Cassie begins to sniff out details that run contrary to the widely-accepted news coverage around the scandal, she’s confronted with a moral dilemma: sacrifice her integrity for the exposure she craves, or do right by the woman who’s taken Cassie into her confidence?

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Hello, Transcriber by Hannah Morrissey

Morrissey’s gritty, atmospheric and gorgeously rendered debut follows Hazel Greenlee, a police transcriber and aspiring novelist living in Black Harbor, a hardscrabble Wisconsin city. A natural writer, Hazel is given to assessing the textures of words and reading punctuation marks in people’s facial expressions. As her work with the department – and her proximity to the brooding detective Nikolai Kole – entangle Hazel in a spate of drug-related deaths, the young woman takes the mantra “write what you know” to heart, exploring on the page the myriad threats facing her in Black Harbor – an abusive, heavily-armed husband; potentially dangerous and dishonest figures on both sides of the law; and the seemingly insidious pull of the town itself – in the hopes of penning a story that can establish her as an author and help take her far away from the pitfalls of her current life. 

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Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews

Florence Darrow is a low-level publishing employee who dreams of literary success. Desperate to leave behind her humdrum Floridian upbringing and the lack of sophistication she equates it with, the young woman has moved to New York City in pursuit of her dream. Yet Florence can’t help but feel like an outsider, and harbors frustration at being stuck in what she considers a menial job. So when an opportunity presents itself to work as the assistant to a wildly successful yet anonymous author, the driven young woman jumps at the opportunity. Florence feels a kinship with the acclaimed writer, and something about the plotline of her wildly successful debut resonates with the determined young upstart’s sense of ambition. What follows is a diabolically twisty, acid-penned meditation on the ultimate costs of aspiration and opportunism as Andrews delivers a gleefully sinister morality tale for the ages.  

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Hell of a Book by Jason Mott

In his genre-bending, National Book Award-winning novel about a disassociated-from-reality author on a bestselling book tour, Jason Mott has crafted a brilliantly braided tale that is as intoxicatingly disoriented as the protagonist at the center of it all.The story’s mysterious elements, unreliable characters, and distinct surrealism paint a deeply unsettling backdrop to this beautifully layered tale. Opening with a three a.m., high-speed pursuit of the nameless and naked protagonist by a cuckolded husband, this propulsive book doesn’t let up much from there. Front-loaded with all of the hallmarks of great suspenseful storytelling – and a third wall-breaking, unreliable, unlikable, and oft-inebriated main character – Hell of A Book evolves into three intersecting storylines about racial violence, self-identity, and love and grief. What comes into focus throughout is a deeply impactful exploration of imagination and mental illness, race and identity politics, and friendship and family. It is a book within a book title that lives up to its name many times over.

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The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

A deliciously sinister take on the ‘those who can’t, teach’ trope, Korelitz’s literary thriller dives into the life of struggling novelist and professor Jacob Finch Bonner. Unable to follow up on his first novel’s considerable success, Bonner finds himself toiling away at a middling MFA program, surrounded by starry-eyed writing students looking to him to shepherd them into dream literary careers. All except for the insufferably cocksure Evan Parker, who makes no secret of his creative brilliance. He doesn’t need Jacob or the program; he already has an idea for a guaranteed blockbuster. Jacob writes Evan off as hubristic, until he privately hears the novel’s setup. Captivated by the idea, and crippled by his own creative inadequacy, Bonner spirals, until he learns that Evan Parker has died without ever publishing his book. Jacob’s resulting decision to craft his own novel around Parker’s inspired plot unfurls into a delicious cat and mouse mind-bender when the book vaults him toward a meteoric comeback. Then, he receives a cryptic message; “You are a thief”. The ensuing mystery about who knows the truth, and how far they will go to punish him, culminates in a twisty revenge tale that strips bare all of the self-doubt and insecurity inherent in an imposter syndrome heavy creative career.

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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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