14 March 2012

Book pairings--do you do them?

I seem to have landed myself with a few unintended book pairings this year.  Do you ever do that, intentionally or not?

Let me explain.  In recent weeks, I finished reading Naomi Benaron's wonderful novel, Running the Rift, which is set before, during and immediately after the Rwandan genocide. Last night I started reading In the Shadow of the Banyan Tree by Vaddey Ratner, which is a story of the Khmer Rouge's Killing Fields, but I hadn't made the connection until my husband picked it up over breakfast this morning, read the back cover, and made some comment about my reading genocide with a genocide chaser.

Which made me realize that I've had other uncommon book pairings recently.  Up until 2012, I'd never read a book set in Detroit in my life, I don't think.  Last month I read Say Nice Things About Detroit by Scott Lasser, and I'm currently listening to the audio of Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, which is also a Detroit love song.

Last week I read two books set in academia, literally back to back. One was The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller and the other was An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer. I read them both straight through in one day, separated by a period of only 15 minutes.

None of these pairings was a conscious choice on my part.  I thought Middlesex was set in New England until I started listening to it. Oh, wait, I just thought of one pairing and it *was* intentional. Up until this year, I'd never read a book set in North Korea, but then I read Adam Johnson's amazing novel, The Orphan Master's Son.  It was such an utter revelation that when I met Brandon Jones at Winter Institute and learned that his book was also set largely in North Korea, I was conscious of wanting to read it because of the former book.  All Woman and Springtime was a good companion read to the other one, with Johnson's reading more like a hard-hitting journalistic piece and Jones's reading more like the human interest angle.

So what about y'all?  Have you uncovered any patterns in your reading that you weren't conscious of making? 



  1. I always see patterns in my reading and they're almost never intentional. I can move from a thriller with a certain theme into a lit fic that has a similar theme. It's the strangest thing, but definitely something I notice a lot in my reading.

  2. YES. I was just thinking about this strange phenomenon.

    I read Shopgirl and Him Her Him Again The End of Him back-to-back, coincidentally. Both have VERY similar themes...and Steve Martin wrote a blurb for the cover of Him Her about how he wished he had written it.

    Then I read The Good Father, about a father who's son is accused of assassinating a presidential frontrunner, written from the father's perspective as he tries to figure out what went wrong. Now I'm reading We Need to Talk About Kevin, which is essentially the same idea, as you know.

    I LOVE it when this happens.

  3. I have a pairing that I've actually planned intentionally... actually, it's been planned for about a year, but I still haven't read the books! Anyway, I plan to pair "Rape: A Love Story" by Joyce Carol Oates with "Picking Cotton" by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino.

    On a non-pairing note, the books you've listed sound amazing! I'm going to add them to my wishlist!

  4. You continue to slay me, Ms. Crowe.
    Now I read this, and I find myself compelled to devour each and every one of your unlikely pairings. (Middlesex is the only book I've already got under my belt, so to speak.)
    Thank you for consistently inspiring me to read works I wouldn't otherwise have encountered and to write as compellingly as I possibly can, emulating you.

  5. Oh, Laurie, you flatterer!

    I just thought of one more book pairing. I'm in the process of slowing reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, which is the biography of a WWII bombardier in the Pacific who survives unimaginable ordeals, including a long time adrift in a lifeboat after his plane goes down in the Pacific.

    Last night I just finished a debut novel called The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan, which features a similar situation, although a more heavily populated one.

  6. I wonder if you couldn't technically figure out a way to pair almost any two books? I sat down to write a review for two mysteries which I thought were as different as was humanly possible, and found that they were actually pretty similar, even though they were set in completely different places with completely different narrators. Anyway, I like trying to figure out how very different books can be made to "go together."

  7. What a fascinating idea! Running the Rift is in my TBR stack currently, glad to hear you like it!

    They were not paired closely together, but I was thinking about how well The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst and The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger go together. They are both, at their core, about a very true-to-life kind of love relationship, both have some very strange elements (something like magical realism although I'm not sure they were quite 'literary' enough for that designation- thoughts?) and both made me cry like a baby.


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