Books that are better together (and 4 literary flights to get you started).

Books that are better together (and 4 literary flights to get you started).

Some books are better together. It’s been a while since we talked about book flights, but the idea is borrowed from wine. A wine flight groups carefully chosen varietals or vintage together, to better allow tasters to sample, compare, and learn.

I love a good wine flight, even though I don’t know much about wine. I’m much more comfortable in the world of books, and I love a good book flight. While I frequently read books willy-nilly, prioritizing the new, the recently recommended, or whatever reserve request just came in at the library, I’ve found there are real advantages to purposeful groupings of books.

I’ve put together a menu of 4 flights to get you started. I’m looking forward to hearing your personal favorites in comments.

A space odyssey

• The Martian by Andy Weir
• Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
• The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

 Andy Weir’s bestselling sci-fi novel is best described as “Cast Away in outer space:” an astronaut struggles to survive on Mars after his crew abandons him. Follow up that adventure story with Roach’s smart, scientific nonfiction, which examines weightlessness, motion sickness, radiation, and more. (There’s lots of bathroom humor: you can decide whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.) Follow those realistic reads up with Adams’s comedy science fiction classic.

Mostly Middlemarch

• Middlemarch by George Eliot
• My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
• The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
• How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman

Start with Eliot’s 904 page classic. (Seriously, read it.) If you need a push, start with the brand new and highly readable novel The Precious One (coming March 24): I love how de los Santos weaves Middlemarch through her story. Sure, you could read Mead’s memoir without reading Middlemarch, but why would you? Finish your flight with How to Be a Victorian, which illumines the setting of Middlemarch and the world of George Eliot.

 A spirit of steel and a heart of gold

• You Learn By Living by Eleanor Roosevelt
• No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin
• My Day: The Best of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Acclaimed Newspaper Columns, 1936-1962 by Eleanor Roosevelt
• My Year With Eleanor by Noelle Hancock

That’s how Churchill famously described Eleanor Roosevelt; you’ll agree wholeheartedly after this flight. Start anywhere: You Learn by Living is Roosevelt’s memoir/advice manual about living the good life. You’ll appreciate just how hard-won that advice was when you read No Ordinary Time (warning: it’s 800 pages). It’s an intimate biography which reveals how devastating Roosevelt’s personal life was. My Day compiles Roosevelt’s daily newspaper columns. If you wish, finish your flight with Hancock’s Eleanor-inspired memoir. I didn’t love it, but many of you did. 

 Literary thrillers

• The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
• First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett
• The Accident by Chris Pavone

The common thread in this flight: all the stories are set in motion by a manuscript. The Thirteenth Tale is a Gothic mystery in the spirit of Jane Eyre. (Further thoughts and caveats here.) First Impressions flips back and forth between Jane Austen’s time and today, when a librarian is desperately trying to prove Austen didn’t plagiarize Pride and Prejudice. The Accident begins when a new author’s manuscript mysteriously appears on an agent’s desk, and all hell breaks loose. If you love one of these gripping mysteries, read them all: they have a lot in common but you won’t feel like you’re reading the same book over and over again.

What books would you group together in a flight? What’s a flight you’d like to try?

P.S. Four more literary flights.

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73 comments

  1. Jamie says:

    Thanks for revisiting this idea! Book flights are so fun. 🙂
    Here are my recommendations:

    Iraq/Afganistan War:
    My Share of the Task (by General Stanley McChrystal)
    Duty:Memoirs of a Secretary at War (by Robert M. Gates)
    Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror (by Erik Prince)

    Food, Your Brain & The Social Consequences
    The Crazy Makers: How the Food Industry Is Destroying Our Brains and Harming Our Children by Carol Simontacchi
    The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime by Adrian Raine
    Pottenger’s Prophecy: How Food Resets Genes for Wellness or Illness by Deborah Gray Graham

    Magic
    The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (by Katherine Howe)
    A Discovery of Witches: A Novel (All Souls Trilogy, Book 1) by Deborah Harkness
    Garden Spells (by Sarah Addison Allen)

  2. Tory says:

    This doesn’t work for me at all – if I read similar books back-to-back, I get them all mixed up in my head and later I can’t remember which character, scene, or plot device belonged to which book.

    Perhaps flights would work better for me if all (or most) of the books are re-reads?

    • Anne says:

      I like flights best when the books aren’t terribly similar. Re-reading is a good idea, but also perhaps if you read a nonfiction book, a memoir, and a novel together—but on the same topic?

      • Halie Zimmerman says:

        My flights are loosely similar. For example, my last one was-
        Thorn Jack, Katherine Harbour
        On An Irish Island, The Lost World of the Great Blasket, Robert Kanigel
        Wild, Cheryl Strayed

        Thorn Jack is fantasy, Irish Island is a sort of historical documentary, and Wild is an autobiographical novel. They could all be categorized under adventure. Thorn Jack is a retelling of an ancient Scottish ballad, which I thought paired nicely with the Lost Island of Blasket, because of the mythology. Wild and Thorn Jack both have main characters that show strength after tragedy.
        There is no way I could get these confused, but they paired nicely.

  3. I love this concept! I have never heard it put this way but I’ve often reached for books that have similarities, reading them in succession. It also reminds me of how homeschooling families can get stuck on one subject or style of fiction until the interest dies. 🙂

  4. Julie says:

    This is so fun. I can think of several book pairings I would suggest like The Aviator’s Wife and Gift from the Sea or Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Great Gatsby, but a whole grouping is great too! Almost like a college English course, but less stress. 🙂

  5. I will add to the literary thrillers flight a new book that will be out this summer: THE BOOK OF SPECULATION. A mysterious book (a logbook from an old circus) shows up on the doorstep of a librarian. He becomes obsessed with the story and how it ties into his family, especially concerning mysterious deaths of the women in his family.

    And I will create my own, based on a book I am now reading– the recently released FINDING JAKE by Bryan Reardon. That paired with COLUMBINE (which Reardon has said gave him the idea for his book) and HIT LIST, a YA about a girl whose boyfriend was the shooter in a school shooting. You could also add NEWTOWN. It sounds morbid to say it’s a “School Shooting” flight, but, well, that’s what it is. Whatever it is, it’s all gripping reading!

  6. Miriam B says:

    I love this idea. I added your Middlemarch and Eleanor lists to my Goodreads app and will tackle these books this summer. I finally have a summer where I am not taking classes, so I am so excited to dive into great books.

  7. Tim says:

    The Austen mystery sounds intriguing, Anne, as does The Accident. I’m checking my library catalog to see if I can put them on reserve.

  8. Meg Evans says:

    Here’s a WWII/Pacific Rim Flight:

    Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
    The Boys on the Boat by Daniel James Brown
    Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

    Definitely looking forward to the Middlemarch flight. I just read My Year with Eleanor, read No Ordinary Time several years ago, and am looking forward to reading the other titles in that flight!

    Great concept!

    • Missy G. says:

      Thanks for your suggestion! Apparently I’m in the middle of a literary flight, and I didn’t even know it! 🙂 I finished Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet recently, and just happened to be listening to Unbroken right now since my hold was up at the library. Not on purpose, but it worked out well. I suppose I should check out The Boys on the Boat next!

  9. Morgan says:

    WWII/Holocaust

    The Hiding Place
    Diary of a Young Girl
    My Enemy’s Hiding Place
    Sarah’s Key
    All the Light We Cannot See

  10. Sloan says:

    I found that I tend to get burned out on reading the same kind of book over and over. I read so many dystopian fiction books that I’m not sure I can read any more for at least a year. However, I am super excited about the Eleanor Roosevelt “flight.” Already added it to my Amazon wish list!

  11. Morgan says:

    The South, Slavery, Civil Rights

    Uncle Tom’s Cabin
    Gone with the Wind
    Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
    The Kitchen House
    The Color Purple
    TKAM
    The Help
    A Time to Kill

    Sorry- that’s a really long flight 🙂

  12. Boarding school books with male protagonists:
    A Separate Peace
    Paper Covers Rock
    The Tragedy Papers

    Laugh out loud:
    A Confederacy of Dunces
    The Princess Bride
    The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, Aged 37 3/4

    Survival stories:
    Into the Wild
    Alabama Moon
    Ice Dogs
    Hatchet series

    journalism memoir
    The Tender Bar
    All Over But the Shoutin’

  13. Dana says:

    Child Narrator
    The Selected Works of T.S. Privette by Reif Larsen. This books is so different and fascinating because of all the drawings and marginalia that accompany it. T.S is a clever, odd , obsessive boy who keeps a journal of his experiments. There is a dark story that is slowly revealed as he embarks on a solo adventure across the country.

    Peace Like A River by Leif Enger. My 2nd favorite book ever. One of the best opening chapters in literature.

    To Kill a Mockingbird My # 1 favorite of all time.

    The Secret Lives of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.

    Whistling Past the Graveyard. by Susan Crandall Set in Mississippi during the 50’s. Reminiscent of the Secret Lives of Bees.

    I would away that all of the books have a tragedy/violence in them that the child narrator attempts to come to terms with or run away from.

  14. Katie says:

    This often seems to happen even unintentionally, doesn’t it? I remember in school, it seemed like similar themes or time periods seemed to come up at the same time across many unrelated classes. A few ideas:

    Horseracing, aka Seabiscuit and Beyond
    King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry, about the Godolphin Arabian, one of the horses from whom all Thoroughbreds are descended.
    Man o’ War by Walter Farley (the author of The Black Stallion), a fictional biography of one of the greatest racehorses ever.
    Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand.

    Plagues and Pestilence
    The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly
    The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry
    The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

    Iranian Women
    A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri (beautiful novel set in 1980s rural Iran)
    Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi (this is also a fun one to pair with some of the books mentioned, like Lolita)
    Veils: Short Stories by Nahid Rachlin (stories linked loosely into a single narrative by Teheran’s Ghanat Abad Avenue)

    Familiar with a Twist
    Deerskin by Robin McKinley (one of her lesser-known fairy-tale adaptations, and recommended with major trigger warnings. Try Rose Daughter for a less disturbing, more familiar tale).
    After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn. Modern-day superheroes.
    Enchanted by Orson Scott Card. A lovely Sleeping Beauty retread.

    America’s Big Three
    (All short story collections, because Hemingway was at his best in the short form, Faulkner is more accessible that way, and it gives a nice sampling of Fitzgerald beyond Gatsby.)
    In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
    Babylon Revisited and Other Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Collected Stories by William Faulkner

    Biblical Fiction
    The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (already read it? Try Orson Scott Card’s Biblical women series, starting with Sarah)
    Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle
    Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann (if you’re looking for an “originally published in another language” book for the reading challenge, and you like dense, impenetrable, allusion-ridden mid-20th century German fiction, this is the book for you!)

    This is fun to do with movies and television, too. For instance, the WWI books from Mary Grant Bruce’s Billabong series + the second season of Downton Abbey. Or try this flight:

    The Hero’s Journey
    The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
    Beowulf
    The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein
    Star Wars (Episodes IV, V, and VI of course! ;-))

    I think I could go on and on…and I’m adding lots of books to my TBR list from everyone else’s suggestions, too!

    • Jill says:

      I would add Geraldine Brook’s Year of Wonders to your plague and pestilence flight and her Nine Parts of Desire to your Iranian Women flight.

      • Katie says:

        Right? Right.

        I’m cheating on that flight, though, since those are of the books/movies we read/watched in a college course I took on the hero’s journey. It was great fun.

    • liz n. says:

      And to your flight on horses, I would add “The Blood Bay Colt,” also by Walter Farley. I think it’s my favorite of his works.

      • Katie says:

        I really wanted to add basically Henry’s and Farley’s entire catalogs but restrained myself. Though seven-year-old me would recommend all of them! 😉

        I love Blood Bay Colt. I considered putting Henry’s Black Gold since it keeps with the racing theme and is so good, but it would be confusing to read it and Man O War together since they’re so similar.

        Now I really want to take a ride down memory lane and reread all these….

  15. I just checked out three books from the library, all non-fiction and about different topics, but they complement each other so well!

    Best Friends – The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen : So uplifting and very story-like in nature

    The New Art of Living Green – How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint & Live A Happier, More Eco-Friendly Life by Erica Palmcrantz and Susanne Hovenas: Simplicity at its finest

    Just Married & Cooking – 200 Recipes for Living, Eating, and Entertaining Together by Brooke Parkhurst and James Briscione: I can’t wait to delve into this one more!

    I’m not sure if this would constitute a flight, but these books do tie together really well. I feel like the authors are writing with the same heart.

  16. A says:

    For whatever reason, I am drawn to stories that revolve around children who live with disabilities. Two of my all-time favorite books would make an excellent pairing. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (I have read three or four times) and Petey by Ben Mikaelson are both young adult fiction that feature main characters with cerebral palsy. Being YA, neither one is a particularly difficult read, but I think they each manage to pack an emotional punch. Beautiful stories. Now I want to read them again!

    • Terri says:

      I work with blind and visually impaired children. I like your list. I would add:
      From Anna by Jean Little, the most realistic portrait of what it is like to be visually impaired.

      All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a blind girl’s life in France during WWII

  17. Shauna says:

    I am SALIVATING at this post and the comments! I read Middlemarch last year and would love to round out that flight. Here’s a very specific flight on Sylvia Plath:

    The Bell Jar
    Sylvia Plath Collected Poems
    The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
    Wintering, by Kate Moses
    Birthday Letters, by Ted Hughes
    Her Husband, by Diane Middlebrook (haven’t read this one yet)

  18. Terri says:

    Biographies and Autobiographies of People Who Lived In WWII
    The Bielski Brothers (the movie Defiance was based on this book) by Peter Duffy
    All The Light We Cannot See (which I mentioned above) by Anthony Doerr
    The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boon, a classic
    We Die Alone by David Howarth, Norwegian man who braves Northern Norway in the Winter after his spy plans fall apart
    Behind Enemy Lines by Marthe Cohn, story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany

  19. Julie Bestry says:

    Mouthwateringly Julia:

    My Life in France by Julia Child
    As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto by Joan Reardon
    Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz
    Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
    Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
    Lots and lots of takeout menus

    🙂

  20. liz n. says:

    For foodies:
    –“Salt, A World History,” by Mark Kurlansky
    –“Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?” by Andrew Lawler
    –“Wine & War: The French, The Nazis, & The Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure,” by Done and Petie Kladstrup
    –“Chocolat,” by Joanne Harris

    For nature lovers:
    –“Watership Down,” by Richard Adams (like I wasn’t going to sneak this one in!)
    –“A Walk in the Woods,” by Bill Bryson
    –“Darwin and The Barnacle,” by Rebecca Stott
    –“The Jungle Book,” by Rudyard Kipling

    For Anglophiles:
    –“Notes From A Small Island,” by Bill Bryson
    –“The Uncommon Reader,” by Alan Bennett
    –“Pitt the Elder, Man of War,” by Edward Pearce
    –“English Passengers,” by Matthew Kneale

    For the Emotionally Stable:
    –“Cry, The Beloved Country,” by Alan Paton
    –“A Mercy,” by Toni Morrison
    –“The Schwa Was Here,” by Neal Shusterman
    –“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou

  21. liz n. says:

    For Civil War buffs:
    –“Across Five Aprils,” by Irene Hunt
    –“All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery,” by Henry Mayer
    –“Battle Pieces: The Civil War Poems of Herman Melville,” by Herman Melville
    –“The Killer Angels,” by Michael Shaara

    For that “Wow, I never knew that!” moment:
    –“What Einstein Told His Cook,” by Robert L. Wolke
    –“A History of Pi,” by Petr Beckman
    –“The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way,” by Bill Bryson
    –The Jesuit and the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin, Evolution, and the Search for Peking Man,” by Amir D. Aczel

    People you never knew you wanted to know more about:
    –“The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey that Transformed the World,” by Ken Alder
    –“Agatha Christie, An Autobiography,” by Agatha, of course
    –“Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World,” by Jack Weatherford
    –“The Mercury 13: The Untold Story of Thirteen American Women and the Dream of Space Flight,” by Martha Ackman

    For when you want to feel like a kid again:
    –“Little Bear,” by Else Holmelund Minarik
    –“The Golden Age,” by Kenneth Grahame
    –“The Essential Calvin and Hobbes,” by Bill Watterson
    –“And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” by Dr. Seuss

  22. Byrd says:

    I accidentally read A Wilder Rose (Susan Wittig Albert’s fictonalization of Rose Wilder Lane’s relationship with her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, while they were collaborating on the Little House Books) right after Travels With Zenobia, Lane’s travel diary as she drove a model T ford from Paris to Albania in the 20’s. Albert’s book could have been a sequel – the timing was perfect and you could also see how perfectly she’d nailed Lane’s voice.

  23. Bethany says:

    Magical Realism:
    Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede/Carolyn Stevermer Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
    Chalice by Robin McKinley
    Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

  24. Debby says:

    England during and immediately after WWI: the Ian Rutledge books by Charles Todd; the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear and of course Downton Abbey!

  25. Elizabeth says:

    Read aloud this excellent picture book to your children after you read the Eleanor Roosevelt list!

    Eleanor
    Story and Pictures by Barbara Cooney

  26. Amy says:

    I love this idea! I just got No Ordinary Time. I’ve been wanting to read this for awhile and you gave me just the nudge I needed to read it.

    I just finished The Boys in the Boat. This book would pair nicely with the YA books The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Bomb by Steve Shenkein. Tallgrass and Unbroken would also fit well with these books.

    Thanks for this post!

  27. Mimi says:

    Love all of these lists and suggestions! I’ve recommended The Book Thief and Night to be read back to back to several people. I thought they’d make an interesting pair together.

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