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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  1. Elizabeth says:

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

    Story and Pictures by Barbara Cooney

  2. 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!

  3. 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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