Reading is better when it’s done wine tasting style

Reading is better when it’s done wine tasting style

I’m a sucker for a wine flight on a restaurant menu. Instead of the usual glass, a flight contains several small glasses of different wines. By sipping several different wines back to back, you get a better feel for a certain varietal or vintage. Comparing the different flavors lets you appreciate the wines’ depth and breadth far better than an individual glass.

(Or so they say, I’m definitely a novice when it comes to wine.)

But I do know my books, and I love a good literary tasting flight. I usually choose books spur of the moment, picking up whatever looks good (or whatever the library has on reserve for me). But there’s an advantage to purposeful groupings: a flight teaches me far more about a subject’s depth and breadth than my usual one-off method.

The options for book flights are endless: you can read all of Jane Austen, or the Transcendentalist poets, or the Lost Generation. You can delve into the Civil War or stem cell research or Arctic exploration. But my favorite flights combine genres: the variety and varying viewpoints fascinate me, while delivering the depth and breadth that makes a flight sing.

I’ve put together a menu of 4 flights to get you started. I’d love to hear your personal favorites in comments.

Tasting flights for wine and books

The Time Traveler

In this flight Madeleine L’Engles 1962 classic (which she refused to identify as Kid Lit, even though it’s marketed at such today) joins with Rebecca Stead’s 2010 Newberry Winner that leans heavily on the earlier book. Pairing these two novels with Listening for Madeleine’s 50+ interviews (including Stead’s) brings a fascinating depth to L’Engle and her work.

Class Matters

Evelyn Waugh’s gorgeous 1945 novel encapsulates the fall of the British empire in one aristocratic family. To shed more light on the class issues at play, this flight first looks back to the 1920s, to the memoir of an English kitchen maid–the lowest of the low of the downstairs servants. Next, we look abroad to the pre-war world of 1938 New York City, when social stratifications are still stark and social climbing drives the plot of Towle’s debut novel.

From Paris, With Love

This flight features 3 memoirs made distinct by time and voice. Begin with Julia Child’s 2006 memoir, where you’ll marvel over how she serendipitously fell in love with French cooking in mid-century Paris. Two modern memoirs round out the grouping: Wizenberg’s 2009 tale is poignant and soulful; Lebovitz’s 2009 account is full of snark and dark humor. Together these three accounts provide wildly different views of this great city–and its food.

Fashion Cents

Begin with Weisberger’s easy-reading 2004 novel about the young intern hired as an assistant to Miranda Priestly, the high-powered fashion editor notoriously modeled on Vogue’s Anna Wintour. Next, pick up Cline’s journalistic exploration of the origins–and true cost–of fast fashion. Coddington’s 2012 memoir doesn’t stand on its own (save for the gorgeous photos) but adds an interesting dimension to the conversation on fashion’s importance and implications. All three books benefit from a viewing of the 2009 documentary The September Issue, about the making of Vogue’s encyclopedia-like fall fashion issue, which focuses heavily on the relationship between Wintour and Coddington.

What’s a personal favorite book flight? Or a flight you’d like to try? 

photo credit: 1, 2

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83 comments

  1. Sarah says:

    I love this idea! We did something like this by accident in our family where we were all reading World War 2 books. Suite Francaise (me), Diary of Anne Frank (8th Grader), Steinbeck’s “The Moon is Down” (10th Grader).

  2. Amy says:

    What a great idea Anne! I have been wanting to read Marcus’ collection of Madeleine and Stead, so this was the push I needed. They are reserved at the library! If I was going to suggest a flight of books (a classic, an analytical, and recent) I’d probably go with an early modern women theme: Natalie Zemon Davis’ THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE (the amazing historian Davis scours the archives for this delicious tale from Southern France in 1560s); Merry E Wiesner Hanks WOMEN AND GENDER IN EARLY MODERN EUROPE (the very best and most readable introduction) and then Karen Cushman’s CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY (feisty 13th century Catherine take on her world. But Cushman’s other works MIDWIFE’S APPRENTICE, MATILDA BONE, or MAGGIE SWAN are equally wonderful) Thanks for all you do (and read!) Anne!

  3. Donna says:

    This is an awesome idea! I’ve probably done similar “flights” – I will have to refresh my memory. I know that when I read something and really enjoy it I tend to keep reading other books on a similar “topic” or set in a similar time period (both novels and non-fiction). I just never thought to call it a book flight!

  4. Catie says:

    Love this! I just put Below Stairs and Brideshead on hold. 🙂

    I’m a recent follower to your blog and have been reading a few books from your Ultimate Reading Guide, which I just love. You may have mentioned this before, but how do YOU find books to read? 🙂 Other blogs? Bestseller lists?

    • Anne says:

      Catie, I thought Below Stairs was only okay on its own, but it does really contribute to the discussion on class and culture. Moderate your expectations accordingly. 🙂

      I’m not a huge fan of finding books on the bestseller lists: I’ve read too many duds from there! I do stumble on some good reads on blogs (though it really depends on whichblog). Sometimes I’ll grab a book after hearing an author interview on NPR (although I’ve been disappointed by quite a few of those). Sometimes I’ll see them on Goodreads (I’m learning who has similar taste to me over there.)

      I don’t always choose well: I feel like I’ve read a lot of duds recently. But this week I’ve been on a winning streak. 🙂

  5. Moira says:

    I often stumble into “flights” unintentionally, like the Churchill kick I’ve been on (Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal, A Daughter’s Tale by Mary Soames, and your recommendation of Gretchen Rubin’s 40 Ways to Look at Winston Churchill), but I love the extra value in picking the books ahead of time to really complement each other. Several of the books you mention are on my to be read list, but I think I will read them in groups to really get the most of out it. There’s just something about immersing yourself in a subject for a while, isn’t there?

  6. Erica says:

    I usually don’t put together any “flights” with my books. Generally I just make sure I grab a non-fiction book along with whatever fiction I’m getting. However, I’ve sometimes found myself picking similar books without even realizing it. Recently I find myself going farther and farther back in time. I started out reading the Beatrix Potter mysteries, then I moved on to a continuation of Sanditon; now I’m reading The Hangman’s Daughter and have a book on ancient Egypt. I suppose I’ll see if I go any farther back. (I guess that would require re-reading Genesis!)

  7. This is a great idea! I love the Class Matters flight. I’ve been wanting to read Persuasion again along with the YA sci-fi book that’s modeled after it: For Darkness Shows the Stars.

  8. Tuija says:

    You have a really interesting concept here! Love it.
    I think I often read a number of books on the same topic, but I usually don’t decide that in advance or consciously select titles that complement each other. I often search the library database for a book on a certain topic, and I come up with a list of titles that sound intriguing. Or one book just leads to another…
    From your flights, I’d love “From Paris with love” – I’ve already read Julia Child’s memoir and I sometimes read David Lebovitz’s blog.

  9. Sarah says:

    This is such a cool concept! I often “fall down the rabbithole” of reading one particular author’s work, but I haven’t intentionally read several books on the same topic like this. (Although I did love reading Maisie Dobbs right after finishing Season 3 of Downtown Abbey — which was just coincidental — it’ s set after WW1 and deals with some of the same upstairs/downstairs themes.)

  10. Jimi says:

    Oh I love this idea!! My favorite would likely be number three, since I’ve read both My Life in France and A Homemade Life. I’ll have to check out The Sweet Life in Paris. I just love this idea. I’ll have to give some thought to creating my own…hmmmm.

  11. Sarah Ronk says:

    Love this!!! Our book club is taking a weekend trip this fall and have rented a house (on a lake and everything!!) This would be perfect for some of our discussion. I was already thinking a book/movie tie-in would be fun for our trip but this is even better!! Three books and a movie will always win over one book and a movie. 🙂

  12. kelli says:

    Love it! This is how I read most of the time – helps me understand a time period or a history of a subject. Love how you presented it.

  13. Breanne says:

    You had me in with wine and books. 😉 What a fun grouping and I was surprised to find that I have read most of these already although not together.

    I love books in Paris and have often stumbled from one to the other and marvel at the different pictures presented by different authors. I just requested the books I hadn’t read from our library, thanks for that!! =)

  14. What a glorious and creative post – I LOVED it! I feel like I’ve taken the first part of the ‘Time Traveller’ flight. I of course LOVE A Wrinkle In Time (Madeleine L’engle’s my favorite author), and I just finished ‘When You Reach Me’, per your advising in your summer reading guide – it was WONDERFUL! (Have you read any of the other Rebecca Stead books? I’m intrigued, but wasn’t sure which other ones were good). I’ve been wanting to read ‘Listening for Madeleine’ for awhile now…it seems like the perfect time.
    I’m currently reading ‘Comfort Me With Apples’ by Ruth Reichl, and have been surprised how much I love it! I love her writing style, and it makes me want to read some of her other books, but I’m unsure which ones–suggestions?
    Thanks for this post Anne! 🙂

    • Anne says:

      I’ve read all of Rebecca Stead. First Light was only okay: I wouldn’t bother. But Liar & Spy was fun. The ending completely caught me by surprise (but only because I’m really, really gullible.)

      All the Ruth Reichl books blend together for me. I didn’t really like the book about her mom, by I remember enjoying Comfort Me With Apples and Tender at the Bone. And of course, Garlic and Sapphires is delightful (and manages to be about so much more than food).

  15. Jillian Kay says:

    This is awesome! Really great post!

    Of course I have to get through all of the book I’ve added to my holds list at the library through Twitterature first. Some days I am so tempted to close my office door, take my phone off the hook like I’m on a conference call & just read.

    • Anne says:

      Now that sounds like a glorious way to spend an afternoon. (Unless you were in a hammock somewhere instead of at the office. That might improve things a bit.)

  16. HopefulLeigh says:

    “Literary Flights”- I swear you’re a genius! I’ve never conscientiously done this but it often seems one book leads to another. Yesterday I stopped by to pick up books I’d reserved: Moveable Feast, Loving Frank, and The Paris Wife. For some reason, they just seem to go together but it was completely unintentional!

    I’ve read most of the books you’ve listed but the only flight listed here I’ve completed is From Paris, With Love. It’s definitely a good one. Fashion Cents is also a great combination- I just need to read Grace’s memoir and I’ll be complete. I agree with the recommendation to watch The September Issue. I need to watch it again! Sometimes our reading habits are uncanny, Anne. It must be why we’re friends!

    • Anne says:

      Oh, I want to hear how Loving Frank is!

      I don’t think Grace’s memoir stands on its own, but it was very interesting reading after having seen The September Issue. It probably would have been more interesting if less than 3 years had lapsed since I’d seen it. 🙂

      Is there a literary equivalent of blood brothers? I’d be in. 🙂

  17. Rebecca says:

    Oooo. . .these look good. I tend to read in author “flights” rather than topical, but I love the idea of a topical flight. I just reserved the books for your Time Traveler Flight.

    Here’s my Flawed Girl Flight for those who enjoy YA fiction

    The Secret Garden by Frances Hogden Burnett, a fiction classic
    Princess Ben by Catherine Murdock, a modern fairy tale
    The Magic Circle series by Tamora Pierce, straight up fantasy fiction. Tris, the weather mage, is the flawed gal in this series.

    If you’re tired of cookie cutter heart-of-gold spunky/misunderstood heroines, enjoy this flight 🙂

    • Anne says:

      I love the name of your flight! I haven’t read any of those books (really, not even The Secret Garden), but that sounds like a terrific grouping. I like your descriptions, too.

      • Laurie Fite says:

        My heart just stopped. You must read the Secret Garden. It is at the top of my favorite list having read it any number of times. Part of the fun, I’m sure, is that it’s my grandmother’s book (and I’m a grandmother) so it’s literally falling apart at the bindings. Gives it more flavor!

  18. Sara says:

    This is such a fun idea and your lists sound great. I can’t wait to start! By the way, I’ve been enjoying your reading list and just started reading my second book from your recommendations. Thanks!

  19. Keely says:

    What a great idea! I often find that if I love one book by a certain author, I’m tempted to read everything else the author has written but often get bored/disappointed that I’m reading something so different from the book I loved. So I love this idea of a common thread among different authors.
    Your recommendations have yet to disappoint me. Thanks, Anne!

    • Anne says:

      I’m so glad you’re finding good stuff! And now that you put it like that, I’ve had the same experience when I’ve read one author’s work all in a row. (John Green and Rebecca Stead leap immediately to mind.)

  20. Sarah says:

    Great choices! I’m a huge fan of flight reading — that’s how I fell in love with (all of) Philip Roth 😉 I love your Time Traveler flight (I am counting the minutes till my kids can read L’Engle) and the Class Matters choices are fabulous. Waugh is one of my all-time faves, and I just read Rules of Civility (LOVE LOVE LOVE). Clicked through and kindled Below Stairs … that’ll be my fun non-fic reading this summer while I work through my 50 BOOKS OF FICTION OR BUST resolution this year. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Anne says:

      Can you believe it? I’ve never read Philip Roth. (Would I like him, and what’s a good place to start?)

      I didn’t love Below Stairs on its own, but it definitely added a dimension I was missing to that sort of book. And to Downton Abbey, honestly. 🙂

      • Sarah says:

        Start with AMERICAN PASTORAL. It’s literally stunning and remains the best work of American fiction I have ever ever ever read. I don’t love ALL the books as much as this one, but I have found SOMETHING to love in all of them … after AP I went back to the very beginning and read it ALL. I can get a little OCD 😉

        Downton Abbey — oh my . Got me through so many long nights nursing my twins. I am counting the seconds until it’s back.

        Have you read Gone Girl, and do I really have to? I keep hearing I should but I’m always a little squeamish about books that get that huge that fast …

  21. I have never heard it expressed this way, but I love it!
    This reminds me of college, when, inadvertently, I would end up reading a flight, all for different classes. I loved the ways the texts would work together, even across disciplines, referencing the same ideas or authors or quotes.
    I’ve always known that God uses books to speak to us 🙂
    You’ve encouraged me to try to come up with a more intentional flight now. Can’t wait to get started!

    • Anne says:

      Oh, interesting point about interdisciplinary connections. So great when that happened.

      And yes, I’m a big believer in the serendipity of the right book at the right time. 🙂

  22. Jen says:

    Wonderful idea! I’ve never intentionally read a few similar books all together, but I did once read The NIght Circus and then Water for Elephants. Just need to find one more good circus book to read in addition to these!

    I think out of all of the flights you suggested, I like the TIme Traveler the best. I just may add those books to the top of my list. Thanks!

    • B J Apsley says:

      Jen: If you’re interested. The website SheReads has a column titled Under the Big Top with a list of 5 or 6 books including The night Circus and Water for Elephants. You might find a 3rd book in that list.

  23. Karianna says:

    So many books to add to my reading list! We’re reading “Persuasion” for my book club now and I’d like to add the other “Class Matters” titles, as well as the Sci-Fi spin mentioned in comments. I’ve never consciously grouped books together but it makes sense… I don’t know why, but Churchill’s been on my brain lately, I’ll have to check out the Churchill flight as well!

  24. Maggie says:

    I love this idea! Back in the winter I got onto an American Civil War era kick and carried my book club with me. We read: “The Secrets of Mary Bowser” , “Killer Angels”, “Little Women” and “Killing Lincoln” . I thought this combination gave a good sense of what the Civil War was like from different perspectives. Of course there are so many Civil War books, you could easily replace one of these with something else. I wasn’t crazy about “Killing Lincoln”, but it did have some interesting information. And of course “Killer Angels” was fabulous!

    • Anne says:

      Maggie, this sounds so interesting. Most of my Civil War comes from history books and Gone with the Wind. I’d love to delve into some of these Lincoln books. (Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals has been on my to-be-read list for ages.)

  25. What, no Time Traveler’s Wife?! 🙂

    I tend to accidentally group things as someone else mentioned. I’ll read a book for review, and then grab something at the library, and realize that they’re both set in 1920s London, etc.

    I did a couple of “History by Threes” groupings a year or so ago (which reminds me… I’ve been meaning to do another). That was fun because I did 1 fic, 1 NF, and 1 kid book all from the same historical period. I agree that it expands your depth of knowledge quickly, and makes for more interesting reads when things are related.

  26. This is pure delight, Anne. I’m a wine AND book geek – you’ve touched my heart. I’m inspired to write a similar post for my own blog and will track right back here to you – thank you for the smiles and the inspiration.

    Julie

  27. Esther says:

    My book list is already daunting and now so many more selections to add to it! Between your list and the wonderful
    Suggestions in the comments, I’ll have reading material for months to come. Thanks for all of the wonderful suggestions
    and the concept of book flights–it’s lovely!

  28. Janet says:

    Never thought of grouping, tend to read opposites, if I’ve read a murder mystery I’ll go for something humorous next. I have read The Martian and The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Universe, but many years apart.

  29. Beth says:

    I’ve just discovered your webpage, and decided to join in on the 2017 Reading Challenge. I love this idea of “Book Flights” and have decided to read the Madeleine L’Engle flight. She has long been my favorite author, but I have not yet read the two books you paired with A Wrinkle in Time. I look forward to this pairing!

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