I love a good wine flight, yet I’m much more comfortable in the world of books—and so I really 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 literary match-ups.
It’s the time of year when sports fans—plus a whole bunch of people who, eleven months of the year, couldn’t care less—turn their attention to college basketball.
What’s so great about March Madness? The match-ups. As readers, we know all about the importance of a strategic pairing. So over the next four weeks we’re hosting our own Book Flight Bonanza to bring a whole bunch of great book match-ups—or, in our terms, book flights— your way. 32 pairings, to be exact, for a total of 64 fantastic books.
To stay on top of each week’s picks and get access to your updated printable “brackets” (to serve as your shopping/library list), subscribe below. Print your brackets, grab your highlighter, and start planning what you want to read next. Subscribers will get those printables in their inbox automatically with each new Book Flight Bonanza post.
That’s the blank “bracket” above. We’re kicking off our reading festivities today, filling in our first “region” with eight flights (that’s sixteen books) that pair terrific novels with illuminating nonfiction.
Alaskan adventure gone wrong
I inhaled Kristin Hannah’s long-anticipated new release about a family struggling for physical and emotional survival in the Alaskan wilderness. Hannah writes, “There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” It’s so good—we’ll be reading it in the MMD Book Club this summer. Pair this with Krakauer’s pageturner about a young man who wanted to live the unadorned life in the Alaskan, and who made his second mistake just 16 weeks after entering the Alaskan bush.
Love and Justice
Jones’s newly-released novel is getting all the love for all the right reasons: she turns the racial injustice of mass incarceration—which she has called the “most pressing civil rights issue of our day”—into the backdrop of a novel about how that injustice impacts the experience of being black in America today. Roy and Celestial have been married a year when he is convicted for a crime he didn’t commit. He is eventually released, but the consequences remain devastating.
This pairs superbly with Stevenson’s nonfiction, story-driven account of his work with the Equal Justice Initiative, which defends the wrongly accused, addresses why these false convictions happen in the first place, and offers solutions for how to change that.
Click here to buy An American Marriage: Amazon | B & N
Click here to buy Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption: Amazon | B & N
Enigmatic Russian Royalty
In 1920 Germany, a woman named Anna Anderson was pulled out of a canal in Germany, claiming to be Anastasia Romanov, and bearing the scars of a violent attack. In her latest historical novel, Lawhon uses an unusual structure to tell both stories, that of Anna Anderson (going backwards in time, from 1970), and that of Anastasia Romanov (beginning in 1917 when the family is taken prisoner, and moving forward in time). When the two stories converge, all is revealed.
Helen Rappaport’s bestselling and highly-rated history about the four Romanov daughters and their mother makes an excellent companion.
Click here to preorder I Was Anastasia (coming March 27): Amazon | B & N
Click here to buy The Romanov Sisters: Amazon | B & N
Love, War, and Belonging
Jiles tells a spare story of two unlikely friends—one a retired Civil War captain, one a ten-year-old girl rescued from the Indians who captured her as a babe. It’s indexed as a Western, but if that genre makes you want to run and hide, have no fear. More than anything, this is a story about family—the kind you’re born to, and the kind you make.
Junger’s nonfiction work explores loyalty, belonging, and our shared quest for meaning, and these themes match perfectly with News of the World. This slim work is pithy, insightful, and paradigm shifting.
Oklahoma’s Tumultuous Past
Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
Lathan’s well-crafted YA release smoothly bridges the divide between present-day Tulsa, Oklahoma and the little-known race riots that occurred there during two terrifying days in 1921. Latham’s story flips back and forth in time, between two teens of mixed descent living a century apart, but who each face their own kinds of crossroads, giving readers a page-turning history/mystery mash-up, as her young protagonists wrestle through issues of family, friendship, and identity.
Gramm’s true crime story reads like a thriller, and addresses a theme we see throughout Dreamland Burning: the identity, heritage, and wealth of the Osage Indian nation. In 1920s Oklahoma, members were among the richest people in the world, thanks to the vast oil reserves that lay beneath their reservation. But during the period of 1921-1926, more than two dozen Osage died suspiciously in the “Reign of Terror,” and when corrupt local law enforcement repeatedly bungled their cases, J. Edgar Hoover came in, making a case for a national, more professional police force in the process.
Click here to buy Dreamland Burning: Amazon | B & N
Click here to buy Killers of the Flower Moon: Amazon | B & N
Ward’s National Book Award-winning novel follows a Mississippi family living in dire poverty during the twelve days leading up to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Ward’s beautiful prose contrasts starkly with the pain and grit of her story, though she doesn’t leave her characters—or her readers—without hope.
Pair this with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Fink’s meticulous account of exactly what went down in the aftermath of Katrina in one specific place: Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans. It’s a real pageturner, so good and so readable—but the content will make you want to weep for humanity. (Read it anyway.)
Click here to buy Salvage the Bones: Amazon | B & N
Click here to buy Five Days at Memorial: Amazon | B & N
In the spirit of her debut The Paris Wife, McClain’s biographical novel chronicles the life of Beryl Markham, who is best known for her 1936 solo flight across the Atlantic. Markham was the daughter of British colonials, raised in East Africa’s Mau Forest “before Kenya was Kenya.” She’s known as an aviatrix, but McClain clearly relishes highlighting how Markham enjoyed flouting conventions of all kinds.
To hear the same story straight from the woman herself, pick up Markham’s 1942 memoir West with the Night, a book frequently called a must-read adventure story, and which Ernest Hemingway called “bloody wonderful.”
Click here to buy Circling the Sun: Amazon | B & N
Click here to buy West With the Night: Amazon | B & N
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry author Gabrielle Zevin’s newest release probes serious issues yet is tons of fun to read: it’s the story of a young Congressional intern who sleeps with her boss, spurring a political scandal that ends her career, but not his. Thankfully, that’s just the beginning of the story, which unfolds through the eyes of three generations of affected women.
Ronson’s nonfiction work about public shaming in the social media era is an absorbing read that’s also more than a little terrifying for anyone who ever uses the internet.
Click here to buy Young Jane Young: Amazon | B & N
Click here to buy So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed: Amazon | B & N
Which pairing are you most excited to read? Can you think of any great match-ups to add to this list? Please tell us about them in comments!