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Friday, September 21, 2018

Book Pairings

Immigration and our southern border
[Note: EXCEPTIONAL CLOSING (as the Parisians call it): Dog Ears Books will be closed this Sunday through Wednesday, Sept. 26. After that we will be OPEN for regular 11-5 hours Tuesdays through Saturdays through the Thanksgiving weekend]

“Pairings” — it’s a familiar idea these days in certain social and professional circles. What wine best accompanies an herbed goat cheese, a rib-eye steak, or a rustic apple tart? Which craft beer is a good accompaniment to seafood gumbo or a hearty chili con carne? The aim is to pair the glass to the dish so that their contents bring out the best in each other, the better to delight the palate. 

I was groping toward the notion of book pairings back when I suggested that readers of Hillbilly Elegy would find their reading experience deepened by going from J. D. Vance’s memoir to Nancy Eisenberg’s historical survey, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. The two books represent two different genres and different degrees of complexity, one a close-up, personal view, the other an objectification through history’s long lens, each book’s content helping to shed additional light on the other. I didn’t then have the phrase “book pairings” in mind, but it helps me now to clarify what I had then and have continued to have in mind when I recommend two books together.


Geology and beach stones
An obvious pair jumped out at me this summer, Lake Michigan Rock Picker’s Guide and The Last Ice Age and the Leelanau Peninsula. The latter provides about as much geological background as most people want, while the former helps to identify stones picked up on the beach. Nothing too heavy here. Again, however, the books are complementary. Both are also small and inexpensive, just right for the car glove compartment or bicycle panier.

Sometimes it might be helpful and salutary to effect an unlikely mating. How about the Death and Life of the Great Lakes, followed by Lake Michigan Mermaid? Narrative poetry does not have to thought of as an antidote or challenge to science but can be seen as a helpful adjunct, a reminder and acknowledgement of personal values and emotional attachments. And why should we have to leave beauty or feeling behind to face facts? What a foolish notion!

Facts and stories. Sometimes two books offer both together to enrich a reader’s experience. One example for me of is that of La Frontera (a book of history and many personal stories) paired with Lauren Markham’s The Far Away Brothers (focused on current events and stories of the experiences of two specific immigrant boys). Anyone concerned with questions of border security and/or immigration from Latin America would find these two books together providing an intense course of learning. 

A recent addition to my Books Read 2018 list, Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, left me more than a little exhausted with its historical examples and survey of current disasters-in-the-making. (That is not a criticism. I heartily recommend the book.) In conclusion, Diamond gives a few reasons for cautious optimism and specific prescriptions for action, but I needed more, something inspiring at an emotional, on-the-ground level, and I’m finding it in Wendell Berry’s The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings. Any of Berry’s books — fiction, nonfiction, poetry — is a good introduction to his thinking and writing and living, and these essays are no exception. Berry and Diamond cover much of the same ground but from very different starting places and with very different perspectives. 

The suggested pairings above, I see, have neglected fiction, and fiction pairs well with nonfiction, as I learned in an undergraduate course entitled “History Through Literature.” In fact, in looking back at my own posts I see I recommended If the Creek Don’t Rise, by Leah Weiss, to accompany Hillbilly Elegy and White Trash. Look here to read about the novel and see my reasons for putting it together with the memoir and the history book. 

And now, here is a completely natural, intuitive pairing of two novels. Have you read both? If not, why not?



Anyone else have a suggestion for a pair — or a trio — of books to be read together? Comments and additions welcome!


We need to change our ways!


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