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A Perfect Pair


This time at home can either be a great time to read or not. I’ve talked to people who have successfully made a dent in their to be read list and some (like me) who can’t seem to focus on reading. I’m an avid audiobook listener, but the constant interruptions of the kids being home have made it pretty much impossible to listen to anything. Digital books I put on hold weeks or months ago haven’t been the right fit either. I’ve found myself getting a few chapters in only to lose interest. So, I’m not writing to you from a place of reading bliss. In fact, quite the opposite. However, I know there are others who are reading, and I’d love to help you find a book you truly love.

I called this post “the perfect pair” because for some reason or another, one book reminded me of another. In these pairs, some of the books are very well-known and some are not. My hope is that you’ll read the book I’ve paired with one you already love or you’ll take a chance on a new pair. Some of the similarities are very obvious and some pairs just gave me a similar feeling.

My first set of pairs are love stories:

For years, I recommended The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to anyone who would listen. After the movie came out in 2018 starring Lily James, Guernsey became more of a household name. This beautifully-crafted book left me wanting more from the author. Unfortunately, Mary Ann Schaffer died before the book was published by her co-author and niece Annie Borrows. I’ve been on the prowl ever since for a book that feels like Guernsey…and I found it in Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole. Both of these books are love stories written in letters. They are both historical fiction. They both have imperfect but unforgettable characters, and I didn’t want either of them to end.

If you’re go-to Netflix movie is a rom-com, I have a perfect

pair for you. Lauren Graham fans are often familiar with her memoir Talking as Fast as I Can, but may have missed her first book, a novel, called Someday, Someday Maybe. Although it’s not new (published in 2014), I read this book last year and I loved it. Franny Banks, a struggling New York actor, is one of those characters you want to hang out with and cheer for throughout this adorable romance. I was reminded of this book when I read Off-Script and Over-Caffeinated by Kaley Rhea and Rhonda Rhea. This book also takes place in the theatre, but let’s say it’s pretty far off-Broadway. Harlow Cruse directs a Christian community theatre and has a love/hate relationship with typical romantic tropes until she finds herself in one. Off-script is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. My husband will attest that I shook him awake multiple times (long after he fell asleep) to read hilarious scenes from this book. It was an absolute delight from start to finish. But maybe not for my husband.

My second set of pairs are fiction and nonfiction:

I like when these two genres reinforce one another. Whether it’s from the same time in history or has similar themes, it’s fun to see how well an author researched the book. One such pairing is an obvious one. I read The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah and happened upon Educated by Tara Westover not knowing how similar they would be. In both, the female main characters live in relative isolation with a father who doesn’t trust the government. The Great Alone is a work of fiction and Educated is a memoir. Both of them are fascinating stories of triumph that you won’t want to put down.

I actually read Hillbilly Elegy before I read The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek, but in either order, they inform one another. Bookwoman is a novel about a packhorse librarian during The Great Depression. She carried books to rural homes in Kentucky as a part of the Works Progress Administration. In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance gives a vivid picture of his experience growing up with roots in Appalachia. Although these books are from two very different eras, the struggles of the people there haven’t changed all that much. I loved both of these books.

My third set of pairs just feel the same:

The first is One Summer, America 1927 by Bill Bryson. I read this book because I had just finished A Walk in the Woods and I didn’t want it to end, so I tried another Bryson book. One Summer is actually just that. It’s about the summer of 1927 and all of the pivotal events that took place. I learned a lot about Charles Lindbergh and Babe Ruth. I didn’t know too much about either before reading this book. It was fascinating. The second in this pair is Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. I know it’s a mouthful, but what a great book. A few years ago, I saw a presentation at the Ohio Historical Society given by an actor portraying the doctor who oversaw James Garfield’s care after he was shot. Before that, I couldn't have told you anything about James Garfield. By accident, I stumbled upon this book that gives a detailed account of the life and tragic death of this often overlooked president. Nonfiction books can be unbelievable or unbearable. For me, it all comes down to the storytelling and Bryson and Millard are master storytellers. If you’re more of a fiction reader, give one (or both) of these books a chance. You won’t be sorry.

My final pairing is a classic, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by

Betty Smith and a new book, The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. I can’t exactly put my finger on why these two books felt similar to me. There are the obvious elements: they are both coming of age stories and both main characters had complicated relationships with their parents. That description fits thousands of books, but what sets these two books apart from others is that the settings themselves feel like a character. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn takes place in the neighborhood of Williamsburg which very much feels like a character. Likewise, in The Dutch House, the house itself acts as a character. I also think these books gave me a similar feeling because I absolutely loved both of them. When I finished them, I found myself in a funk missing the story. If you’ve never read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, you’re missing out. It takes a chapter or two to get hooked, so don’t give up. I gave up the first few times I tried to read it, but I think the way we pull readers in has changed since1943. You have to work a little harder on older books, but the payoff is worth it. If you like audiobooks, The Dutch House is narrated by Tom Hanks, so that’s a definite plus. No matter which order you read these two books, I think you’ll enjoy both of them.

I hope this is a time of great reading for you. I hope it’s giving you a little distraction from the news and a little adventure from home. I hope you’ll look back on this time and think, “That was a challenge, but boy did I read a lot of good books.”

Feel free to comment with the books you’re reading or if you have a perfect pair to share.

Blessings,

Shannon