Do you ‘pair’ literature?

A couple of months ago Matt at A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook wrote a book review on The Hours by Michael Cunningham. Matt read this novel shortly after reading Virginia Woolf’s classic, Mrs. Dalloway and made this observation: Although The Hours repeats some of the darker events from Mrs. Dalloway, and at some points follow its cadence too closely (a literary parallel), Mrs. Dalloway is not a prerequisite to The Hours.

Since I have had Mrs. Dalloway on my bookshelves for several years now, I knew that I had to also acquire The Hours so that I could attempt to make the same literary comparisons that Matt found. I tend to do this. I LIKE reading similar literature at the same time. I think it helps me to hone my literary analysis skills as it forces me to focus on subtleties of language and style, and not just plot and character. However, just because I like to do this, does not mean that I make the time to do it very often. In fact, I have several literary pairings that I would read “when I have the time.” A few of those that interest me are:

All 6 of Jane Austen’s novels in the order in which they were published. Her literary canon is so small compared to other great authors (Shakespeare – Dickens etc) that this seems like it would be an achievable goal. I would love to see how this woman of meager means who focuses solely on the inhabitants of small English villages rather than the politics of the world at the time manages to fully develop characters and story lines that are uniquely different and positively engaging.

Jane Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice and then some of the more recent Elizabeth and Darcy spin-offs (most notably Pamela Aidan’s trilogy that looks at the novel from Darcy’s point of view and Rebecca Collins who extrapolates the story after their marriage).

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens and Drood by Dan Simmons. I have heard such rave reviews of Drood and have wanted to read it since it was first released, but somehow I have convinced myself that I will not truly appreciate this work unless I read Dickens’ original work first.

The entire Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis – in “chronological” order (rather than the order in which they were written). I have thoroughly loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but I have not allowed myself the pleasure to learn the history of Narnia nor to follow the adventures of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy post White Witch encounter.

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff and The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. Both of these novels surround the polygamy issues of the Mormon tradition, although The Chosen One is written as a YA novel and therefore for perhaps a younger audience. I think the theme is mature enough for any adult and I have read fabulous reviews of both these books. I think to read them in combination with one another would be a powerful literary experience.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and March by Geraldine Brooks. I read Little Women many decades ago when I think I was much too young to fully appreciate the story. I would love to re-read this classic and then follow up with the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning book which focuses on the parallel story of Mr. March and his adventures in the civil war.

While I am sure that I could go on forever with possible literary pairings that would be of interest to me, I am very excited to hear from you. Do you ever read books in conjunction with one another (either several books by the same author – or all the books in a particular series – or perhaps two completely different authors in totally different time periods?) I would love to hear your favorite pairings in the hopes of expanding my literary horizons and adding variety to my ever growing TBR bookshelf.


  • Trisha

    I LOVE the idea of pairing literature. And I had a piece of advice. You might consider pairing Escape by Carolyn Jessop with The 19th Wife. It is the true story of a woman growing up and marrying in a polygamous community. I sort of reviewed the book here.

  • farmlanebooks

    I don't like to read similar books together, but I will often buy books which are related after reading one I enjoy. I will then keep it on my shelves until I feel in the mood for that sort of book again.

  • Anonymous

    Another good one, that I've been talking about a lot on other blogs are, are plays that speak to one another:

    Antigone & Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act by Athol Fugard


    Hamlet & Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard

  • tokemise

    I do this kind of often. If I'm reading a book that talks about another book I sometimes get that one too. I also will read books on certain time periods or events that I have read about in other books. The only pairing I can think of right now is:
    After reading Finn, I reread Huck Finn.

  • Stephanie

    Marsha Altman has a series (the second one to be published this August) which continutes Pride & Prejudice. Her first one, THe Darcys and the Bingleys, was a hoot to read. She injects lots of humor into her books and I enjoy them.

  • Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc.

    Hm this is a good question that I have never really thought of. I think however I have often tried to read books that go outside of the 'norm' when it comes to a specific topic. For example, I have read countless books from the perspective of holocaust victims (Number the Stars, Night, Etc) as most people likely have. However it is interesting to pick up books that show other sides of stories such as Mother Night by Vonnegut. It just puts the entire picture into a much greater perspective I think. Love this post!

  • fantaghiro23

    This is a great practice. I did read Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours in succession bec. a friend recommended me to. March is also a good perspective to look at Little Women by.

    I'd also suggest The Inferno by Dante Alighieri and The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl.

  • Matt

    Literary pairing can be very thoughtful and beneficial in understanding how authors (in some cases over time) view the world and society. That I have wanted to re-read The Hours made the pairing with Mrs Dalloway possible earlier this year.

    Now that I have finished The Gargoyle recently, it would create a nice pairing to The Inferno, or Divine Comedy altogether. Now I have plan to read Ulysses and The Odessey back to back because the former does mirror to the Homer's classic.

    My current read, The German Woman, reminds me of The English Patient and so they also have a great pairing.

  • Matt

    Literary pairing can be very thoughtful and beneficial in understanding how authors (in some cases over time) view the world and society. That I have wanted to re-read The Hours made the pairing with Mrs Dalloway possible earlier this year.

    Now that I have finished The Gargoyle recently, it would create a nice pairing to The Inferno, or Divine Comedy altogether. Now I have plan to read Ulysses and The Odessey back to back because the former does mirror to the Homer's classic.

    My current read, The German Woman, reminds me of The English Patient and so they also have a great pairing.

  • Trish

    I love literary pairings as well and I’ve had my eye on Drood (although I haven’t read the Dickens’ counterpart). Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours is a great pairing. I’m not sure I would have liked The Hours as much if I hadn’t read Mrs. Dalloway first, but I’ll bet it could stand alone just fine.

  • JaneGS

    My most recent combining was Daphne by Justine Picardie with the Daphne duMaurier bio by Margaret Forster, followed by The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte by du Maurier, making it a threesome.

    BTW, I've been reading your blog recently, and to share the good vibes, I've nominated your blog for the Kreativ Blogger Award.

    Visit me for details: http://janegs.blogspot.com/


  • DesLily

    I've actually only read one Dickens book (the Old Curiosity Shop) and have The Christmas Story here to read closer to christmas.. but I do have Drood. I hope to get to it soon, but my brain mush right now would be wasted on it. I don't know if I could read The Mystery of Edwn Drood and then Drood.. I think it would be "too much" of the same characters and subject and since Dickens is known for "dark" stories that might be too much.. If you read them both I'd be very interested in your thought of both.

  • Jean

    I used to think that "The Little Women" was so like "Pride and Prejudice". But I may be wrong – I had read both years and years ago.

    Came across your blog from "A Novel Challenge"

  • Jenners

    I've done this on occasion but not thought about it too much. I think it would enhance your understanding and enjoyment of both books so much more! I'll have to think about doing this more often! great post!

  • Anonymous

    What a fantastic idea. I loved it when Vintage did that special pairing season and they paired great classics and great future classics. Loved reaidng this, so thank you very much!

  • Molly

    I so enjoyed reading all your comments! For those of you who have not tried this, perhaps you can give it a whirl sometime and then let me know your thoughts.

    Many of you passed along such great pairing ideas, and I am going to be sure to add them to my list:

    Trisha: I have not heard of Escape, but I am so excited that you suggested it as a possible trio study.

    Regularrumination: Yes – I have thought of reading Hamlet and R$G are dead and think it is a great suggestion!

    Stephanie: I just recently came across Marsha Altman's name and have added her first book to my TBR list. I know there are several P&P; pairings, some I am sure are better than others. I have also heard good reviews for Pamela Aidan and Rebecca Collins.

    Padfoot and Prongs: I have not read any of Vonnegut's work, more a fear of the genre than anything else (for example – I just came to "know" what your name means about 1.5 months ago as I had never read any of the HP books before). BUT…you have intrigued me with this suggestion and I have added it to my list of holocaust "must reads"

    Fantaghiro23: I have also considered read the Inferno and the Dante Club together — or I also thought of perhaps reading some Poe short stories and The Poe Shadow by the same contemporary author.

    Matt: There are several Bread Loaf instructors who pair Ulysses and the Odyssey as a summer group study. I must say that at this point in my literary studies, I am totally intimidated to even pick up Ulysses. Perhaps you could lead any interested online bloggers in a study of the book sometime? I would love to try to read it – without having to worry about passing the class or writing a 10-15 page paper.

    JaneGS: that sounds like a lovely threesome and a group of books that I would thoroughly enjoy. Thank you so much for the suggestion – and for the award!

    JoAnn: YES! I just found the Wide Sargaso Sea at a used bookstore for about $1.50. I bought it with this exact pairing in mind.

  • Kals

    I am reading Austen's books in the order of their publication with some of my friends( my blog has more details about this). Just finished Sense and Sensibility and will move on to Pride and Prejudice. I've scheduled one book per month(an idea borrowed from The Jane Austen Book Club) so that it doesn't cramp my time too much. I also watch the movie of the book I'm reading now which adds to the excitement. It is fun and amazing, especially because it lets you compare each book and notice how Austen's writing has changed or not with each.

    I love Alcott's writing too and I'll probably try reading her books next after I'm done with Austen =)

  • Suko

    Thoughtful post!

    Literary pairing is a wonderful way of getting a deeper and broader sense or understanding of an author or time in history. One book often leads to another. In my case I often read books by the same authors, usually in succession, although not always one right after the next.

    (P.S. And as if I don't already have enough books to fill my summer and then some, you've reminded me of March by Geraldine Brooks, an author I enjoy.)

  • Rebecca :)

    Sorry I haven't been to your blog in a while! Good grief. I've been more slack with the GR than I thought!

    I am WAY too random and WAY too easily bored to read similar books near each other. A series, sure. But I still don't read them back to back usually. I don't do well with that. I love continuity and flow within the story, but I love to mix it all up from book to book. Sometimes my craving for randomness makes me wonder how I do well in long-term relationships. Hmmm…come to think of it…there might be a pattern there.

  • lilly

    I do tend to collect all books in the series, for example: 'Left Behind' series had to end up complete on my shelves before I started reading it, the same goes with King's 'The Dark Tower' series.
    Since you mentioned 'Drood' I will say that I do have it on my shelves but I first decided to read Wilkie Collins books, so right now I am done with 'The Woman in White' and will be soon moving on to 'The Moonstone', then I will read more Dickens and onlt after that I will move on to 'Drood'. (Is this reminiscent of a little OCD problem?)

  • Kim

    I just wanted to say that I miss you around here, but know you are busy, busy, busy! I hope your classes are going well, and that you are holding up. I have a little something to send you but am holding off until you are home again!

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