Incidents of Book Serendipity

Since May I’ve been posting my occasional reading coincidences on Twitter and/or Instagram. This is when two or more books that I’m reading at the same time or in quick succession have something pretty bizarre in common. Because I have so many books on the go at once – usually between 10 and 20 – I guess I’m more prone to such serendipitous incidents. What’s the weirdest one you’ve had lately? (The following are in rough chronological order.)


  • Two historical novels set (partially) among the slaves of Martinique and featuring snippets of Creole (Patrick Chamoiseau’s Slave Old Man and Jane Harris’s Sugar Money)
  • A book about epilepsy and a conductor’s memoir, followed by a novel with a conductor character and another who has seizures (Suzanne O’Sullivan’s Brainstorm and Lev Parikian’s Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear?  to Caoilinn Hughes’s Orchid & the Wasp)


  • Two characters mistake pregnancy for cholera (in Alexandra Fuller’s Leaving Before the Rains Come and W. Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil)


  • Two characters are reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (in Lily Brooks-Dalton’s Good Morning, Midnight and Julie Buntin’s Marlena) … I’ve since tried again with Le Guin’s book myself, but it’s so dry I can only bear to skim it.


  • Two memoirs by Iranian-American novelists with mental health and drug use issues (Porochista Khakpour’s Sick and Afarin Majidi’s Writing and Madness in a Time of Terror)
  • References to the blasé response to Martin Luther King’s assassination in North Carolina (in Paulette Bates Alden’s Crossing the Moon and David Sedaris’s Calypso)


  • The Police lyrics (in Less by Andrew Sean Greer and Summer by Karl Ove Knausgaard [a whole essay called “Sting”])
  • Salmon croquettes mentioned in Less by Andrew Sean Greer and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones


  • I’m reading Beryl Markham’s West with the Night … and then Glynnis MacNicol picks that very book up to read on a plane in No One Tells You This


  • Starting two books with the word “Ladder” in the title, one right after the other: Ladders to Heaven by Mike Shanahan and Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler (followed just a couple of weeks later by A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne!)
  • Two books set in Dunedin, New Zealand, one right after the other – I planned it that way, BUT both have a character called Myrtle (To the Is-Land by Janet Frame and Dunedin by Shena Mackay). Then I encountered Harold Gillies, the father of plastic surgery, in Jim McCaul’s Face to Face, and guess what? He was from Dunedin!
    • Then I was skimming Louisa Young’s You Left Early and she mentioned that her grandmother was a sculptor who worked with Gillies on prostheses, which was the inspiration for her WWI novel, My Dear I Wanted to Tell You.


  • Two novels featuring drug addicts (Pretend I’m Dead by Jen Beagin and Bad News by Edward St. Aubyn)


  • The same Wallace Stevens lines that appear as an epigraph to Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered are mentioned in Elaine Pagels’s Why Religion? – “After the final no there comes a yes / And on that yes the future world depends.”
  • “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is mentioned in Little by Edward Carey and Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy


  • Reading Nine Pints, Rose George’s book about blood, at the same time as Deborah Harkness’s Time’s Convert, which is partially about vampires; in this it takes 90 days for a human to become fully vampirized – the same time it takes to be cured of an addiction according to the memoir Ninety Days by Bill Clegg.

18 responses

  1. The pregnancy one is quite striking! Nothing that really stands out for me as much as reading two novels about the theremin a couple of years ago. I do have one in art: Giorgio Morandi whose work I loved when I saw it at the Sainsbury Collection but who I had never registered before. He seems to be cropping up in everything I look at now, from Twitter to fiction. I can only assume I simply hadn’t noticed before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny how once you’re looking out for something you can see it everywhere! There have been odd cases like your theremin incident of novels on the same topic coming out in the same year, like David Lodge, Colm Toibin and others publishing fictional biographies of Henry James, and two from the POV of a foetus.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So interesting!

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bloody hell, these are good! I had a customer recently who sent me a lovely little one of these; it was so complex that I can’t remember the details of it, but the serendipity was very nice.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. These are so much fun to read about. My most recent coincidence is in two books I read back-to-back, the parents used “Duck” as an endearment for their children. Tiny, but it confused me at first – I thought I was back in the first book again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, that’s fun. I love finding these little moments of connection, as you can tell 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love these! I think my favourite is mistaking pregnancy for cholera.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is certainly pretty random!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Fascinating. Salmon croquettes – who woukd have thought!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it was like, I haven’t eaten or thought about those in…decades? And then suddenly in two books at once!


  7. This is a fun post! Ten to twenty books at a time, that’s amazing. I usually just have 1-3! I haven’t come across any coincidences that I remember lately but I’ll try to be on the lookout now that this is on my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I was working at a library in London and commuting I used to just read two at a time, one fiction and one non-, but since I’ve been working from home it has snowballed. It’s a bit extreme, I know!

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  8. I love this! I’m only usually reading two at a time and I have had some coincidences but of course I can’t recall them now. Gah!

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    1. Once I started keeping a log, even if only on Twitter, it felt like it was happening all the time!

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  9. The pregnancy one caught my eye too! The poetry epigraph is pretty neat too. (Well, they all are, really.) As you’ve said, I think one is bound to discover these moments when one’s stack is so, um, generously populated, but it still is odd. I mean, surely another nursery rhyme would have done just as well, but no, it’s the same one. I’m keeping a list of these too, planning to post them at the end of the year. So far I can recall a strange abundance of short sentences about observing the end of the world (and I don’t read a lot of those stories – it popped up in unusual places).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh goody, I’ll look forward to your list at the end of the year!

      A bastardized “Twinkle twinkle, little bat” showed up soon thereafter in Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Another coincidence of sorts is that I’ve just read ‘The left hand of darkness’ for my book group. The only reason I got to the end was because I knew Id have to talk about it – yawn!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m afraid it was a buddy read fail — two of the three of us couldn’t get on with it! I think I’ll try again with Le Guin in another genre: children’s fantasy and/or essays.

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