Book Serendipity in the Final Months of 2020

I call it Book Serendipity when two or more books that I read 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 (20+), I suppose I’m more prone to such incidents than some. I also list these occasional reading coincidences on Twitter. (Earlier incidents from the year are here, here, and here.)

  • Eel fishing plays a role in First Love, Last Rites by Ian McEwan and The Gospel of the Eels by Patrik Svensson.
  • A girl’s body is found in a canal in First Love, Last Rites by Ian McEwan and Carrying Fire and Water by Deirdre Shanahan.
  • Curlews on covers by Angela Harding on two of the most anticipated nature books of the year, English Pastoral by James Rebanks and The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn (and both came out on September 3rd).

  • Thanksgiving dinner scenes feature in 666 Charing Cross Road by Paul Magrs and Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.
  • A gay couple has the one man’s mother temporarily staying on the couch in 666 Charing Cross Road by Paul Magrs and Memorial by Bryan Washington.
  • I was reading two “The Gospel of…” titles at once, The Gospel of Eve by Rachel Mann and The Gospel of the Eels by Patrik Svensson (and I’d read a third earlier in the year, The Gospel of Trees by Apricot Irving).

  • References to Dickens’s David Copperfield in The Cider House Rules by John Irving and Mudbound by Hillary Jordan.
  • The main female character has three ex-husbands, and there’s mention of chin-tightening exercises, in The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville and The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer.
  • A Welsh hills setting in On the Red Hill by Mike Parker and Along Came a Llama by Ruth Janette Ruck.
  • Rachel Carson and Silent Spring are mentioned in A Year on the Wing by Tim Dee, The Frayed Atlantic Edge by David Gange, English Pastoral by James Rebanks and The Gospel of the Eels by Patrik Svensson. SS was also an influence on Losing Eden by Lucy Jones, which I read earlier in the year.
  • There’s nude posing for a painter or photographer in The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, How to Be Both by Ali Smith, and Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth.
  • A weird, watery landscape is the setting for The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey and Piranesi by Susanna Clarke.
  • Bawdy flirting between a customer and a butcher in The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville and Just Like You by Nick Hornby.
  • Corbels (an architectural term) mentioned in The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville and Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver.
  • Near or actual drownings (something I encounter FAR more often in fiction than in real life, just like both parents dying in a car crash) in The Idea of Perfection, The Glass Hotel, The Gospel of Eve, Wakenhyrst, and Love and Other Thought Experiments.
  • Nematodes are mentioned in The Gospel of the Eels by Patrik Svensson and Real Life by Brandon Taylor.
  • A toxic lake features in The New Wilderness by Diane Cook and Real Life by Brandon Taylor (both were also on the Booker Prize shortlist).
  • A black scientist from Alabama is the main character in Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi and Real Life by Brandon Taylor.
  • Graduate studies in science at the University of Wisconsin, and rivals sabotaging experiments, in Artifact by Arlene Heyman and Real Life by Brandon Taylor.
  • A female scientist who experiments on rodents in Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi and Artifact by Arlene Heyman.
  • There are poems about blackberrying in Dearly by Margaret Atwood, Passport to Here and There by Grace Nichols, and How to wear a skin by Louisa Adjoa Parker. (Nichols’s “Blackberrying Black Woman” actually opens with “Everyone has a blackberry poem. Why not this?” – !)

What’s the weirdest reading coincidence you’ve had lately?

30 responses

  1. The chin-tightening exercises are particularly niche…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had some kind of exercise ball for chin tightening when I was in high school! I’d ordered it from a catalogue. How silly and vain of me. Versus now is when I could really start to need it… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A FB friend was talking about how she’d noticed in Zoom calls that her chin was lopsided and her sister had started to look more like her since having Botox to stop teeth grinding. Also, YouTube keeps showing me an advert for a silicon thingummy you have to chew on to tighten up jowls. If it stops snoring too, I’m tempted. I do have a book of facial exercises, but I’ve never done them more than once at a time. Oh, well.

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    2. Argh! I’m trying to be philosophical about ageing (it’s a privilege not everyone gets), but it’ll be a while before I give up on plucking these grey hairs at my hairline…

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      1. I’m holding out for white hair! To my horror I seem to be developing my father’s jowls but at least I have my mother’s cheekbones to hold them up…

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      2. Such things come to us all!

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  2. You’re very good at this. Those of us who only read one book at a time don’t have it so easy … 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It could surely happen with one book right after the other, though! Keep an eye out.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting that the lead character in the Gyasi is also from Alabama!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Both are autobiographical fiction, to an extent, too — Gyasi and Taylor both grew up in Alabama.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Some of these are really obscure, Rebecca *shakes head*

    I know that I noted down a couple that I’ve found in the last quarter – but I can’t find them now. *shakes head and sighs*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some are esoteric indeed … others were staring me in the face, like the similar covers!

      Well, whenever you find them let me know 🙂 I do one of these posts every few months or so.

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  5. I love patterns emerging unexpectedly, and it’s clear you do too, call it serendipity, coincidence, synchronicity or what you will!

    For me recently I can only think of two examples. Prague features in Bruce Chatwin’s Utz, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth and Sarah Perry’s Melmoth, all titles I’ve read or reread in recent months. Also I started rereading the Chronicles of Narnia while watching Cittàgazze in the second His Dark Materials series and reading Piranesi, and find that the deserted and ruined city of Charn in The Magician’s Nephew may be part of a set!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The other night, I set things up to watch the first season of RuPaul’s DragRace Canada after my bath, randomly grabbed one of my climate change novels off the stack and the main character used to perform in drag in Toronto (Catherine Hernandez’s CrossHairs). I know, they’re not both bookish…but that’s the one I’ve got in mind right this second! As others have mentioned here, it’s fun to have this happen when your stack is so varied and well-populated, but it doesn’t naturally arise unless you’re a habitual poly-reader. Do you keep a draft open to add to it as you find them, or do you think of them afterwards?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha!

      It mostly exists as a Twitter thread, then I copy all the text and remove the extraneous stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I only tend to notice the really big coincidences (although I often think that it’s not a coincidence at all, but my subconscious guiding me…)

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  8. I love book serendipity, but tend to write them out in my individual book reviews. The problem with that is that I’m way behind on my reviews and I often have a chain of coincidences, so how far do I have to go back to find the start of the chain? Or should I just start from recently read books and add some oldies when I’m up to date (which will probably never happen). It’s very entertaining to read so many in a row like this. Kudos! http://www.marketgardenreader.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s probably easiest to start from now. Note them however you like! I’d always be happy to hear about them 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Randomly I am reading Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather for the first time and it features household gods, which also popped up (albeit in a very different form!) in Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy. I’ve never heard of it called book serendipity before but that’s a really nice phrase!!

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    1. Nice one! I read Hogfather at Christmas a few years ago because Pratchett is my husband’s favourite author and I felt I should give him a try.

      I think I made up the phrase Book Serendipity, but who knows 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Well I put down a book set in Norfolk (On the Marsh) and picked up one set in Suffolk (How to Build a Boat) without having read something set in either for a while. And in On the Marsh the author visits the farm in Wilding, which is my next read with my best friend.

    I know I gave you a shout out in a couple of book reviews so just going to look for those …

    Ah yes, James Suzman’s Work and June Sarpong’s The Power of Privilege both talk about moving from a “scarcity” mind-set where we’re all fighting for small pieces of a pie to broadening out to build something that’s more than the sum of its parts.

    And when did you do the last one of these? In October I found that Madeleine Bunting’s Love of Country and the book I was reading at the same time , “Kitted Out”, both featured Unity Mitford.

    And in September Gideon Defoe’s An Atlas of Extinct Countries and Vijay Menon’s A Brown Man in Russia both featured Genghis Khan, one after another.

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    1. Excellent! I always wonder whether the similar settings are at random or if it’s me subconsciously picking places I like to read about. I’ve had a lot of the Orkney Islands recently.

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  11. Never normally get these, but one turned up this morning. The author of the previous book that I read, David Omand was quote in the book that I am currently reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I only have a comment… The cover of Real Life reminds me so much of the cover of A Little Life – is it just me? (They’re so similar, I feel like Real Life is making fun of A Little Life…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting! I hadn’t thought of that. The U.S. cover of Real Life is very different, with a bird on it — I think I like it better, although it doesn’t necessarily relate to the book contents as far as I can tell. (The UK cover of A Little Life was different, too. It featured NYC windows and fire escapes instead of a close-up face.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think I prefer any cover that doesn’t have a close-up face. 🙂

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