Book Serendipity, Late 2020 into 2021

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 some of my occasional reading coincidences on Twitter. The following are in chronological order.

  • The Orkney Islands were the setting for Close to Where the Heart Gives Out by Malcolm Alexander, which I read last year. They showed up, in one chapter or occasional mentions, in The Frayed Atlantic Edge by David Gange and The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, plus I read a book of Christmas-themed short stories (some set on Orkney) by George Mackay Brown, the best-known Orkney author. Gavin Francis (author of Intensive Care) also does occasional work as a GP on Orkney.
  • The movie Jaws is mentioned in Mr. Wilder and Me by Jonathan Coe and Landfill by Tim Dee.

 

  • The Sámi people of the far north of Norway feature in Fifty Words for Snow by Nancy Campbell and The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.

 

  • Twins appear in Mr. Wilder and Me by Jonathan Coe and Tennis Lessons by Susannah Dickey. In Vesper Flights Helen Macdonald mentions that she had a twin who died at birth, as does a character in Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce. A character in The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard is delivered of twins, but one is stillborn. From Wrestling the Angel by Michael King I learned that Janet Frame also had a twin who died in utero.

 

  • Fennel seeds are baked into bread in The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and The Strays of Paris by Jane Smiley. Later, “fennel rolls” (but I don’t know if that’s the seed or the vegetable) are served in Monogamy by Sue Miller.
  • A mistress can’t attend her lover’s funeral in Here Is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan and Tennis Lessons by Susannah Dickey.

 

  • A sudden storm drowns fishermen in a tale from Christmas Stories by George Mackay Brown and The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.

 

  • Silver Spring, Maryland (where I lived until age 9) is mentioned in one story from To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss and is also where Peggy Seeger grew up, as recounted in her memoir First Time Ever. Then it got briefly mentioned, as the site of the Institute of Behavioral Research, in Livewired by David Eagleman.

 

  • Lamb is served with beans at a dinner party in Monogamy by Sue Miller and Larry’s Party by Carol Shields.

 

  • Trips to Madagascar in Landfill by Tim Dee and Lightning Flowers by Katherine E. Standefer.

 

  • Hospital volunteering in My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock and Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession.

 

  • A Ronan is the subject of Emily Rapp’s memoir The Still Point of the Turning World and the author of Leonard and Hungry Paul (Hession).

 

  • The Magic Mountain (by Thomas Mann) is discussed in Scattered Limbs by Iain Bamforth, The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp, and Snow by Marcus Sedgwick.

 

  • Frankenstein is mentioned in The Biographer’s Tale by A.S. Byatt, The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp, and Snow by Marcus Sedgwick.
  • Rheumatic fever and missing school to avoid heart strain in Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks and Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller. Janet Frame also had rheumatic fever as a child, as I discovered in her biography.

 

  • Reading two novels whose titles come from The Tempest quotes at the same time: Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame and This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson.
  • A character in Embers by Sándor Márai is nicknamed Nini, which was also Janet Frame’s nickname in childhood (per Wrestling the Angel by Michael King).

 

  • A character loses their teeth and has them replaced by dentures in America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo and The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

Also, the latest cover trend I’ve noticed: layers of monochrome upturned faces. Several examples from this year and last. Abstract faces in general seem to be a thing.

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

25 responses

  1. Ah, I love this post. These kinds of coincidences happen to me too, but of course I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head right now 🤷🏻‍♀️ But generally I find because I am a monogamous reader (just one book at a time) the serendipity will be thematic, so I might read a book about a pandemic, for instance, and then the next book I read will be about the same topic but it will be purely a coincidence that I read them one after the other. Or it might be set in Brazil and then the next book is set there too.

    And I have also noticed that new cover art style. Only this morning I mentioned how similar the Prophets cover looks to The Vanishing when one of the bookstores I follow posted it on Instagram! There’s no such thing as originality any more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kim! As an, er, extreme polygamist of a reader, I find that these coincidences happen all the time, but I know one-at-a-time or a-few-books-at-a-time readers get them too, including some almost alarmingly specific connections.

      At least my favourite book cover fad (flora and fauna) is continuing strong.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah yes, the flora and fauna fad is going strong. So is black woman in silhouette (which I don’t like at all; lazy stereotype shorthand for “this is by a black writer” 🙄)

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Ha ha, yes, UK publishers are particularly bad for that — you’ll never see an Adichie novel without a black woman on the cover, for instance.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this, as always. And I’ve got a nice list to append to my review of Homesick, when I get to that. Will link to this post then.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hurrah, looking forward to it! I remember Homesick sparked a few for me as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can add Peace Adzo Medie’s His Only Wife to your abstract faces cover list. I wonder if it’s the same designer enjoying a bonanza year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It took me ages to conjure that one from the vague memory in my mind, but it did occur to me after I scheduled this post. And still more have come up in my feed in recent days. It would be interesting to track down the designer(s) — do you know how to do so?

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      1. Unfortunately, no. I’ve seen credits on finished copies but only for image copyright purposes.

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      2. Try the power of Twitter? Ask if any of your followers have a copy to check. Or search for blog reviews and ask the blogger to check the cover.

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    2. Occasionally I’ll see an author or publisher tag the designer on Twitter to brag about their work. I’ll take note next time I see such a post.

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  4. I do love these posts Rebecca – getting dentures? Brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it was common to have all one’s teeth out and replaced with false ones in earlier decades — The Light Years takes place in 1937-8, and I’m sure I’ve heard of it being done into the 1950s or 60s, too. In the Castillo the character’s teeth fall out after a bad gold crown.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! My grandma had all hers out on the eve of WW2 (aged 27!) and went on to live to 104!

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    2. Wow! Do you know, was it about aesthetics or just because it was too expensive to keep treating dental problems?

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  5. I’m just reading Shuggie Bain – his brother had all his teeth out at 15, to be replaced by dentures. 😱

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    1. Wow, even in the 1980s! I can’t believe people used to think that was the best solution.

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      1. I know! Incredible.

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  6. Most impressive! I wrote a post (https://wp.me/s2oNj1-prague) detailing the appearance of the Czech city of Prague in recent fiction I’d read by Philip Pullman, Sarah Melmoth and Bruce Chatwin.

    Also a number of recent novels featured ruined or empty cityscapes ranging from Clarke’s Piranesi to Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew and Pullman’s Cittàgazze in the His Dark Materials trilogy.

    But though I often have a handful of titles on the go they in no way match your library trolley’s worth of books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In my last one of these posts I had two strange watery landscapes at once in Piranesi and The Swallowed Man.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think maybe the universe is suggesting a wee trip to the Orkneys for you? 🙂

    I just had a lovely case of book cover serendipity: two covers featuring an image of a lighthouse (‘Silver’ by Chris Hammer and ‘Skylarking’ by Kate Mildenhall’). The way they’re arranged on the My Year in Books page on Goodreads, they’re shooting their light beams at each other, which tickled my fancy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have indeed been hankering to go back to the Orkney islands; I’ve only been once, in 2006.

      How fun! I have a lighthouse book coming up, The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex, out in March.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I dunno why, but the lamb and beans, and the fennel bread, really stand out to me. But only if we can agree that there are seeds in both bread and rolls…even though I do like fennel the vegetable and fennel the seed, I can’t imagine the vegetable cut into chunks in a roll, like celery in tomato sauce. Lately, with so much of my reading being thematic, I feel like I’m constantly in synchronicity land. Oh, look, the world is ending again…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was particularly struck by the identical dinner party menus! I am pretty finicky about seeds in things, so I actually prefer the idea of thin slivers of fennel and/or the leafy fronds baked into the top of a focaccia-style roll rather than seeds dispersed through the dough.

      Well if you WOULD read all those dystopians in a row 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  9. […] have a few serendipities (a la Bookish Beck, her latest serendipity post here) to start the year. I read two first novels in a row by people who went on to write 20 plus […]

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