Book Serendipity, Early 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 (usually 20‒30), I suppose I’m more prone to such incidents.

Josh Cohen’s How to Live. What to Do, a therapist’s guide to literature, explains why this might happen:

More than one writer – the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges – has advanced the exhilarating idea that each book is an infinitesimally small piece of one single, endless Book. I’ve always felt that this idea, unlikely as it might sound, makes perfect sense if you read enough novels [also nonfiction, for me]. The incidents, descriptions, phrases and images in the book you’re reading will always recall the incidents in another, and those in turn will call up the incidents in another, so that even as you’re reading one book, you’re reading countless others.

The following are in roughly chronological order.


  • Mother‒baby swimming sessions in Some Body to Love by Alexandra Heminsley and The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp.
  • [I think it would be a spoiler to even name them, but two novels I read simultaneously in January featured 1) a marriage / close relationship between a man and a woman – even though the man is gay; and 2) a character who beat his wife and then died in a convenient ‘accident’. One was published in 1997 and the other in 2020.]


  • Stomas appeared in Dazzling Darkness by Rachel Mann and First Time Ever by Peggy Seeger late in my 2020 reading, and then in early 2021 in Pain: The Science of the Feeling Brain by Abdul-Ghaaliq Lalkhen and Love’s Work by Gillian Rose.


  • An account of the author’s experience of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome in Hormonal by Eleanor Morgan and I Miss You when I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott.


  • Salmon fishing takes place in Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson and Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth.
  • The medical motto “see one, do one, teach one” appears in Breathtaking by Rachel Clarke and Complications by Atul Gawande.


  • Filipino medical staff feature in America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo and Breathtaking by Rachel Clarke.


  • Twin Peaks is mentioned in The Fragments of My Father by Sam Mills and the anthology Trauma: Essays on Art and Mental Health; a different essay in the latter talks about Virginia Woolf’s mental health struggle, which is a strand in the former.


  • St. Teresa of Ávila is mentioned in Heart by Gail Godwin and Sanatorium by Abi Palmer.
  • The same Rachel Long poem appears in her debut collection, My Darling from the Lions, and The Emma Press Anthology of Love – but under different titles (“Portent” vs. “Delayed Gratification”).


  • There’s a matriarch named Dot in Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller and The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett.


  • There’s an Alaska setting in The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton and Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth.


  • Becoming a mother is described as a baptism in Sanctuary by Emily Rapp Black and The Fragments of My Father by Sam Mills.
  • While reading America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo, I saw Castillo mentioned in the Acknowledgements of My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long.


  • Polar explorers’ demise is discussed in Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman and The Still Point by Amy Sackville.


  • “Butterfingers” / “butter-fingered” is used in America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo and The Clock Winder by Anne Tyler.


  • There’s a mention of someone eating paper torn from books (the horror!) in Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman and The Clock Winder by Anne Tyler.
  • I was reading three pre-releases at once, each of 288 pages: Milk Fed by Melissa Broder, Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller, and A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson.


  • The Jewish golem myth is the overarching metaphor of Milk Fed by Melissa Broder and Golem Girl by Riva Lehrer.


  • There’s a ceremony to pay respects to those who donated their bodies for medical school dissection in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb and Golem Girl by Riva Lehrer.


  • An old woman with dementia features in The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan, Keeper by Andrea Gillies, and The Clock Winder by Anne Tyler.
  • A mother dies of cancer on Christmas Day in This Party’s Dead by Erica Buist and The Fragments of My Father by Sam Mills.


  • The main character does stand-up comedy in Milk Fed by Melissa Broder and This Party’s Dead by Erica Buist.


  • Winning a goldfish at a carnival in The Air Year by Caroline Bird, A Feather on the Breath of God by Sigrid Nunez, and Anna Vaught’s essay in the Trauma anthology.


  • ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) is mentioned in Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis and Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy.
  • There’s a father who is non-medical hospital staff in The Push by Ashley Audrain (a cleaner) and A Feather on the Breath of God by Sigrid Nunez (a kitchen worker).


  • There’s a character named Hart in The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes and The Birth House by Ami McKay.


  • Cannibalism is a point of reference, a major metaphor, or a (surreal) reality in Mother for Dinner by Shalom Auslander, Eat or We Both Starve by Victoria Kennefick, and Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford.


  • Infertility and caring for animals were two big themes shared by Brood by Jackie Polzin and Catalogue Baby by Myriam Steinberg. This became clearer when I interviewed both authors in February. Also, both women have shocks of pink hair in their publicity photos!
  • A young woman works at a hotel in The Distance between Us by Maggie O’Farrell and My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (and The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, which I read late last year).


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

18 responses

  1. Only one Big Comprehensive Book with a million booklet parts? hmmmm – endlessly refracting off each other. Maybe. I can feel my brain lurching around in my head at the concept. I think I need a little lie-down.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure I fully buy that theory myself, but it’s an interesting one!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the three books of 288 pages at the same time. I really ought to keep notes of serendipities as I read. The new Edward St Aubyn is so full of stuff – I could probably link it to everything I’ve read lately!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, that sounds tempting — I must remember to put a hold on that one through the library.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. New St Aubyn is patchy. John Self thought it an absolute turkey. I’m mostly enjoying it, but have just come to one ridiculous Dan Brown-ish plot strand, so am slightly revising my opinion. There are some lovely bits, and some laugh out loud bits though – so worth a punt!


    2. How interesting! Well, it’s worth a try from the library. Fairly short anyway, I think?


  3. I love these posts Rebecca – I’ve recently read something where someone ate torn pages from books but now I can’t remember what book it was in!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eating paper is weird enough … but tearing it out of books is just wrong!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So there’s a THIRD book about this?! Too strange. LOL


    2. It might have been in this book review of Mundome by A.G. Mojtabai on the Neglected Books blog:


  4. I’ve got two books at the moment where a significant character has a difficult relationship with their off-kilter mother, Helen (Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun and Riley’s My Phantoms).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fun! I’m reading the Ishiguro, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t have any for you this time! I usually note them in my review when I spot them so I can remember to tell you but nothing! I must be reading more scatteredly than normal.


    1. I was pleased that the Tyler I read brought up a few. I’m sure you’ll have some more soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What’s happened to me a few times now, is I start reading a book and it has a character with the same name as a character in the book I finished before it. Strange!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s fun — like they’re continuing their adventures in a new setting!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. The extra detail of the pink hair is a funny touch (in your last one). For years, I’ve een saying that I would remember one for your series, and now I have. Although it’s not strange because I’ve been reading so many books about slavery, I was interested to find that the movement of less-successful plantation owners from Barbados to the Carolinas was part of Andrea Stuart’s Sugar in the Blood (a memoir about her family’s history and the region’s history) non-fiction and also served as a backstory for the family in Nova Scotia writer, Gloria Wesley’s novel, Chasing Freedom (about a Black Loyalist family who comes north from Carolina and settles in Birchtown, technically free, but not wholly).

    Liked by 1 person

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