Book Serendipity, Mid-March to Early May 2021

In early April, the publisher Canongate ran a newsletter competition for one reader to win a stack of their recent releases. All you had to do was reply with your favourite word. On Twitter they gave a rundown of the most popular responses. Turning up several times each were petrichor, mellifluous, and oleaginous. Most frequent of all was serendipity: I was one of 15 to submit it! And one of those entries, but not mine, won. Anyway, fun little story there.

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. I’ve realized that, of course, synchronicity is really the more apt word, but this branding has stuck.

The following are in roughly chronological order.

  • A white peacock is mentioned in Indelicacy by Amina Cain and The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey, both of which were on the 2021 Rathbones Folio Prize shortlist.
  • Speaking of that Rathbones Folio Prize shortlist, four of the eight were paperbacks with French flaps.

 

  • The main character takes ballet lessons in Indelicacy by Amina Cain and A Feather on the Breath of God by Sigrid Nunez.

 

  • Mermaids! A big theme in The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (of course) and The Republic of Love by Carol Shields, but they’re also mentioned in the opening story of The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans and are main characters in “The Pangs of Love” by Jane Gardam in the anthology Close Company.

  • The Brothers Grimm story about brothers who have been transformed into swans and their sister who sews shirts out of nettles to turn them back is reworked in The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin and used as a metaphor in Dusk, Night, Dawn by Anne Lamott.

 

  • An electric carving knife is mentioned as a means of suicide (yipes!) in The Inevitable by Katie Engelhart and Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy.

 

  • A discussion of the distinction between the fear of dying and the fear of being dead in This Party’s Dead by Erica Buist and The Inevitable by Katie Engelhart.

 

  • Two novels in a row in which an older man is appalled by the squalor of his young girlfriend’s apartment, and she calls him “daddy” during sex (double yipes!), made the Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist: Luster by Raven Leilani and My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell.
  • Architect husbands in The Push by Ashley Audrain and The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin (and, last year, in A Celibate Season by Blanche Howard and Carol Shields), as well as a female architect as a main character in The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan earlier this year.

 

  • The next-to-last essay in the Trauma anthology quotes from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, which I was also reading at the time.

 

  • A mention of the eels in London absorbing cocaine from the Thames in the final essay in the Trauma anthology; I then moved right on to the last 40 pages of Nobody Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood and the same bizarre fact was mentioned. A week and a half later, there it was again, this time in Asylum Road by Olivia Sudjic.

 

  • A mention of sailors’ habit of getting tattoos of swallows in The Circling Sky by Neil Ansell (who has a swallow tattoo, even though he’s not a sailor) and Birdsong in a Time of Silence by Steven Lovatt.
  • A father and teenage child wander an unfamiliar city and enter a sex shop together (yipes yet again!) in Three O’Clock in the Morning by Gianrico Carofiglio and Ten Days by Austin Duffy.

 

  • A mention of the same University of Virginia study in which people self-administered electric shocks to alleviate the boredom of sitting alone with their thoughts in Rooted by Lyanda Lynn Haupt and You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy.

 

  • Basho’s poetry and George Monbiot’s Feral are both cited in The Circling Sky by Neil Ansell and Rooted by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

 

  • A dead sister named Mattie in Consent by Annabel Lyon and Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz.
  • A young Black female protagonist and the same family dynamic (the mother committed suicide and the father is in the Marines/Navy) in The Mothers by Brit Bennett and Luster by Raven Leilani.

 

  • On the same night, I read about two pets encountering snow for the first time: a cat in Close Encounters of the Furred Kind by Tom Cox and a dog in Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson.

 

  • A character is described as being as wide as they are tall in Mother for Dinner by Shalom Auslander and The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox.
  • A character is known as Seventh in Mother for Dinner by Shalom Auslander and the story “The Pangs of Love” by Jane Gardam in the Close Company anthology. Plus, there’s Septimus in Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, which I’m reading concurrently with those two.

 

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

23 responses

  1. carolyn anthony | Reply

    “Yipes” is right!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How do you manage to keep track of such coincidences? You must have a far more organised mind than mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to write them down pretty soon thereafter, either on scraps of paper or directly in an ongoing file on my PC desktop, or I would surely forget them!

      Like

  3. I hope mermaids are not going to take over from unicorns as the latest ‘thing’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did! So far I’ve only noticed the trend in books. The Little Mermaid was big in my childhood, so it might be time for a 1990s fad to have a comeback.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I just. Can’t. Compete. Nor can I think of any examples offhand. Double failure. But I did enjoy those near-synchronous comings-together!

    Like

    1. It’s not a competition in any way! Glad you enjoyed.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It does seem that mermaids are everywhere! And “French flaps”–I didn’t know that’s what they’re called, but I love them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I find them (the French flaps, that is) superfluous, but not really a problem.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I use them as the lazy person’s bookmark!

        Like

      2. Ah, true, they could function to mark a place!

        Like

  6. You really have a knack for this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I do love keeping a running log of the coincidences.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yipes indeed, but I love the set of coincidences as usual. I tend to record them on the blog as I go along, so you know about mine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I save mine up — I was going to make it a quarterly feature, but the list was getting too unwieldy so I’ve posted early.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I only get them now and again so if I saved them all up I’d do an annual one and would have forgotten all the details!

        Like

  8. I thought this type of reading coincidence was because I was especially observant but now, as you point out, I realize it’s more likely because of reading multiple books at the same time! My most recent was reading a historical novel set during the Revolutionary War which features a military leader from upstate New York I’d – General Herkimer – and in The Goldfinch, which I had recently finished, I had read his name for the first time when he was mentioned as the possible past owner of a couch.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What fun! Thanks for reading.

      Like

  9. I also love the word ‘serendipity’! I learnt it aged 6/7 because one of the videos I always used to rent from our local video store was called Serendipity. Googling it now, it looks like it was the film version of this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serendipity_the_Pink_Dragon

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That looks cute 🙂 The film I watched most often from our local video store as a child was The Last Unicorn. My mother says we should have just bought a copy for the number of times I made them rent it!

      I love the word origin of serendipity, too. Horace Walpole coined it from a Persian fairy tale, with Serendip the Persian name for Sri Lanka.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How interesting! I always rented this film and various Rainbow Brite and Care Bears movies. I’ve not seen The Last Unicorn 🙂

        Like

  10. buriedinprint | Reply

    This is the second time that I’ve forced myself to remember one of these to share in your posts on the theme, but now I can’t locate my note. LOL Anyway, it was a single playing card, and the same playing card, in two different books that I read last week. It’s also the second time, in recent history, that I’ve confessed to you that I’ve lost a note I’ve made…I really do need to consolidate my notebooks…it’s nearly as out-of-hand as the library book “situation”.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. […] blogger Bookish Beck has a Book Serendipity series she runs from time to time (the latest one is here) where she shares coincidences from books she is reading at the same time or close to one another. […]

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