Book Serendipity, May to June 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. 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.

  • Sufjan Stevens songs are mentioned in What Is a Dog? by Chloe Shaw and After the Storm by Emma Jane Unsworth.

 

  • There’s a character with two different coloured eyes in The Mothers by Brit Bennett and Painting Time by Maylis de Kerangal.
  • A description of a bathroom full of moisturizers and other ladylike products in The Mothers by Brit Bennett and The Interior Silence by Sarah Sands.

 

  • A description of having to saw a piece of furniture in half to get it in or out of a room in A Braided Heart by Brenda Miller and After the Storm by Emma Jane Unsworth.
  • The main character is named Esther Greenwood in the Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story “The Unnatural Mother” in the anthology Close Company and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Indeed, it seems Plath may have taken her protagonist’s name from the 1916 story. What a find!

 

  • Reading two memoirs of being in a coma for weeks and on a ventilator, with a letter or letters written by the hospital staff: Many Different Kinds of Love by Michael Rosen and Coma by Zara Slattery.
  • Reading two memoirs that mention being in hospital in Brighton: Coma by Zara Slattery and After the Storm by Emma Jane Unsworth.

 

  • Reading two books with a character named Tam(b)lyn: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier and Coma by Zara Slattery.

 

  • A character says that they don’t miss a person who’s died so much as they miss the chance to have gotten to know them in Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour and In by Will McPhail.
  • A man finds used condoms among his late father’s things in The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster and Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour.

 

  • An absent husband named David in Open House by Elizabeth Berg and Ruby by Ann Hood.

 

  • The murder of Thomas à Becket featured in Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot (read in April) and Heavy Time by Sonia Overall (read in June).
  • Adrienne Rich is quoted in (M)otherhood by Pragya Agarwal and Heavy Time by Sonia Overall.

 

  • A brother named Danny in Immediate Family by Ashley Nelson Levy and Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler.

 

  • The male lead is a carpenter in Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny and Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler.
  • An overbearing, argumentative mother who is a notably bad driver in Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny and Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott.

 

  • That dumb 1989 movie Look Who’s Talking is mentioned in (M)otherhood by Pragya Agarwal and Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny.

 

  • In the same evening, I started two novels that open in 1983, the year of my birth: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris and Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
  • “Autistic” is used as an unfortunate metaphor for uncontrollable or fearful behavior in Open House by Elizabeth Berg and Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott (from 2000 and 2002, so they’re dated references rather than mean-spirited ones).

 

  • A secondary character mentions a bad experience in a primary school mathematics class as being formative to their later life in Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott and Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler (at least, I think it was in the Tyler; I couldn’t find the incident when I went back to look for it. I hope Liz will set me straight!).

 

  • The panopticon and Foucault are referred to in Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead and I Live a Life Like Yours by Jan Grue. Specifically, Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon is the one mentioned in the Shipstead, and Bentham appears in The Cape Doctor by E.J. Levy.

 

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

17 responses

  1. “a bad experience in a primary school mathematics class” hm, that doesn’t ring a bell, I have to say. But I’ve read another AT since then of course. Argh!

    I just read a review of Heavy Time and off to find yours – after struggling with Iain Sinclair’s “Overground” I think a woman psychogeographer would be a good project for me and my best friend, after our next two planned reads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Argh! It was a brief, almost throwaway line from a male character, and I’d almost convinced myself it was one of the random churchgoers in Saint Maybe but then couldn’t find the quote when I went back to look for it…

      I reviewed Heavy Time for the TLS. They sit on reviews a long time during the editing process, so it’ll be a while yet before it’s published. I appreciated her approach even if I found the actual details of the travel a bit forgettable.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked your catalogue, and especially I liked the fact that your mind works so that you have the need to catalogue these parallels! Here’s how I regard the continuum of things echoing each other:

    1. Coincidence. When two things which might have a relationship with each other converge at a point in time.
    2. Synchronicity. Essentially the same as coincidence but fraught with significance. Jung defined it as “the simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary state.”
    3. Serendipity. Alternatively, happenstance. A synchronous event with a happy outcome, rather than portending something bad. Although unrelated, the Welsh word seren, ‘star’, is an apt symbol for this, I think, more than the convoluted explanation for how ‘serendipity’ (ultimately from the Persian for Sri Lanka) entered European languages.

    I think ‘Book Serendipity’ is perfect for your meme, being a catalogue of happy happenstances that bring you joy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the etymological affirmation 🙂 I’d heard an anecdote about Horace Walpole introducing the term and naming it after Sri Lanka.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, he’d read a version of the Persian folktale of The Three Princes of Serendip and concocted the word serendipity from that. It’s one of my favourite words, along with ‘verisimilitude’, ‘procrastimation’ and one or two others. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. How on earth do you keep track of all these connections!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I keep an ongoing Word file on my desktop. I have to jot them down on slips of paper or enter them directly into the file or I’d forget in no time!

      Like

      1. And there I was thinking you had a phenomenal memory

        Like

      2. buriedinprint

        It’s too late to impress BookerTalk, but not too late to impress a myriad of other readers…quick, delete your honest admission. LOL

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  4. These are always fun to read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They’re fun posts to put together, I must say. They write themselves!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I notice odd little details that connect books all the time but I never keep track of them – I should! At the moment, two books that refer to Greek mythology as the basis for modern art. My all-time favourite link was THREE books in a row that mentioned Lil’ Wayne!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They’re very fleeting, these moments; if I didn’t write them down, I’d forget from one day to the next. That Lil’ Wayne coincidence is too much!

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  6. Oh, oh, oh: I wrote one down for you again. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye appears in two books, one in Nadya Owusu’s memoir Aftershocks and one is Zakiya Dalila Harris’ The Other Black Girl. In the former, she takes it to boarding school with her, but I’m pretty sure she never reads it there. And in the latter, Nella definitely doesn’t actually read it, she mentions that she’s started it five times but never makes it past the first chapter!

    Now, as far as your list goes, WHO would have thought that THAT many people would have had to saw furniture in half. *shakes head* I’m stunned. That piece of furniture in my life? It went to someone with a wider doorway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good one! I read The Other Black Girl over our recent holiday.

      Our neighbours’ solution was to bring the oversized sofa through the front of the house while they were replacing the windows.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You run across the weirdest things: two men find used condoms in their late father’s effects? I have a hard time imagining that any man would keep a used condom, let alone keep it for a long enough period of time that he could die and leave it. I suppose it made sense in the context of both of the stories. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That was a weird one for sure. Sordid enough to stick in my mind the first time around … and then make me blink my eyes in surprise the second time!

      Like

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