Book Serendipity, January to February 2022

This is a bimonthly feature of mine. I call it Book Serendipity when two or more books that I read at the same time or in quick succession have something in common – the more bizarre, the better. Because I usually 20–30 books on the go at once, 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.) I always like hearing about your bookish coincidences, too!

The following are in roughly chronological order.

  • The author takes Valium to cope with fear of flying in two memoirs I read at the same time, I Came All This Way to Meet You by Jami Attenberg and This Boy We Made by Taylor Harris.
  • The fact that the Spanish brought wild horses to the USA is mentioned in the story “The Team” by Tommy Orange (in The Decameron Project) and the poetry collection Rise and Float by Brian Tierney – this also links back to a book I reread in late 2021, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.

 

  • There are roaches in a New York City apartment in I Came All This Way to Meet You by Jami Attenberg and the story “Other People’s Lives” in Loss of Memory Is Only Temporary by Johanna Kaplan.

 

  • The same Dostoevsky passage from The Brothers Karamazov, about loving everything (“Love all the earth, every ray of God’s light, every grain of sand or blade of grass, every living thing. If you love the earth enough, you will know the divine mystery” and so on), is quoted in Faith after Doubt by Brian McLaren and Reflections from the North Country by Sigurd Olson.
  • A description of nicotine-stained yellow fingers in What I Wish People Knew About Dementia by Wendy Mitchell, The Cure for Sleep by Tanya Shadrick, and Free by Lea Ypi.

 

  • Joni Mitchell’s music is mentioned in The Reactor by Nick Blackburn and The Cure for Sleep by Tanya Shadrick, two memoirs I was reading at the same time.

 

  • From one summer camp story to another … I happened to follow up The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer with Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash.

 

  • Audre Lorde’s definition of the erotic is quoted in Body Work by Melissa Febos and Heaven Is a Place on Earth by Adrian Shirk, both of which are March 15, 2022 nonfiction releases I’ve reviewed for Shelf Awareness.
  • The 2017 white supremacist terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia is mentioned in This Boy We Made by Taylor Harris (who lives there), Faith after Doubt by Brian McLaren (who was part of the clergy counterprotest group that day), and Heaven Is a Place on Earth by Adrian Shirk (she went there for a literary event a few months later).

 

  • The Salvador Dalí painting The Persistence of Memory (that’s the one with the melting clock) is described in The Reactor by Nick Blackburn and This Boy We Made by Taylor Harris.

 

  • On the same day, I came across the fact that Mary Shelley was pregnant while she wrote Frankenstein in two books: Linea Nigra by Jazmina Barrera and Smile by Sarah Ruhl.
  • The fact that cysts in female organs can contain teeth comes up in Heaven Is a Place on Earth by Adrian Shirk and I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins.

 

  • Reading two novels by Japanese-American authors who grew up in Hawaii at the same time: How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu and To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara.
  • Twins are everywhere! Including, just in a recent reading pile, in Hands by Lauren Brown (she’s a twin, so fair enough), Birth Notes by Jessica Cornwell, The Snow Collectors by Tina May Hall, Smile by Sarah Ruhl (this and the Cornwell are memoirs about birthing twins, so also fair enough), Ordinary Love by Jane Smiley, and The Priory by Dorothy Whipple. For as uncommon as they are in real life, they turn up way too often in fiction.

 

  • Bell’s palsy AND giving birth to twins are elements in Birth Notes by Jessica Cornwell and Smile by Sarah Ruhl.

 

  • There’s a no-nonsense maternity nurse in Birth Notes by Jessica Cornwell and The Priory by Dorothy Whipple.
  • U.S. West Coast wolves (a particular one in each case, known by a tracking number) are the subject of a poem in Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz and The Necessity of Wildfire by Caitlin Scarano.

 

  • Herons appear and/or have metaphorical/symbolic meaning in Thorpeness by Alison Brackenbury, What Willow Says by Lynn Buckle, Maggie Blue and the Dark World by Anna Goodall, and The Priory by Dorothy Whipple.

 

  • There’s a character named Edwin in Booth by Karen Joy Fowler and Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel.
  • The use of “hoard” where it should be “horde” in Maggie Blue and the Dark World by Anna Goodall and Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan – both errors were encountered in the same evening.

 

  • I read about Lindisfarne in Jini Reddy’s essay in Women on Nature (ed. Katharine Norbury) and The Interior Silence by Sarah Sands in the same evening.

 

  • “Flitting” as a synonym for moving house in Thorpeness by Alison Brackenbury and Nature Cure by Richard Mabey.
  • A brother named Paul in Tides by Sara Freeman and Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel.

 

  • A woman knows her lover is on the phone with his ex by his tone of voice in Tides by Sara Freeman and Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan.

 

  • In two novels I’ve read so far this year – but I won’t say which ones as it’s a spoiler – the big reveal, towards the very end, is that a woman was caught breastfeeding someone who was not her baby and it caused a relationship-destroying rupture.

 

  • Reading a second memoir this year where the chapters are titled after pop songs: Dear Queer Self by Jonathan Alexander (for a Foreword review) and now This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps.
  • A second short novel entitled The Swimmers this year: the first was Julie Otsuka’s, recently reviewed for Shiny New Books; a proof copy is on the way to me of Chloe Lane’s, coming out from Gallic Books in May.

 

  • Reading a second memoir this year whose author grew up in the Chicago suburbs of Illinois (Arlington Heights/Buffalo Grove vs. Oak Park): I Came All This Way to Meet You by Jami Attenberg and This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps.

 

  • The linea nigra (a stripe of dark hair down a pregnant woman’s belly) provides the title for Linea Nigra by Jazmina Barrera and is also mentioned in Birth Notes by Jessica Cornwell.

 

  • The famous feminist text Our Bodies, Ourselves is mentioned in Birth Notes by Jessica Cornwell and I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins.

 

  • Childbirth brings back traumatic memories of rape in Birth Notes by Jessica Cornwell and This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps.

 

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

  1. You’re so good at this, Rebecca. As usual, its a big Zero from me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These reading coincidences are little bursts of joy for me!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Just one from me and I thought of you when I came across it: herons as food mentioned in Lara Maiklem’s Mudlarking and Pen Vogler’s Scoff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good one! I enjoyed Mudlarking. Lots of herons in my recent reading; odd.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Loved it! There’s a heronry I pass regularly so I felt for them.

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      2. I’ve added in above a heron cartoon I happened across recently 🙂

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  3. I had one this month, the book I was reading by Rob Dunn, A Natural History Of The Future mentioned an author in the introduction, Amitav Ghosh. My next book to read was, The Nutmeg’s Curse by him!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I encountered the Japanese funeral custom of picking pieces of bone out of the ashes of the deceased in How High We Go In The Dark and A Tale for the Time Being (rereading)!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ah, cool! I hope A Tale for the Time Being lives up to a reread. I still haven’t read her All Over Creation, but after that I’ll reread Time Being.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Now that is serendipitous!

    I keep running across mentions of “unveiled” in the books and articles I’ve been reading lately.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. An unusual word to find particularly often!

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  6. Argh, cyst teeth! I was soooooo relieved when I had a cyst and it wasn’t toothy. I just had a minor serendipity and I can’t remember what it was, of course. But I mark them when I do find them and write about them immediately!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Quite a horrific thought!

      I do appreciate you sharing them. I can tell you enjoy finding coincidences, too.

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      1. I’ve remembered! Characters going round Paris art museums in A Million Aunties and Diary of a Confused Feminist 2.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I had a doozy just recently but I’m hoping to write a post about it so I’ll keep it to myself for now. I’m awfully curious about the breastfeeding one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, fun, I’ll look out for it! (One was a recent release by a Canadian author; the other was a 2008 novel by an established American author. Both women.)

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  8. […] Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moment! In this book and the previous one I read, “A Million Aunties”, characters visit […]

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  9. You’re so good at paying attention!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s sweet of you to say 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The only thing I have for you this time is the three books I read that all mentioned Mary Poppins!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great coincidence!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I do appreciate the trope of the no-nonsense maternity nurse. But it makes me wonder, late on a Friday when I’m probably too tired to comment intelligently, whether the lots-of-nonsense maternity nurse has had short shrift in literature. Lately the kind of reading I’ve been doing doesn’t lend itself to these kinds of alignments/collisions, but I do love them too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think a flibbertigibbet would make it very far in medicine!

      Do you mean, not many books at once? Or grouped around themes deliberately? Or something else? 🙂

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  12. I guess a little bit of both those situations, plus overall my reading is slower and reduced, compared to previous years (and particularly to the stuffed-full 2021). Still reading for reviews and essays though!

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