Books to read in pairs

Often I find some books are better read together, back to back. They have similar settings or subject matter, and it’s always interesting to see the different perspectives and connections, intentional or not. A testimony to the six degree of separation.

Here are a few. Can you name some more from your reading experience?

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

Pachinko is a family saga set in a period of history that’s seldom told in North America, the first part of the 20th century in Korea and Japan. Annexation of Korea is to put it mildly, prelude to the Pacific War later when the Japanese army invaded her neighbouring countries during WWII. The sufferings of those in the frontline and those at home are vividly depicted in Sakamoto’s family memoir: his maternal grandfather as a prisoner of war in Hong Kong and later shipped to Japan as slave laborer, while his paternal grandmother and her family mistreated in internment right in their homeland of Canada. (detailed reviews coming up)


Do not say we have nothing by Madeleine Thien and The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

Barne’s biographical vignettes of Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich during Stalin’s reign is like a compendium to Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing which depicts the three choices one can make when confronting a ruthless, totalitarian Ruler. Thien’s fictional characters struggled to survive during Mao’s cultural revolution and the subsequent years. Speak truth to power, unfortunately, is not a viable alternative. Death and oblivion will be the certain and swift consequences.


Nutshell by Ian McEwan and Hamlet by William Shakespeare

McEwan’s modern day, in utero version of the Bard’s incestuous mayhem. Very perceptive, considering its from the voice of a baby in the womb.


Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, West With the Night by Beryl Markham, and Out of Africa by Karen Blixen

Don’t think of the accented Meryl Streep in the movie Out of Africa, just imagine the ‘real’ Karen Blixen, on her farm in Africa, a tough woman on her own most of the time, and then there’s an acquaintance (can’t say friend) Beryl Markham, a female aviator, equally pioneering, a Brit expat in Africa, doing more than the discovery of the land but also of the man in Karen’s life, no, not Robert Redford.


Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and The Hours by Michael Cunningham

One day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway can have so much meaning under the pen of Virginia Woolf. The Hours are equally perceptive, internal depiction of three women in different periods of time. And throw in The Hours the movie after, an excellent adaptation and hauntingly worthy of Woolf’s literary style.


The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, Mrs. Osmond by John Banville, and Middlemarch by George Eliot. 

Mrs. Osmond is Banville’s imaginary sequel to Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. Seems it all point to bad choices when the protagonist naive and a little too idealistic. I’m exploring how George Eliot’s Middlemarch may be a precursor to these novels of the young and restless and marital mismatch.

And here’s an invite, Middlemarch in May (makes a nice hashtag) is a read-along I’ll be joining with Bellezza and other readers. It starts in May, and it’s our intention to finish before summer, hopefully. Feel free to join us and explore the Dorothea Brooke connection to Isabel Archer, and I’m sure other delights as well along the way.




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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

18 thoughts on “Books to read in pairs”

  1. I’m currently reading Pachinko on my Kindle app and really, really enjoying it. I was unfamiliar with the Sakamoto memoir, and just placed a hold on it at the library, where it is ‘in processing’ and already has a queue.

    Thanks for the suggestion!


  2. Wow, Arti, what a wealth of trails to follow and books to explore, without turning a page! This must be the most tempting way to interest me in reading anything, by showing me not one but two or three books to read on a subject or event, etc. I am immediately over my head and head over heels!

    I’m also really tempted by the Middlemarch project. I only read that novel once, aloud with my husband, but at the time I kept stopping to underline passages, and always planned to read it again.

    Thank you for all your stimulating sharings!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Gretchen,

      Thanks for your two pebbles! It’s just a fun way to relate books and see how they’re connected. Also, glad you’re interested in our “Middlemarch in May” read-along. You’re way ahead of me because this will be my first time reading it. I’ll announce it again closer to then. Just read on your own and share your thoughts as you read along whenever you like with a blog post, or a comment, or just a tweet. 🙂


  3. That’s interesting you mention this as I’ve just finished reading the wonderful historical novel Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and after finishing it I noted one of the back cover testimonials said “reminiscent of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart“, which is a novella I’ve long had on the shelves, so decided to follow up and read it now, so there’s my pairing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved Pachinko (although I nearly got booed out of the room at book club when I said I thought it was a beautiful love story — they relented a bit with explanation). Wrapped in the social commentary of history telling of something about which I knew little, I found it fascinating and beautifully and eloquently written.

    I’ve gotta say, I hated Mrs. Dalloway but that is a terrific combo. (In fact, that’s how I read Mrs. D. after reading The Hours.)

    Let me add a couple to the pond: “The Sisters” (Mary Lovall) — a bio of the Mitford sisters with Nancy Mitford’s duo set of “In Pursuit of Love” and “Love in a Cold Climate” (especially if one is a Downton type of person) and the same demo for “Brideshead Revisited” (Evelyn Waugh) and Jane Mulvaugh’s “Madresfield,” which is the non-fiction telling of the house that inspired Brideshead and the family who lived there. In fact, I liked that so well, I’d read it again. Nicola Upson’s “An Expert in Murder” uses the real-life “character” of author Josephine Tey as her protagonist in this mystery set in the British theatre in the 1930s and I’d pair it with any of Tey’s own mysteries. Finally, Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies” with David Starkey’s exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting but fascinating) “Six Queens: The Wives of Henry VIII.” The first 575 pages or so of this historical look at Henry’s wives focuses on Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, who are the key female stars in “Wolf Hall.”


    1. Jeanie,

      Some ripples you’ve made with your two pebbles! Thanks for all these suggestions. I have lots to explore with these trails, in particular, I’m piqued by the ‘Brideshead Revisited’ one. I haven’t delved into Hilary Mantel’s work just because of their sheer length. It’s just me, and I know there’s a wealth of treasures there in her oeuvre.

      “Pachinko” is a much more complicated book than it seems, esp. with the historical setting and I’m sure the ambivalent responses towards the character Hansu, love him or hate him? Feelings so strongly represented in Sunja and Noa, respectively. When the book “Forgiveness” reaches the U.S., you may like to check it out, easy and short reading, not literary like Pachinko, but a ‘page turner’ still.


  5. Pairing Thien and Barnes is inspired! I think I read them very close to each other as well, because of their publishing dates, and they did feel like they went well together. Both studies in how to keep your head down and stay in favour, and what the impact might be. So often we hear about the heroes, and of course there are great stories to be had there, but the other side is more complex.


    1. Denise,

      Have you read Pachinko? If you haven’t you must. I’m sure you will enjoy it. Good to hear from you again. Taking time off blogging?


      1. I almost said that pairing looked good too! But I am a bit worried about the subject matter being disturbing. Definitely looks a good read though.


        1. Pachinko describes not the Japanese atrocities during the war but how Koreans live in Japan. More a social and human perspective, a family saga with captivating storytelling and vivid characters.


          1. Oh that sounds good!! I’ve got a Japanese and a Korean student lodging with me and they get on famously. The Japanese girl’s dad is Korean.


            1. Denise,

              We’ll be reading Middlemarch starting May, sure would love to have you join us! All for pleasure, not pressure. Read at your own pace. The deadline is flexible, maybe into July even. Here’s my invite post. Twitter #MiddlemarchinMay


  6. I checked out a copy of Middlemarch, although I have one electronic edition in my Nook; I’d rather read it in real paper. (gasp!) So glad to read this with you, and it’s nice to have some time instead of everything all in a rush. xo


    1. Bellezza,

      Yes, I should have a MinM post up soon. I’ve already bought the paperback copy and I’ll be downloading the audiobook narrated by Juliet Stevenson as well. Looking forward to this new adventure in reading with you. 🙂


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