This week the Nonfiction November folks (Katie at Doing Dewey, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, Rachel at Hibernator’s Library, Julz at Julz Reads and Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves) asked for reading pairings—book that complement each other in the way of other pairings like food and wine, clothes and accessories, chocolate and well…chocolate. Here are a few that came to mind for me.
The nonfiction Boys in the Boat takes place largely in Washington state and the novel Sometimes a Great Notion in Oregon, but it’s not simply the location that makes them so well-suited, it’s the background of both. Evergreens and coastline are symbols of the Pacific Northwest, but the wild beauty of both meant that as dangerous as they were logging and fishing were the powerhouse industries for generations. Many of the rowers at the U of Washington in Boys in the Boat came from such backgrounds and Sometimes a Great Notion is the story of a logging family. In each case, the experience shaped the character and changed the narrative.
Additionally, Brown and Kesey write in a kinetic style that is perfectly suited to the times and endeavors they describe. Either way, these books give a deep sense of the heart of this corner of America.
There are few things I like more than sophisticated reading about sophisticated women. If you feel the same way, then you really must read Melanie Benjamin’s The Swans of Fifth Avenue because it is a dishy delight of a novel about the lives of some of the uber-wealthy women who ruled over New York City in the late 1950s. The only thing it’s missing? Pictures. The women at the heart of the novel are real, but there is no way to get a sense of what they actually looked like or the extent of their influence on the fashion and culture of the time. What you need is Annette Tappert’s The Power of Style. It’s a gorgeous book that highlights some of the great women of style in recent decades. All of Truman’s swans are in there with beautiful photos and bios. Sadly, you’ll have to look for it at the library, because it came out in 1994 and as much as I love you all, I’m not loaning you my copy—because, of course, I do own a copy. I’m sorry, I love looking at photos of beautiful clothes and reading about interesting women!
I don’t remember how I stumbled upon Coming to My Senses, but it is a fabulous memoir about a woman who defines herself as a feminist and as such she takes pride in having no interest in shopping or anything feminine. When her upcoming marriage foists that world on her, she discovers the world of perfume. This was one of my first 5-star recommendations for a nonfiction book. I still believe if you belong to a book club this would be a fantastic choice because Hassad discusses so many perfumes, their history, how scent works…just everything about perfume. It lends itself to so many topics of discussion.
Anyway, I digress. If you’d like to move beyond the facts of perfume, Kathleen Tessaro’s The Perfume Collector is another novel set in the 1950s (which apparently is really a period I enjoy in my fiction) and it combines, Paris, a mystery, an unhappy marriage, and perfume. Tessaro does a wonderful job describing the art and science of perfume-making plus has a marvelously acerbic character in Madame Zed. I read this before I started this blog so don’t have a review to link to.
If you’d like more reading pairing ideas, stop by and check out the offerings from other great bloggers at Sarah’s Book Shelves
Sarah's Book Shelves says
Oooh – love the Swans pairing! I went and googled all those women after reading it, so pictures would have been great!
And the Boys in the Boat pairing is interesting…will have to check that one out.
Of course, I couldn’t resist finding something to pair with Swans! It is a beautiful book. She did another one about glamour and it was all Hollywood. Yum.
I don’t normally have a lot of interest in style or perfume, but you’ve made me want to read all about them anyway! I remember putting The Perfume Collector on my list when it first came out, but I still haven’t read it. It’s good to be reminded – and to know you recommend it.
Your perfume pairing reminds me of a pair of books my book group read years ago – Emperor of Scent, by Chandler Burr, and Perfume, by Patrick Süskind. We finished them off with a field trip to the Perfume House in Portland (amazing place if you’re at all interested in perfume).
Oh my gosh, I lived in Portland for 5 years and always wanted to go there with a friend who was curious as well, but we never made it.
I’m going to add those books to my TBR!
Eva @ The Paperback Princess says
ooooo Catherine, these are good. I’m going to see if I can find a copy of The Power of Style for sure. I’m still kind of bummed that The Sisters by David Grafton was such a bust.
And I’m very much intrigued by the perfume pairing.
Coming to my Senses sounds really interesting! My book club hasn’t done a ton of nonfiction, I think this could be a fun pick for next year.
The narrative style is great because I usually have trouble sticking with nonfiction. I think it would be a lot of fun to share with a group.
Katie @ Doing Dewey says
I really enjoyed The Perfume Collector and Coming to My Senses sounds like a great book to pair with it. I’m enjoying learning more about different perspectives on feminism and recently got married myself, so it sounds like a great fit for me right now as well.
Perhaps Ken Kesey’s book could also be paired with Garth Stein’s novel “A Sudden Light” as that also is about a logging family. Hmm. Paring books is a fun exercise.
ps. Though notably the Stein book is not nonfiction, so my bad there ….