In which I pair three books read this summer with three books read before this summer that have similar themes but are in some way opposite. It’s a scientific process, people.
Summer Reading: The Gracekeepers,* by Kirsty Logan, takes place in a watery future world (I haven’t seen Waterworld, so I can’t tell you how it compares. Sorry about that). All land is inhabited by landlockers, who jealously guard their island holdings; some of them have returned to earth worship. Everyone else lives at sea. These damplings include scavengers, revivalists who live on converted cruise ships (no pun intended there), messengers, and the crew of the Excalibur, a tiny floating circus. North is the circus’s bear girl, who, like her parents before her, dances with a bear to entertain landlockers in the hope of earning dinner. One night a storm sends the circus crew into the path of Callanish, a gracekeeper—a person in charge of arranging damplings’ burials at sea. North and Callanish exchange secrets and part ways, but they can’t stop wondering about each other, and about the possibility that there’s a way to be of both the land and the sea.
The main characters aren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked, but The Gracekeepers is worth picking up for the atmosphere, the world-building, and the supporting characters.
Pair it with: Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water,* another novel set in the future after some kind of environmental disaster—though this time, one that causes a scarcity of water. Memory of Water also features a pair of young women trying to make the best of a dangerous existence while hiding secrets.
Summer Reading: Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country is a hilarious tour through Australia. He talks to almost invariably friendly Australians, gets quite drunk and draws naughty cartoons on a napkin, lists the continent’s unrelentingly deadly wildlife, and doesn’t see too many kangaroos, among other exploits. I can’t say the book makes me want to visit Australia—though Mr. Bryson enthusiastically hopes that you will—but it definitely made me want to visit with Bill Bryson. The book’s one drawback: Mr. Bryson’s failure to write significantly or at any length about Australia’s Aboriginal population; as far as I could tell, he did not speak with a single Aboriginal person.
Still, if you’re one of the people who’s just discovering Mr. Bryson thanks to the press surrounding the upcoming movie version of A Walk in the Woods (which I highly recommend), I recommend reading this one.
Pair it with: A very different take on Australia, by an Australian. Christos Tsiolkas’s Barracuda* is a book with teeth, and a lot more anger than laughs. As I wrote in my review, “Danny is an teenage Australian swimmer who dreams of making it to the Olympics; thankfully, there’s no swelling inspirational music in this tightly-plotted, intricately structured novel.”
Summer Reading: Mark Forsyth’s The Etymologicon is a circular perambulation through the odd origins of English words. You could pick up the book, flip to any page, and have yourself a laugh reading any entry, but each entry connects in some way to its predecessor and successor, so I think it’d be more entertaining to read it start to (sort of) finish. Mr. Forsyth is the man behind the popular blog The Inky Fool, and The Etymologicon draws heavily from the blog’s content. Though it’s erudite and full of arcane trivia (Starbucks gets its name from the Pequod‘s first mate, whose name was drawn from a prominent whaling family, but the name itself came from a Viking word for an English stream. Really.), but also surprisingly snarky and scatological. Highly entertaining. But what else would you expect from an author whose biography begins, “Mark Forysth is a writer, journalist, proofreader, ghostwriter, and pedant”?
Pair it with: Erin Moore’s That’s Not English,* which I called “a beach read for nerds” in my review. Like The Etymologicon, it’s a funny read about words, but it’s less about etymology than it is about culture.
What bookish pairings have you found this summer, Dear Readers?
*I received a copy of these books from the publishers for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my reviews.
9 thoughts on “Summer Reading: Pairs Event”
This is a clever idea for a post. I’ll have to think about it for awhile, though.
I love this post, Carolyn! And, a great bunch of books, too. The Etymologicon sounds like fun, as does Bill Bryson’s book. I’ve only ever read his Walk in the Woods, because I was looking for books about hiking the trail. I also own a Short History of Nearly Everything, but haven’t read it. Baracuda also sounds good. I didn’t like The Slap, but I could try him again. Did you read it?
I didn’t read The Slap, but I’ve heard from other people that they didn’t much care for it either. Barracuda isn’t a happy book, but it’s really interesting.
I read A Walk in the Woods right after H was born, and I loved it. So funny.
The only pairing I can think of right now is the one I just posted about – Drunk Mom and The Biology of Desire.
I am so behind on reading blogs–I can’t wait to read about them!
I haven’t read any of the books here, but The Etymologicon sounds interesting. In the past, I’ve paired State of Wonder with The Lost City of Z, since they both take place in the rain forest. I’ve read The Poisoner’s Handbook about the beginning of forensic science and want to eventually read Working Stiff, which is about the work of a medical examiner today. Oh, and I’ve thought about pairing Songs of Willow Frost with a biography of Anna May Wong… both about Chinese entertainers in the first half of this century.
Loved Lost City of Z, and I have State of Wonder waiting on the shelf –and The Poisoner’s Handbook looks fascinating. Nice pairings!
Jeepers, what a lot of work went into this post. Thank you. I’ve laughed my way through Bryson’s Australia book — really liked it. A Short History of Nearly Everything is very good (among many other parts, the section on Yellowstone was most interesting). I consider myself a Bryson fan, so I look forward to rereading A Walk in the Woods one of these days. In the meantime, I’m reading the book about shepherds that you reviewed recently. Very good — the author is truculent, bordering on self-indulgent, but never over the edge (at least not so far). His focus on the fells and the way of life manages to avoid the deadly boring bildungsroman, and that’s saying something. Without your review, I would not have known about it. Thank you.
I have to read A Short History of Nearly Everything, but I think I have the one on English on the shelf.
Good call on the truculence.