Nonfiction November 2021: Book pairings

Week 2 of Nonfiction November and I’m still here, playing along.

Nonfiction November, as you know, is hosted by several bloggers, with Week 2: (November 8-12) – Book pairings, hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey. This week we need to “pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story”. 

The no-brainer

If I were just going to do one pairing, it would be a no-brainer, but it’s not really “if you loved this, read this”. Nor is it just two titles that I think would go together, and it’s definitely not pairing historical fiction with the history of the same topic. Nope, my pair comprises a book in which an author talks about her writing another one. If you’ve been reading my blog recently you’ll guess what I’m talking about, as I’m pairing volume 2 of Helen Garner’s diaries, One day I’ll remember this (my review), which I read this year, with one of the books she discusses in these diaries, Cosmo cosmolino. I have written two posts on this novel, a less than thorough review, years ago, and, recently, a consideration inspired by the diaries. I enjoyed the insights Garner provided into writing this, her most challenging novel (in terms of form) and most different (in terms of subject matter).

Helen Garner, Cosmo cosmolino

The unusual thing is that I could make several somewhat similar pairings from this year, as I’ve read other books discussing specific works. So, I could also pair Erik Jensen’s On Kate Jennings (my review) with the novel he talks about, Snake (my review), or Stan Grant’s On Thomas Keneally (my review) with the Keneally’s novel that he discusses, The chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (read before blogging). I could also pair Chrystopher Spicer’s Cyclone country: The language of place and disaster in Australian literature (my review) with one of a few books he discusses that I’ve read. But I won’t!

Instead, in the spirit of this meme, I feel I should challenge myself at least a little before ending this post, so here is …

Another pairing

I read a couple of memoirs this year that could be paired with novels, but I’ll just choose one, Marie Younan’s A different kind of seeing (my review). This tells the story of her life as a blind, illiterate Assyrian migrant to Melbourne, Australia, and how, with the help of various migrant services, she met other people, learnt English, obtained satisfying and meaningful employment, and ended up writing her memoir with the help of her English teacher, Jill Sanguinetti.

Book cover

I’m pairing this with an English-set novel, Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic stories for Punjabi widows (my review), which, on the surface, sounds very different from Younan’s story. It’s about a young English-born Punjabi woman who obtains a job teaching writing to immigrant Punjabi widows in Southall, the heart of London’s Punjabi community. It’s a romcom but it also confronts some very real, very dangerous, difficulties that migrant women face in that culture. While these Punjabi women’s challenges were very different to those faced by Younan, both books provide insight into how hard it can be for immigrants, particularly immigrant women, to find their place in a new country.

For those of you doing Nonfiction November, I’ll see your pairings I’m sure, but, if you’re not, I’d love to see what you would pair – if you’d like to play along.

37 thoughts on “Nonfiction November 2021: Book pairings

  1. Hi Sue, I have just finished reading Brenda Brennan’s biography of Gillian Mears: Leaping Into Waterfalls. I will pair it with Gillian Mears’ novel Grass Sister which is about a woman trying to understand her younger sister who disappeared near a waterfall .

  2. Love your creative take on the question. I’d never have thought about the “book about a book” angle. The one that comes to mind is Lolita and Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi which I started with great enthusiasm but ended up hating

  3. Hmm. How about Musil’s A Man Without Qualities paired with Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus? Or perhaps Peter Dementz’s Prague in Black and Gold with Hasek’s The Good Soldier Schweik.

    Or for a couple of mother-and-son pairings: Johanna Trollope’s The Domestic Manners of the Americans and Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (not his favorite among his novels, but it has some Americans in prominent roles); Eugenia Ginzburg’s Journey Into the Whirlwind and Vasily Aksyonov’s The Burn. Or for a father-and-daughter pairing, John Cheever’s Falconer and Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsburgy.

    • I don’t know all those George, but they sound good, including some novels I’d like to read.

      The Trollope pairings are interesting as I hadn’t heard of Johanna Trollope. (Joanna yes, of course). Ah, I just searched again and I think you mean Frances Trollope? If I knew his mother wrote, I had forgotten! What did she have to say about Americans back then?

      • Yes, of course, Frances Trollope. What she had to say about Americans was not flattering. Anthony, in his autobiography, thought that she was unduly harsh. He does give her full credit for energy and devotion, supporting their family largely by her literary earnings while at the same time managing the household:

        “The industry was a thing apart, kept to herself. It was not necessary that any one who lived with her should see it. She was at her table at four in the morning, and had finished her work before the world had begun to be aroused. But the joviality was all for others. … Even when she was at work,
        the laughter of those she loved was a pleasure to her. She had much, very much, to suffer. Work sometimes came hard to her, so much being required,–for she was extravagant, and liked to have money to spend; but of all people I have known she was the most joyous, or, at any rate, the most capable of joy.”

        https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/5978/pg5978.txt

        • What a clear, affectionale but honest picture of her.

          I can imagine Old World England in her time didn’t cope much at all with New World America! Chalk and Cheese, plus of course the history – the American Revolution, America’s relationshiip with France, would not have endeared America to many Brits?

  4. This doesn’t really fit, one of the pair being a song rather than a work of fiction, still: Harry Belafonte’s calypso “From a logical point of view” and W.V.O. Quine’s collection of essays on logic From a Logical Point of View. In the preface to the latter, Quine writes that a friend, on hearing Belafonte’s song, told Quine that there was the title for his book.

  5. My ‘easy’ pairing was Kate Grenville’s book about Elizabeth Macarthur, with her bio by MST, but then Nancy challenged me to pair the two cookbooks I had on my non-fiction list this year!

  6. Haha, I paired a Bronte bio with one of her books and also felt I was being a bit obvious, but I really liked your obvious pairings and am glad you shared them. I’d like to read more literary criticism and books about writing so I can better appreciate the books I read, so your pairings are just the sort of thing I’m looking for 🙂

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