These 7 Unexpected Book Pairings Shouldn't Work As Perfectly As They Do

by Charlotte Ahlin

What's better than reading one book? Reading two books, of course. And then writing an insightful essay drawing parallels between them! OK, so you don't have to do the essay part if you don't want to, but you might be surprised at just how much you get out of the "book combo" reading strategy. Books that seem completely unrelated can sometimes complement each other. You might see an old story in a totally new light, or discover a book you never would have read otherwise. Here are a few unexpected book combos that make for great reading, because two books are better than one.

Of course, a lot of us end up reading two books at once by pure accident: we forget to bring a book on a long flight and have to buy something at the airport, or we bring a paperback instead of the hardcover we were reading because it takes up less space, or we just get seduced by some new and shiny title at the bookstore. But reading two books side by side on purpose gives a whole new dimension to things. You're not just a reader with a wandering eye. You're a scholar drawing parallels between two very different texts:

'Americanah' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie & 'Blankets' by Craig Thompson

Sure, at first glance it may seem like these two books have exactly nothing in common. One is a smart, wide-ranging novel about a Nigerian woman who moves to America. The other is a beautiful, quite graphic novel about an American boy falling in love in the snow. But both books deal with the intersection of first love and the more toxic aspects of American culture, from micro-aggressions to child abuse under the guise of Christianity. Both have their share of romantic longing and of harsh reality, and both are very candid about the struggle of being young and in love.

Click here to buy Americanah and Blankets.

'Bad Feminist' by Roxane Gay & 'The Portable Dorothy Parker' by Dorothy Parker

If you're in the mood to scream forever because misogyny has barely changed at all since the 1930's, then these are the books for you. Bad Feminist is a timely, funny, biting book of essays on feminism and pop culture in our modern world. The Portable Dorothy Parker is a collection of some of Dorothy's most sarcastic poems, stories, and reviews on sexism and culture way back in the early to mid 20th century. Both are distressingly relevant today. Both are hilariously acerbic. And both prove that you don't have to be perfect to be a feminist.

Click here to buy Bad Feminist and The Portable Dorothy Parker.

'On the Road' by Jack Kerouac & 'American Gods' by Neil Gaiman

Like road trips? Read these books. On the Road is your classic privileged hippie rambling about the intoxicating beauty of the open road for several hundred pages, and having sex with a lot of sad and complicated women. American Gods is more of a fantasy epic, in which the gods and goddesses of ancient history are now scraping by as morticians and cab drivers. Both books, though, are sprawling road trips that range all across North America, philosophically charged journeys of the self, and really fun reads (especially if you have to spend a lot of time in the car).

Click here to buy On the Road and American Gods.

'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath & 'Hyperbole and a Half' by Allie Brosh

The Bell Jar is a classic novel about one young woman's mental breakdown. Hyperbole and a Half is illustrated with MS Paint. They may not seem like a natural pairing, but these two books are pretty spot on when it comes to tackling depression... albeit from very different perspectives. Brosh uses jokes and doodles and dogs to explore the emotional numbness of clinical depression. Plath uses breathtaking prose to examine the journey from breakdown to recovery. Both, however, are heartfelt stories about two very different young women grappling with their mental health.

Click here to buy The Bell Jar and Hyperbole and a Half.

'Hopscotch' by Julio Cortázar & 'If On a Winter's Night a Traveler' by Italo Calvino

If you're in a mood for a read that's kind of about reading, but also it's own story entirely, but also unlike anything you've ever read before... read these books. Hopscotch is a punny, surreal adventure about Horacio Oliveira, who is by turns a salesman, a circus cat keeper, and an attendant in an insane asylum. The catch is that the novel is not in order: you can choose the order of the chapters as you read them. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler is quite different: the main character is you, and you are on a quest to read If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, but every time you read chapter one, it turns out to be the first chapter of an entirely different novel. Read both of these books in tandem (if you can keep them straight), and watch two masters break all the rules of conventional fiction.

Click here to buy Hopscotch and If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.

'Ishmael' by Daniel Quinn & 'On Such a Full Sea' by Chang-rae Lee

A brilliant work of dystopian fiction and...a lengthy spiritual conversation with a gorilla. That's a natural pairing, right? On Such a Full Sea is the story of a far-future Earth, ravaged by environmental destruction, where society is a rigid class structure. Ishmael is the story of a guy hanging out with a gorilla, talking about the environment and humanity's place in the world. Structurally, these two books couldn't be more different. But reading them together, you'll be inspired to reflect more on your own contributions to our society, and maybe to recycle a little more often.

Click here to buy Ishmael and On Such a Full Sea.

'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' by J.K. Rowling & 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces' by Joseph Campbell

Honestly, reading any book alongside Joseph Campbell is like peeking behind the curtain at the inner workings of a piece of fiction. The Hero with a Thousand Faces discusses repeated tropes in myth and history, the character of the "hero" who lives at the heart of almost every story every written. Harry Potter is, arguably, our main cultural hero story at this moment in time. Reading both at once, you'll suddenly see how little Harry ties into the history of literature, from Theseus to Hamlet and beyond.

Click here to buy Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and The Hero with a Thousand Faces.