The Revenge of the Book Sommelier (Part III)

A have some new book pairing suggestions for you, gentle readers. Two of the pairings are non-fiction/fiction duos. The non-fiction gives us the reality, while the fiction takes us into the minds of protagonists. By reading both, I think, we get a richer sense of history than we might if we read just non-fiction or fiction. The other pairing is for readers who like their mysteries erudite.

For your reading pleasure, I recommend:

19322250The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan, and Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning is a seminal book about the Holocaust, written by Frankl who survived being interned at Buchenwald and Auschwitz. His book discusses how he and other survivors lived long enough to see the end of the war. The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a novel that follows a fictional survivor of the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps in Thailand. It may seem callous to compare the plight of actual Holocaust survivors and victims to fictional characters, but what I like about this combination is that the novel takes us inside the head of a man who lived through extreme deprivation, disease, and cruel guards who would kill their prisoners at the drop of a hat while the non-fiction book provides psychological guidance. The Narrow Road to the Deep North resonated strongly with what I remembered from Man’s Search for Meaning.

The Readymade Thief, by August Rose, and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

Both of these unusual thrillers revolve around works of art that may or may not have supernatural powers. In Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, the protagonists follow a trail of clues scattered through a strange series of books. In The Readymade Thief, the protagonist is in a race to figure out the secrets of one of Marcel Duchamps’ sculptures. Both novels are academic mysteries that just delighted me. I much prefer mysterious-cultural-work-that-could-change-everything novels when they don’t have anything to do with Christianity.

36011536On the House, by Helen Maskew, and Damnation Island, by Stacy Horn

Like the first pairing in this post, these two novels work together because one is fiction and the other non-fiction. Damnation Island covers the history of Blackwell’s Island, New York, which housed a prison, an asylum, a hospital, a workhouse, and poorhouses. New York’s indigent population were shipped in hordes to Blackwell’s Island during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The statistics and events recounted in Damnation Island offer background for On the House, which takes place in workhouse in nineteenth century England. The novel brings the history to life and makes all those statistics even more affecting. I particularly like this pairing because I feel that the history of workhouses and how the poor were treated never comes up in history classes, at least until one gets to university. This is unfortunate because it is a piece of social history that I think we still haven’t found a way, as a society, to lift people up out of poverty.


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