The Book Sommelier Strikes Back (Part VII)

It’s been a while since the last episode of the Book Sommelier, but I have some fresh combinations for readers looking for a bookish shot and chaser.

The Volunteer, by Salvatore Scibona, and East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

Sometimes when I read book, Bible verses bubble up from the depths of my brain, from when I was being brought up as a Lutheran. (This is particularly weird given that I’m an atheist. Funny how words stick in my brain.) In the case of The Volunteer and East of Eden, I couldn’t help but think of the verse from Exodus, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (KJV). The sins of the fathers in both The Volunteer and East of Eden are definitely visited on their descendants, though not quite all the way to the third and fourth generations. Both of these books had me thinking about the ways that a father’s expectations for their sons and the way that father raises those sons can work at odds. I would recommend this pairing for fans of generational sagas.

Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn, and The Memory Police, by Yoko Ogawa

Both Ella Minnow Pea and The Memory Police begin with small, isolated communities. And both deal with the slow disappearance of meaning. Without language (in Ella Minnow Pea) and without names (in The Memory Police), we loose our grips on the world around us. Things becomes strange and unsettling when we don’t have words with which to understand them. Both novels are fascinating thought experiments, grounded in excellent character development. Ella Minnow Pea has a lighter tone than The Memory Police; I often found it funny, until events get completely out of control.

Pet Sematary, by Stephen King, and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, by Caitlin Doughty

Pet Sematary and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes have similar theses, shocking thought it might seem. Both of these books reveal just how strange we are about death in an age with so much life-extending medicine. We don’t encounter death as much as we did in previous centuries. King’s novel provides evidence of the way that parents squirm when it comes to explaining death to their children. As I read Pet Sematary, I was strongly reminded of Doughty, who wrote that we’ve lost our rituals for dealing with death. This may be my strangest pairing yet, but I think readers will get a kick out of reading these books back-to-back.

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