Maybe it’s the English major in me, but I love when my reading aligns thematically. Reading three books in a row about dysfunctional families? I’m in. Back-to-back books that explore grief? Yes, please. Sometimes I intentionally try to find books that pair well together, but more often than not it’s a happy surprise when I encounter books that go together.
Today, I’m introducing a new blog segment I’m calling Novel Pairings by sharing several books I read this summer who would totally be friends in the wild. All of these pairings focus on gender and power - in fact all of them speak to patriarchal culture and gendered expectations - but I’ve focused on pairing books that more closely mirror each other in the specific topics they explore. Novel Pairings aren’t read alikes. They can vary widely across genre, time period, or intended audience, but if you want to explore a topic in depth, these books offer different takes on similar ideas. So here’s the first batch of book friends. I hope you find double the reading recs to add to your TBR!
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart and *Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Okay, a sixteen-year-old girl at coming of age at a prestigious boarding school doesn’t have much in common with a 40-year-old divorce exploring dating apps in NYC. But I cannot stop thinking about either of these books for very similar reasons. These books are about women who want things and how that wanting is perceived by the people around them. They want to be taken seriously. They want to be viewed as intelligent, witty, and competent. They want the people around them to know and appreciate them for who they are, not who they ought to be. As someone who teaches teenage girls, I think it’s so important for young women to contemplate the subtle (and not so subtle) ways girls are encouraged to diminish their own wants, hopes, and dreams. Frankie is a YA campus novel and Fleishman is a more scandalous New York novel so pick your poison or read these together for an even more layered reading experience.
*Three Women by Lisa Taddeo and The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti and/or *Pure by Linda Kay Klein
Three Women has been everywhere this summer and opinions have been all-over the place. I personally think this is an excellent book in the sense that I’ve continued to bring it up in conversations months after finishing. That’s not to say that Three Women isn’t without flaws, in fact there are some glaring problems in this text. One of the issues I had with it is I don’t think Taddeo is clear enough about her intentions with the book, and I’ve taught rhetorical analysis enough to know that every author is trying to persuade me of something. I didn’t end up taking away many generalizations or truths from Three Women, but I thought it was an important and interesting exploration of how female desire is impacted by a culture that wants women to be desirable, but not desirous. This is explored more concretely in two other books I read this summer, The Purity Myth and Pure (did I mention I like to read thematically?). Both of these books provide a lot of insight into the way purity culture and abstinence-only education affect women throughout their lives. While The Purity Myth is more academic in tone, Pure is made up primarily of interviews and personal reflection. I personally think The Purity Myth is objectively better because it's more thorough, but Pure is more readable (and great on audio!).
*Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones and Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
I’m always on the lookout for books about female friendship so when I finally heard Another Brooklyn described, I knew I had to read it immediately. This is a very slight book (I read a paper copy, but the audio book is less than 3 hours) that conveys tremendous depth about friendships among girls through the story of four best friends growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s. Silver Sparrow is a great pairing because it’s about two girls who come of age without the support of close female friendships, although the stories parallel each other in other beautiful ways. Both Woodson and Jones tell stories that evoke a strong sense of time and place (Atlanta in the 1980s and Brooklyn in the 1970s, respectively). Both introduce leaders to strong and confident young Black women who are trying not to let social expectations and family strife interfere with their passions. Both novels contain their fair share of heartbreak and both beautifully depict the need girls have for peers who love, understand, and celebrate them.