Metabooks
June 9, 2010 5:34 AM   Subscribe

I want to enhance my reading experiences.

I have just about finished Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth (thirty years after everybody else, sure, but if you've not yet read it, I recommend you do). I was going to leap directly into the sequel - World Without End - but it just so happened that I was browsing the shelves at Folio (easily the best bookstore in Brisbane) this afternoon and was drawn again to a volume I've looked at several times before: The Time-Traveller's Guide To Medieval England by Ian Mortimer. Skimming through it a little more carefully, I decided that this would make a perfect companion piece/stopgap between the two Follett works.

It got me to thinking of other book combos: books that improve or broaden one's experience of other books. Not books by the same author that provide backstory or interesting detail for a larger work (off the top of my head I'm thinking George R. R. Martin's The Hedge Knight, set in the Song Of Ice And Fire world), or books that are specifically designed to provide insight into other books (for example, The Key To The Name Of The Rose as something to keep by your side while reading Eco's brilliant work), but books of an entirely different nature that help to colour something else (in my case, a piece of popular history I am hoping will provide an even greater experience when approaching a piece of popular fiction).

So what are some of your examples of what I suppose might be called a "metabook" experience? Think of it as, I don't know, the principal book you're reading is a Wikipedia page, and the secondary book contains all the hyperlinks.
posted by turgid dahlia to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Lobscouse and Spotted Dog is a gastronomic companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Eighteenth Century navy novels, with recipes for every food and meal in the books, and their experiences making and eating them.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:54 AM on June 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm only good for fiction, largely, and some of them might be a bit too abstract but:

Thomas Mann's the Magic Mountain & Remarque's All Quiet On The Western Front

Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park & Gogol's short stories (Earlier Russian literature - though Cruz isn't Russian - pairs exceptionally well with later Russian literature I've found, the antecedents are so strong/illuminating)

Chandler's The Big Sleep & Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union.

David Niven's The Moon's A Balloon & Lever's Me, Cheeta.

Evanescence and Form by Inouye and any Japanese books but especially Mishima's and Murakami's.

Emile Zola's book pair magnificently with Dickens, each informing the other (though I personally feel Zola has the edge).

Julian Barnes' Arthur and George with the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Edith Wharton - especially Age of Innocence and House of Mirth - marry wonderfully well to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I'll have another think tonight and look at the old bookshelves.
posted by smoke at 6:24 AM on June 9, 2010


I enjoyed The Time-Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. I also recommend The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium.

What the Butler Saw: 250 Years of the Servant Problem is an excellent and compulsively readable counterpoint to all those classics of British literature in which the beautiful lives of ladies and gentlemen are silently and effortlessly stage-managed by a host of deferential and anonymous servants.

Liza Picard's series of books on London at various periods (Dr. Johnson's, Elizabethan, Restoration, Victorian) are also excellent at filling in details of daily life.

Judith Flanders' The Victorian House is a well-thumbed favorite of mine.

T.H. White's The Once and Future King is kind of a book and metabook in one -- at once a retelling of the Arthur legends, a loving portrait of rural England, an informative text on medieval life and customs and a meditation on what the Arthur myth has meant to people (including the author) at various points in time.

My Secret Life is like all the sex expunged from Victorian language and literature compiled into a single work.

High Society in the Regency Period does a good job of providing background details to novels of the time and counteract the haze of myth that has obscured this era in history. Particularly appalling are the descriptions of how the Church of England was basically run as a market in sinecures for the sons of the wealthy and influential.

Parenthetically: I've cooked a lot from Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, but it is also a very good read in itself -- kind of a work of amateur culinary anthropology. Continuing on a similar theme, there's also Jack Tar: Life in Nelson's Navy.
posted by stuck on an island at 6:29 AM on June 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Books like Apocalypse Culture and Amok Journal Sensurround Edition complement Chuck Palahniuk books well.

Principia Discordia and The Illuminatus! Trilogy.

The poetry of Samuel Coleridge and Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

The Thief of Always and Coraline are funny to read side-by-side, since IMHO they're the same book.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:30 AM on June 9, 2010


First thought was Borges...

Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain uses a kind of beautiful phenomenological or ethological philosophy centered around pain, imagination, language, and created artifacts to make astounding readings of the Bible and the writings of Marx.

Richard Rorty's Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity has an insightful reading of Lolita around the aesthetic life vs the ethical life, Nabokov's belief in immortality and fear of being cruel, etc.

Georges Bataille's The Accursed Share gives a fantastic economical-ecological depth applicable to many things, explicitly touching on the poetry of William Blake.
posted by mbrock at 6:31 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Funny you should mention this , as Metafilter's book club discussion of Lolita is coming up June 15 on MetaChat. Here's the other things I read around Lolita, which provided a meta experience -- The Annotated Lolita (by first reading the book through, then again by referring to the annotations after each chapter, not as I went), Reading Lolita in Tehran, and the 3 Professor Hungerford lectures (of which one is actually by a guest lecturer) on the book on the Yale site.
posted by bearwife at 8:56 AM on June 9, 2010


If you're reading anything sent in or relating to England around the 18th century, this is absolutely amazing. It makes the whole century come to brilliant, brilliant life (and is fantastic, engrossing, suck-you-in-even-if-you-don't-like-history, OH MY GOD WHAT reading on its own). Jack Aubrey, explained and in context!

If you're reading Battle Cry of Freedom, these lectures are fantastic supplement/expansion/audio version. Blight has almost a preacher's cadence in some of those lectures, and it's spine-tingling.

And a TV show, but if you're watching Rome and enjoying Vorenus and Pullo's hardassery, this explains a more of their world -- it's set in time a little bit after the arc of the series, but it'll give you a richer understanding what they're doing in the very first scene of the first episode, why Vorenus hasn't seen his wife in so long, (a little basis) for why they are so very, very good at killing people, and exactly why Vorenus did well in the legions, but the Pullo that you see in the series wouldn't (and also why historical Pullo wouldn't really have had the background that he did, but that is a whole other story).

And this book does the same for the political elites -- why Cicero strikes those funny poses when making speeches, why Cato hated Caesar so damn much, why Cato looks half-dressed, and why did Pompey have such an exaggerated opinion of himself, because all you see of him in the series is him old and fat. There are individual biographies of each of those famous dudes, but that biography of Caesar by Goldsworthy is the most approachable and does the best, in my opinion, of giving you a feel for all those giant personalities jostling against each other. (It also explains why Ciaran Hinds's portrayal of Caesar in Rome makes more than one classicist I know wriggle with happiness.)
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:31 AM on June 9, 2010


One example that sticks in my head is reading Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels which touches on the infamous party where the angels were invited to joing Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters at their ranch. And then later reading Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which describes the same party, but from the pranksters' point of view.

Here you have two of the most notorious movements of the 1960's - violent motorcycle gangs and acid-dropping hippies - coming to an entirely unlikely intersection in time and space, and each group just happens to be trailed by world's best literary journalists who, as far as I can tell, were entirely unaware of each other's existence at the time. Both of these journalists wrote the respective books above. Taken together, they form a powerful image of what the subcultures of that era were like.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 12:10 PM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


One weekend I read Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, The Magus by John Fowles, and The Illuminati Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson. It blew my mind wide open. I recommend it.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 1:22 PM on June 9, 2010


A few more, courtesy of sleeping on it:

Snow Falling on Cedars by Gutterson & The Electrical Field by Kerri Sakamoto

Sanctuary by Faulkner and Other Voices Other Rooms by Capote
posted by smoke at 3:52 PM on June 9, 2010


Oh, and OF COURSE Jane Eyre + Wide Sargasso Sea + Rebecca. Three amazing novels in their own right, absolutely dynamite in combination.
posted by stuck on an island at 8:32 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


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