Perfect Pairs: Books that Go Together Like Cats and Bookstores

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Anne Mai Yee Jansen


Anne Mai Yee Jansen is a literature and ethnic studies professor and a lifelong story addict. She exists on a steady diet of books and hot chocolate, with a heaping side of travel whenever possible. Originally hailing from the sun and sandstone of southern California, she currently resides with her partner, offspring, and feline companion in the sleepy mountains of western North Carolina.

Balsamic vinegar and vanilla ice cream. Grapefruit juice, tequila, and a touch of vanilla. Pear and cardamom. Sometimes a combination of different ingredients enhances the experience of each so that they’re even better together. That’s what this list is all about: literary pairings that will set your bookish taste buds alight.

I was inspired to create this list because of that feeling — you know the one. When you finish a really good book and want more. Something to keep you thinking about the same things or feeling the same way. And sure, many authors write in one style and publish multiple books, so when that’s the case you can satisfy this kind of fix pretty easily. But other authors work in multiple different modes or produce more slowly, leaving you casting about for similar works to no avail.

When that happens to me, I find myself picking up books, reading a handful of pages, and moving on to the next one. I’m like a book scavenger, picking apart my bookshelves in search of that one tasty morsel that will satisfy my readerly craving. In hopes of helping you avoid this dastardly cycle, let’s get to the list already!

The elements that bring each set of stories together vary. The books may be matched by similarities in storyline, genre, or theme. Or they may be linked in other ways. Regardless, they’re all literary combinations that complement each other. I hope you enjoy them!

My Sweet Girl by Amanda Jayatissa book cover

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite & The Removed by Brandon Hobson & My Sweet Girl by Amanda Jayatissa

I thought about pairing Braithwaite’s and Jayatissa’s novel for their feminist leanings and disturbing exploration of gender politics (and, you know, murder). Then I thought about pairing Hobson’s and Braithwaite’s books for their interest in filial love. I even thought about pairing Jayatissa’s and Hobson’s books for the way they blur the lines between life and death. It turns out, the three books simply go well together. Why? For one thing, they’re all haunted in different ways. For another thing, they’re all dark novels that ask questions about family even as they call into question national and global narratives around race, gender, and economics. Also, they’re all simply impossible to put down.

Version Zero by David Yoon book cover

Version Zero by David Yoon & The Circle by Dave Eggers

I didn’t realize “techno-horror” was a thing until I started trying to explain why these two books work so well together. Techno-horror is a sub-genre of horror that places modern technology at the heart of its horror. While Yoon’s novel ultimately is more overtly in the horror camp, both novels raise some serious questions about the role of technology in our lives. Each book exhibits a deep concern about privacy, civil liberties, and the role of capitalism in the tech industry. Part of the concern around capitalism takes the form of acknowledging the utopian bent the tech industry outwardly displays…then smashing that to pieces. How each book smashes that facade is very different — you’ll just have to read them to find out.

In the Distance by Hernan Diaz book cover

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang & In the Distance by Hernan Diaz

Both of these books might be considered westerns, but in ways that are really interesting. They both follow protagonists who meander across the terrain of the western United States…but they also raise questions about citizenship, belonging, and nation. There’s also the added component of each text’s consideration of gender and sexuality in the stark landscape of the west (and everything that might entail in a variety of ways). Diaz’s novel is what I think of as a “quiet” read (despite the adventurous elements of the story), while Zhang’s is surprising in so many ways; both inspire contemplation and introspection.

Whereas by Layli Long Soldier book cover

Yellow Rain by Mei Der Vang & from Unincorporated Territory [hacha] by Craig Santos Perez & Whereas by Layli Long Soldier

These books all play with text and white space in really interesting ways. More than that, they each engage with a troubling aspect of U.S. American history. Yellow Rain grapples with the U.S. abandonment of Hmong refugees at the end of the conflict in Vietnam while from Unincorporated Territory and Whereas interrogate contemporary legacies of settler colonialism (in Guåhan and the U.S., respectively). These authors all incorporate historical and legal documents into their poetry, using archival evidence to underscore social justice issues tied to these histories. Somehow, with everything they’re working toward, the poems in these collections also manage to be, simply put, good.

Twice a Quinceañera by Yamile Saied Méndez book cover

Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto & Twice a Quinceañera by Yamile Saied Méndez

Full disclosure: Twice a Quinceañera is expected to be published in July. Despite that, it’s the perfect partner to Dial A for Aunties. Both novels feature strong female protagonists who are still reeling from recent attempts at romance. They also play with weddings (and all of the social, cultural, and gendered meanings they entail) in really interesting and funny ways. And I have to mention that there’s a former heartthrob lingering in the wings of each storyline, which complicates everything really nicely in both books. The protagonists are worlds apart in their dispositions, but the challenges they struggle with are remarkably similar. Bonus: Sutanto just released a sequel to Dial A for Aunties called Four Aunties and a Wedding.

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia book cover

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia & The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

If you’re looking for a light but smart pairing, these are a great choice. Both novels feature characters who are relative outsiders to high society…and are also special. Moreno-Garcia’s Nina is a “talent” gifted with telekinetic power and Vo’s Jordan has a special power over paper craft. Each protagonist has to navigate the social perils of upper crust society even as they try to remain true to themselves. These novels are very different in many ways, but their captivating prose and peripheral magic make them a powerful pairing.

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole book cover

White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson & When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Both White Smoke and When No One is Watching take urban renewal and gentrification as the premise for their horror. Because they are, after all, both works of horror. In each book, it’s hard to say exactly what’s wrong with the nice facades and up-and-coming neighborhoods…except that there’s definitely something wrong. Very wrong. Creepily, dangerously wrong. And in both cases, the truth of the matter was (to this reader) surprising. More than that, it cuts really close to the bone in today’s urban landscape, feeling more unsettling in its proximity to reality than you might expect.

Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami book cover

Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine & Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami

Just Us and Conditional Citizens are a perfect pair. Rankine, who is perhaps best known for her poetry, has written a powerful compilation of personal essays exploring what it means to be Black in U.S. America. Lalami, who has garnered much attention for her fiction, has crafted personal essays that delve into the myriad significances attached to citizenship. Both critically acclaimed writers weave together personal narratives, history, and politics to create important works of cultural criticism. These books are rich tapestries that use storytelling to engage with the current landscape of race (especially concerning white supremacy) and citizenship in the United States.

Still Hungry? Try sampling from these lists.

Book Riot regularly publishes posts recommending “books like” specific books (and sometimes movies); I always love perusing these when I’ve found a book I love and want something to pair with it. Some recent posts in this vein include lists featuring books like The Love Hypothesis and books like Severance. Additionally, you might be interested in this essay on what to consider when someone recommends a book to you.