Tuesday, December 5, 2023

When Books "Talk" To Each Other

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Okay, if your books are literally talking to each other, you should probably step away from your TBR mountain and visit a doctor, but I want to discuss a bookish phenomenon that has happened a few times in my life.

Have you ever read two books about completely unrelated topics and had one book influence the way you think about the other one? Like, the books are having a conversation with each other, even though they're about different subjects?

A few months ago, I read a beautifully written memoir called After The Eclipse: A Mother's Murder, A Daughter's Search by Sarah Perry. As you can probably tell by the title, it's a super-depressing story. When the author was a child, she heard her mother, Crystal, being murdered in the middle of the night. She was too scared to leave her bedroom, so she didn't witness the murder. It took the police 12 years to solve the case. During that time, Sarah was passed around to different family members and repeatedly interrogated by cops who didn't believe she'd stayed in her room while her mother screamed.

One of the reasons it took so long to solve the crime is because the motive is unclear. The police suspected it had to do with Crystal's appearance. Crystal lived in a small town, and many of the men who the cops interviewed claimed to be in love with her. Her beauty was memorable. The author writes:

"If [the murderer] had targeted Mom because he had seen her walking along our road and around town, then it was Mom's beauty, ultimately, that had gotten her killed."

Some men in Crystal's town saw her as a beautiful object. That's clear from the police interviews. When they couldn't own her, they got angry. One of them may have gotten angry enough to murder her, but since the murderer never confessed, we'll never know why he did it.

This memoir is a distressing examination of the way that some men think about women. That's what stuck with me most after I finished it.

Now let's talk about a vastly different memoir.

When I finished After The Eclipse, I needed something lighter, so I picked up Destination Truth: Memoirs Of A Monster Hunter by Josh Gates. This book is fun. Josh Gates is the host of several TV shows on the Travel/Discovery/SyFy Channels. He's one of my favorite humans because I love his sense of humor and his curiosity. He always seems like he's having a good time on his travels, which makes them fun to watch.

This book is part travel guide, part memoir. Josh writes about the years he spent filming a monster-hunting show called Destination Truth. He traveled all over the globe to investigate sightings of strange creatures. I think I've seen every episode of Destination Truth, so it was fascinating to learn about life behind the scenes and how difficult it is to film in remote locations.

I was loving the book until Josh wrote about visiting Malaysia and meeting the cast of another monster-hunting TV show. He writes:

"Perched on a couch are three very attractive young women dressed all in black. They sit silently alongside an older man named "Uncle" who sports a mesh tank top and bright camo pants. Together the four of them make up a paranormal group called The Seekers and boast a Malaysian television show by the same name . . . . The Seekers girls don't appear to speak English and seem a little glazed over. As best I can tell, the premise of The Seekers show is that Uncle cavorts around in the dark with three submissive Malaysian girls twenty years his junior, looking for ghosts. I have no idea how he pulled off this arrangement, but the man is clearly a genius."

I had finished Sarah Perry's memoir a few hours before I read this paragraph. If I hadn't read Sarah's book, I probably would have rolled my eyes and kept reading. Instead, I got such a deep sense of ick that I put down Destination Truth and couldn't look at it for a few days. I just finished a memoir where a woman was (possibly) murdered because a man wanted her body. Now I'm reading a memoir where men talk about women like they're pretty TV show props. I couldn't handle it at that moment.

I'm not saying that Uncle or Josh Gates are abusers. I don't know them. This whole paragraph is probably an attempt at humor that didn't land for me. It was just devastating to immediately see an example of what Sarah wrote about in After The Eclipse. The men only see the women's bodies. Josh's encounter with The Seekers is brief, so he never actually gets to know them.

Now I'm wondering if you've ever had an experience like this with two books? Has one book impacted your reaction to another book?

It probably sounds like I loved After The Eclipse and hated Destination Truth. That's not true! I gave them both 4 stars on Goodreads. I recommend both of them (but probably not back-to-back).


  1. This is an interesting question! I feel as though I could answer "yes" but no such striking example springs to mind. However, I'll think about it.

    I did not like The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry but the memoir sounds stunning...

  2. I also can't think of an example, but it's interesting when similar situations pop up like this in different books!

  3. I feel like I've had that sort of thing happen, though I can't remember an example right now. But yeah, that was a bad attempt at a joke, and it would feel so much worse after reading that other book. I'm glad you enjoyed both book though!

  4. I find that what I read often greatly affects the way I feel about the next thing I read. Maybe my eyes are open to pick out certain aspects I might not have noticed if I had not read the first book. Sometimes it feels like I get stuck reading books on a certain theme, even when I didn't try to do it. Fun and quirky toic. Thank you. Let's discuss: Best Books of the year

  5. This is fascinating. I'm from Malaysia and I've never heard of/watched The Seekers, but I'm curious now. Both of these books sound good. I might read Destination Truth just because I'm curious about The Seekers, but yeah, I don't like that men see women as objects and it makes me so angry to think about it.

  6. YES YES YES! I am so glad that you were able to put this into words because this happens to me ALL the time, but I cannot ever think of how to describe it! I cannot help but think about how our thoughts on quite literally everything is likely impacted by what we read or watched before it, how we're feeling while we are reading it, life events, etc. Makes me feel like nothing I think is real, it's all just influenced by other junk and life is an endless lie, but that seems like a very different, far darker discussion topic.

  7. I don't know if I can point to any specific instances but I know this has happened. For sure my anti-racist reading has made me more sensitive to subtler forms of racism that I might not have noticed before (to my shame).

    Your excerpt bothers me because of the objectification of women but it upsets me even more because he makes a point of noting their glassy eyes. Are they drugged? If so, is that willingly or not? Why didn't he follow up? It's very disturbing.