Some books are exactly like peanut butter and jelly—great on their own, but even better together. For example:
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë, and Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
You’ve probably read Jane Eyre, the famous coming-of-age story featuring one of the strongest female characters in literature—and the infamous woman in the attic, Bertha Mason, who has been interpreted as representing everything from the confining nature of Victorian marriage, to the British Empire’s exploitation of its colonial subjects, to Jane herself. Wide Sargasso Sea, written as a prequel to Brontë’s tale, imagines the story from Bertha’s point of view.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
By now it’s pretty much been proven that Truman Capote did not write To Kill A Mockingbird, okay? But we can still pretend there is a slight possibility that Capote penned both—so read both carefully. If you discover nothing suspicious, you’ll still have read two of the best books ever written—both detailing violent crime trials.
1984, by George Orwell, and Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Orwell’s book, written in 1948, is incredibly timely—even people who have never read a book in their lives are familiar with the concept of Big Brother (thank you, NSA). Huxley’s book, written in 1931, explores genetically modified humans and reproductive technology. Which novel predicted our current world more accurately? You’ll have to read both to decide.
A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway, and The Autobiography Of Alice B Toklas, by Gertrude Stein
Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast (published in 1964, after his death) is, in part, about the creative expatriates who ran in his circle in France, like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. It is so Ernest Hemingway, and so 1920’s Paris. And in that same circle, around the same time, Gertrude Stein was busy writing an autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, her partner. The book is essentially a view of her own life as Toklas might have described it, and has been considered an “elaborate literary prank” written solely to amuse Stein herself. Whatever. We like to be in on the joke.
Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, and and The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell
Eating Animals and The China Study have plenty in common—both books argue in favor of a vegetarian lifestyle. But they come from very different places. Jonathan Safran Foer’s book is an emotional journey—you can practically see his dried tears crinkling up the pages. The Campbells take a more fact-based, unemotional approach, describing science experiments in which lab rats who consume animal products suffer from cancer, asthma, gout, and early death (I’m paraphrasing). If you’re trying to convince someone to switch to the veg side, have them read both books—between the two, you’re sure to cover your bases.
Three Cups Of Tea, by Greg Mortenson, and Three Cups Of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way, by Jon Krakauer
Three Cups Of Tea is Greg Mortenson’s story of how he, himself, selflessly built fifty-five schools for poor Pakistani girls a school, giving them the keys to an education and a life of knowledge and freedom. He won a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in the process. It’s a beautiful story that would not have bothered Jon Krakauker (author of Into Thin Air) had Mortenson not claimed it were all true. But it wasn’t. As Krakauer discovered (and proved in 3CoD), much of the book was made up. While Krakauer admits Mortenson has built some schools, he says the number is not as high as Mortenson claims, and that Mortenson has been unable to physically get teachers and students in the buildings. Also, Mortenson lied about how he used millions of the dollars donated to his charity, the Central Asia Institute. The 90-page-long Three Cups Of Deceit was released via e-book the day after a 60 Minutes report on Mortenson aired. Briefly, you could download the book for free on byliner.com, and it’s now available in paperback. All proceeds from the sale of Three Cups of Deceit are donated to the “Stop Girl Trafficking” project at the American Himalayan Foundation. Oh, snap.
Fatal Vision, by Joe McGinniss, and The Journalist And The Murderer, by Janet Malcolm
When Jeffrey MacDonald was on trial for murder, he believed McGinniss was on his side, so he let him into every aspect of his life. He hoped the resulting book would prove that MacDonald, a Green Beret, did not brutally murder his pregnant wife and two young daughters in the middle of the night. But McGinniss thought that McDonald was guilty. McDonald sued McGinniss over his words, and other journalists got in on the anger, too. In The Journalist And The Murderer, Janet Malcolm explores the volitale relationship between journalist and subject.
The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, and Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
Dawkins is known for his blunt rebuttals of religion, and The God Delusion has become something of bible for atheists. C.S. Lewis, who was an atheist until his early fifties, writes in Mere Christianity that “at the center of each there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.” Dawkins and Lewis, what can we agree on?
Pride And Prejudice, by Jane Austen, and Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
If Pride And Prejudice has been called a “witty comedy of manners,” “one of the most popular novels of all time,” and “irresistible and as nearly flawless as any fiction could be” (and it has), then Pride And Prejudice And Zombies must be all that and more.
What other peanut butter and jelly books are we forgetting? Can we make “peanut butter and jelly books” a thing? Like something the cool kids say?