Non Fiction November

NonFiction November: Books Meant For Each Other

If marriages are made in heaven, the union of books must happen in the next best place: bookshelves.

I’ve rooted through my own shelves in search of the perfect couplings to highlight in week 2 of Nonfiction November. The task set by Julie @Julz Reads, is to:

pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together.

Let’s start with a memoir/fiction pairing.

The Country Girls, the debut novel from Edna O’Brien, created a scandal when it was published in 1960. It’s a coming of age story set in rural Ireland involving two young country girls on the verge of womanhood. They leave the sheltered environment of their convent school for the city in search of life, love and fun. What upset the powers-that-be in Ireland (especially the Catholic Church) was that the book dared to mention sex. O’Brien became persona non grata for decades as a result.

In her 2013 memoir Country Girl , she explains how she came to write that book and how its themes connected with her own experience of growing up in a claustrophobic Irish community. She escaped, just like her two country girls, moving to London where she threw herself into the Swinging Sixties.

Let’s fly across the world for a journalism/ fiction combo focused on one of India’s most vibrant cities.

Maximum City by Suketu Mehta is a collection of essays portraying the essence of modern-day Mumbai.  Mehta returned to the city of his birth after many years in North America. It gives him a unique perspective as an “insider/outsider” that he uses to delve into the criminal underworld of rival Muslim and Hindu gangs; the film industry of Bollywood and the people who arrive in Mumbai in search of a new life but end up living in its gutters.

Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance follows the lives of two of those people drawn to Mumbai by prospect of a better future. Their hopes are destroyed on their very first night in the city. Mistry portrays the huge battle for survival that confronts the poorer members of Indian society at a time when the country is in the midst of political turmoil.

And finally, we come back to Europe, but this time heading into France for a literary non fiction/classic novel pairing.

Émile Zola considered La Terre (The Earth) to be his greatest novel. It portrays the steady disintegration of a family of agricultural workers in the late 1860s, giving a vivid description of the hardships and brutality of rural life. As always with Zola, he doesn’t hold back from graphic details.

The lawyers who prosecuted his British publisher for obscenity in 1888 saw no literary merit in this novel. The chief prosecuting counsel at the Old Bailey trial called it “ a filthy book from end to end,” using as evidence the explicit violent and sexual content.

Zola and the Victorians is Eileen Horne’s account of the case, drawing upon court and Parliamentary records, letters and newspaper reports, to show how the publisher became the target of a vigilante movement.

Have I tickled your fancy with any of these couples? If you’ve read any of them, let me know what you would suggest as a suitable partner.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

27 thoughts on “NonFiction November: Books Meant For Each Other

  • Pingback: November 2020 Monthly Wrap Up | Flora's Musings

  • Some good and wide-ranging pairings there, well done!

    • I didn’t think I was going to find anything so am surprised by how well they turned out to be

  • Thanks for these recommendations! I’ve never read Edna O’Brien but both books sound really interesting. Seems I should start with the novel. And I’ve never read Emile Zola before, my classics reading lately has been sadly lacking.

    • Edna O’Brien is a wonderful author – so varied in her subject too. I still have a few by her that I need to read including her most recent one – published last year called Girl which is about a Nigerian girl abducted by Boko Haram. She will be 90 years old this December – it’s great that she is still writing

  • I love pairings that have to do with a novel and the story behind it — not just the real life details, but the experience of the author in writing it. I made one of these pairings this year and there have been others in the past. It would be fun to make a whole list.

    Thanks for these interesting recommendations!

    • I hadn’t seen your post on the “pairings’ topic but just enjoyed reading it. The story behind the book is a great idea – now you have me starting to think of more pairings along this line

    • Just caught up with your post on pairings and left a comment. Some interesting choices.
      I learned some interesting info about Zola from reading that book though the portrait of him isn’t a very flattering one

  • Excellent pairings! I’ve been meaning to read O’Brien’s autobiography for a while now.

    • It was fun to read about her connections with all the celebs of the time; she was quite the centre of attention. But the way she described the break up of her marriage was sad – her husband so resented the fact she became more famous than he did

      • Their son, the writer Carlo Gebler has written a real eye-opener of a biography about his father. He seemed like a pretty cruel man.

        • He certainly doesn’t sound a very nice person

    • You could make it one of your resolutions for 2021 …

    • Once you begin, you get sucked in and just want to read more and more

  • I like the idea of these pairings. I often find that when I read a novel that’s based on fact I then want to go and read a non- fiction book about that topic.

    • That’s so true. Often I find there is some period of history or some event that I know nothing about, and then I feel I have to discover more…..

    • It’s a good mixture – some humorous pieces to begin with about the frustrations of getting anything done in India, then gets more serious


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