The Appeal of Fiction Juxtaposition

stack of old books
stack of old books

One great thing about reading novels is that they give vicarious variety to our lives.

Most of us have a certain routine, so it's exciting to pick up a book and end up in another time, place, and situation. To make this experience even more intense, I often try to follow a novel I just read with one that's very different. "The joy of juxtaposition"? I guess that's one silly, alliterative way to put it.

For instance, I recently followed Henry James' Daisy Miller with Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. Could any two novels be more different? Well, maybe Confessions of a Shopaholic and Ulysses...

Anyway, it was interesting to read, within a week, two books that seemingly had little in common. Daisy Miller (1878) is a well-crafted novel of manners without much of a plot, but with plenty of character insight and societal observation. Daisy is the charming daughter in an affluent American family visiting Europe, where she acts a bit too "forward" for a woman of her station and time. (Thank goodness there's been some progress toward gender equality since Henry James lived.)

As millions of people know, The Hunger Games (2008) is the gripping young-adult novel starring Katniss Everdeen, a teen girl from a poor district who ends up participating in the brutal contest that is the dystopian book's title. "Charming" is not the first word that comes to mind when describing Katniss, but she is likable, feisty, skilled, brave (yet insecure), and adaptable. Daisy wouldn't last a minute in a Hunger Games contest, but Katniss would undoubtedly figure things out if she somehow time-traveled to 19th-century Europe.

The Hunger Games and Daisy Miller -- juxtapositions galore! Different centuries, poverty vs. wealth (Collins excels in showing how the odds are stacked against the poor), female author vs. male author, page-turner vs. a leisurely read, etc.

But just as emotions and some other things can be universal, even the most disparate novels usually have at least a few elements in common. Trying to spot those similarities is another reason why I love juxtaposing books! Daisy and Katniss are both independent sorts, and both are thrust into unfamiliar surroundings. Also, a pivotal Daisy Miller scene takes place in Rome's Coliseum -- an arena where real events as brutal as the fictional Hunger Games were once held.

Well, maybe those similarities are a bit of a stretch!

A couple of side notes: Two HuffPost commenters urged me to read The Hunger Games and Daisy Miller; thank you! And I was pleased to discover that The Hunger Games lived up to the hype -- not always the case with wildly popular creations. Collins' book is fantastic.

Other literary juxtapositions I've enjoyed in recent months include Edgar Allan Poe's 1838 The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (a sea-adventure novel) followed by Adam Langer's 2010 The Thieves of Manhattan (about New York City's literary scene), Alison Lurie's 1984 Foreign Affairs (about two American professors in London) followed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 1981 Chronicle of a Death Foretold (the title is self-explanatory), Audrey Niffenegger's 2003 The Time Traveler's Wife (a temporal-displacement love story) followed by Cormac McCarthy's 1984 Blood Meridian (little love in that violence-drenched masterpiece), and Daphne du Maurier's 1951 My Cousin Rachel (a suspense tale about what Rachel might be up to) followed by Jean Rhys' 1966 Wide Sargasso Sea (which focuses on the "mad" wife of Rochester in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre). Actually, that last pair of books had a little more in common than the first three pairs.

What have been some of the disparate duos of novels you've read consecutively or within a short time of each other?


Dave Astor's memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional (Xenos Press) has just been published. Signed copies are now available; if you'd like to buy one, contact Dave at An Amazon listing is pending.

The part-humorous book is about Dave's 25 years at Editor & Publisher magazine covering, interviewing, and meeting notables such as Arianna Huffington, Heloise, Hillary Clinton, Walter Cronkite, Coretta Scott King, Martha Stewart, Paul Krugman, Ann Landers, and Abigail Van Buren ("Dear Abby"); and notable cartoonists such as Gary Larson ("The Far Side"), Lynn Johnston ("For Better or For Worse"), Mort Walker ("Beetle Bailey"), Charles Schulz ("Peanuts"), Stan Lee ("Spider-Man"), Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Garry Trudeau ("Doonesbury"), Berkeley Breathed ("Bloom County"), Scott Adams ("Dilbert"), Jim Davis ("Garfield"), Milton Caniff ("Terry and the Pirates"/"Steve Canyon"), and Herblock.

Comic (and Column) Confessional also chronicles changes in the media, discusses personal stuff, includes mentions of novelists, and more.