I spent the loveliest Sunday celebrating St. Patrick’s Day–my own way. After Mass and brunch at a Greek restaurant, I found the sunniest spot on my porch, enjoyed a Bailey’s, and started in on this week’s tandem read: Pulitzer-prize winning (Cleveland, OH, native) Anthony Doerr‘s memoir, Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World and art historian and travel writer Laura Morelli‘s debut novel, The Gondola Maker.

Do you do much tandem reading?

Tandem reading provides many such textual mirrors and prisms. I highly recommend it.

Writer and Book-seller Michael Berger

This book pairing is pretty obvious: both are set in Italy (the first in the 2000s Rome; the second in 16th-century Venice), with all the inherent romance an Italian setting prescribes–from fine literature, art, and architecture to finely-honed craft and familial trades passed down through the generations. And there will be your standard romance to come–more in Morelli’s tale, I’m afraid, than in Doerr’s memoir. (Like Doerr, I suffered from sleepless nights due to twin boys, only not in Rome.)

What’s 400 years between stories? I’m enjoying the tandem view of Italy spanning centuries, geography, and outlooks.

So far, I’d recommend both books.

With humor and his trademark attention to detail, Doerr chronicles his family’s year in Rome, where he begins work on his novel ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE–when he’s not distracted by the writing of Pliny, the Elder; struggling with his Italian phrasebook; or carting his twin babies around an ancient city not meant for hulking twin strollers.

My favorite excerpt so far:

Jet lag is a dryness in the eyes, a loose wire in the spine. Wake up in Boise, go to bed in Rome. The city is a field of shadows beyond the terrace railing. The bones of Keats and Raphael and St. Peter molder somewhere out there. The pope dreams a half mile away. Owen blinks up at me, mouth open, a crease in his forehead, as though his soul is still somewhere over the Atlantic, trying to catch up with the rest of him.

In The Gondola Maker, Morelli’s expert research makes Venice more than a vibrant backdrop but a fully-fleshed-out character among the cast of this historical coming-of-age novel. I find her description of the craft and trades surrounding gondolas fascinating. (I’m eager to read her latest novel, The Painter’s Apprentice.)

My favorite passage so far:

I begin to absorb the unspoken language of Venetian boatmen, a complex set of hand gestures this cadre of men has developed over generations to communicate silently to one another across the water. Some of the signals are easy to divine: twirling fingers for “Let’s met for a plate of pasta at the midday meal” or a left thumb over the right shoulder for “incoming tide.”

Communication–through language spoken and unspoken–is another bright thread that binds these two books and makes this tandem read interesting and relevant to my writing right now. Tomorrow, I head to a writers retreat where I will continue working on my latest project, a multi-generational novel, featuring, among other related characters, a young woman who is losing her hearing–and must gain the ability to communicate in new ways. (Best advice to bear the long wait after querying agents about the first novel? Work on the second!)

Quick shout-out to my new followers who found this blog by way of my second WordPress Discover feature, My interview with Ohio Poet Laureate Dave Lucas. And thank you for getting me past the 1,000 follower mark!

With other interviews, as well as book reviews, story excerpts, essays, and other musings on reading and writing the Rust Belt (and beyond), I hope you’ll stick around. See my categories above for more.

Now, it’s your turn. Are you a serial monogamist when it comes to reading books? Or, are you a tandem- or poly-reader? If so, what’s been your favorite tandem read so far? Comment away! I always respond.

31 thoughts on “This week’s tandem read…

  1. I’m a total monogamist when it comes to reading; so is the rest of my family. But, I’m thinking I have to try this tandem thing. It sounds like the reading experience can be enlightening!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I used to only read one at a time. But, with the multitasking that came with the digital everything in my life, I started multitasking reading too. I rarely get confused anymore–which book was that?–but I think that’s because it’s usually a novel plus a memoir or other nonfiction book or poetry I’ve got going on at the same time. Never two of the same genre in tandem (or infrequently anyway). Happy Spring–forgot to say that in this post!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That all makes sense. And, Happy Spring to you too! We are having warmer temperatures for the first time this week. We may even hit 60° by Saturday. 🌷

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I find that I can tandem when it’s nonfiction: for example, I am reading a book about Paraguay – yes, PARAGUAY – and am also several chapter into Jay McInerney’s “Bacchus & Me” book about wine, since this chapters focus on a specific varietal of wine, so there’s nothing to have to remember! I can’t do it with fiction the same way…

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  3. Rebecca, what a fascinating idea — tandem reading! Both books sound wonderful (I love the Italian connection). I keep seeing Doerr’s books and need to pick one up and read soon. Best wishes for a highly productive writing retreat! Deb

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    1. I wish I’d come up with the tandem reading idea, Deb, but it seems there are no new ideas! Doerr’s book was recommended to me by a friend because I also have twin boys, was raised Catholic, and am from CLE. If only the similarities between Doerr and me didn’t stop there! I’m so thrilled to have a few days away to do nothing by research and write–thanks!

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  4. The twirling finger to invite for a plate of spaghetti is something still real (in case some day you’ll visit Italy physically)! Congratulations on your 1000 followers! It’s for sure a goal that deserves a celebration!

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    1. From now on that’s how I’m going to invite friends for pasta–ha. I just love that, Silvia! And yes I do hope to make it to Italy for real some day. Btw, loved your family photos in your latest post–looks like you had a wonderful time with your parents. And thanks! I’m celebrating my follower milestone by heading to a writing retreat, where I hope to get a lot of writing done on my new novel manuscript. “See” you when I return!

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  5. I read both ways, it depends on my mood. Right now I have one on my Kindle and one in paperback. I grab one or the other depending upon my reading location. If I’m heading to the treadmill it’s the Kindle (it always fits on the little bookshelf). Your snippets intrigued me to look into and add those two books you read to my to read list. As always, I treasure you for sharing your insights.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tandem reading – I’ve never heard of it. Sounds like an interesting idea though. And both books sound great. I love ‘All the Light We Cannot See’! (The fact that a good part of it is set in Paris definitely factors into that.) Congratulations on hitting 1000!

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