If, like many of us, you find yourself with extra time on your hands, you may want to do something productive with your time. And sometimes, there’s nothing more productive than introducing yourself to new ideas.
Books offer us more than entertainment. Fiction can be both fun and keep our minds sharp. They’re windows into new perspectives, thoughts, and experiences. When it comes to getting the old noodle, noodling, there’s nothing better than kicking back and reading a good novel. And as if those added benefits aren’t enough to get you reading, some studies have also shown that reading fiction can increase empathy, which leads to improvements in our relationships and emotional intelligence.
But what if you’re wanting more than another summer read? What if you’re wanting to take your reading game to the next level? If you want to maximize your reading time, we’ve compiled a series of book pairings that are fun and educational. These duos will provide historical depth and data-driven interest into your fictional adventures.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Hercule Poirot is one of the most timeless detective characters in fiction — and for good reason. He’s smart, chic and always catches the killer. Murder on the Orient Express, written in the 1930s by the acclaimed Agatha Christie, follows Poirot as he attempts to unravel a murder mystery on a passenger train.
Who murdered the terrible American businessman Ratchett? And why? Despite having a relatively small cast of characters, the novel keeps the reader guessing from start to spectacular finish. It’s a clever whodunit that keeps your mind engaged and your imagination flowing.
A Deeper Dive
If you want to learn more about the world of Agatha Christie, try Kathryn Harkup’s A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie. Harkup’s nonfiction book walks you through Christie’s real-life background as a nurse and pharmacist during the early part of the 20th century. From there, she breaks down some of the Christie’s most notorious fictional deaths, discussing the factual merit of each and the real-life poisons that inspired her creations.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Written in the 1960s and published posthumously, Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is a cult classic that explores the rich culture of New Orleans. It’s also incredibly hilarious.
The story follows Ignatius J. Reilly — a lazy and eccentric idealist with a love of hotdogs and medieval monarchies — as he stumbles through the city searching for work and engaging with the rich characters and circles within the French Quarter along the way. While the book is full of humor, it also provides some very accurate representations of some dialects within the city at the time — in particular, “yat.”
This cult comedy earned Toole a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981, and has subsequently suffered from several derailed attempts at bringing the work to the stage and big screen.
A Deeper Dive
New Orleans plays a major role in Toole’s story, nearly becoming a character itself. If you want to learn more about the fascinating city, Lawrence N. Powell’s The Accidental City is a great place to start.
Powell’s book walks you through the earliest history of the Big Easy, spanning from the pre-colonial era and to the present. His rich, vivid descriptions and detailed information gives a unique and interesting look into the many — often accidental — steps that turned New Orleans into the wonderful, unique cultural landmark it is today.
The Great Gatsby
If you weren’t forced to read this book in school and never bothered to pick it up — have you really lived?
Published in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is an American masterpiece. Set in the roaring 20s, the story follows Nick Carraway, a recent graduate who is thrown into a lavish life of New England’s elite. In particular, he becomes fascinated with his neighbor Jay Gatsby, who spends a great deal of his time throwing elaborate parties and participating in shady enterprises.
Who is Jay Gatsby? What is he after? Murder, subterfuge, greed, love and the American dream are all explored in this remarkable (and short) novel.
A Deeper Dive
Parties—and why we have them—are a huge focal point in The Great Gatsby. Parties, our household soirées, are actually fascinating, deep cultural events. If you don’t believe me, read Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters.
The founder of Thrive Labs, Parker has spent most of her life and career working as an educator and facilitator. The Art of Gathering takes all these years of experiences, coalescing them into thoughtful, practical ideas anyone can apply to their lives. Her book explores the myriad of reasons we meet, why gathering is so important, and how to enrich the ways we come together and share time with others. (That hopefully won’t end in Gatsby-like tragedy.)
Everyone loves dinosaurs — those majestic, larger-than-life creatures have excited and terrified us since their bones were first discovered in the 19th and 20th century. Nothing has captured our fascination with these prehistoric beasts quite like Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.
The novel follows paleontologists, scientists and lawyers as they explore eccentric entrepreneur John Hammond’s latest theme park: a sprawling island paradise covered with real-life dinosaurs. What starts out as an incredible ode to cutting edge science is quickly derailed when the island is hit by a storm and the dinosaurs are left to roam the park.
You’ve seen the movie, but what you may have missed are all of the details and viewpoints that make this story so wonderful. While action-packed, it also raises modern-day dilemmas regarding technology, science, greed, nature and humanity. At what point is enough, enough?
A Deeper Dive
Largely, Jurassic Park is a story of survival of people and animals who, against all odds, make it through the threat of extinction. (Life, uh, finds a way.) And while most of us will never have to fight a Tyrannosaurus Rex, we’ll have to dig deep and find the grit to make it through our own battles. That’s why Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance is a great choice to pick up once you’ve put down Crichton’s classic.
For Duckworth, success isn’t simply about talent—it’s about digging deep and being tenacious in the face of adversity. Grit helps people push forward, get creative, and thrive despite hardships and this book will help you become even more relentless in pursuing your goals.
What are some other great fiction and educational pairings you’ve enjoyed reading? Let us know in the comments on our Facebook page!