All Reserved: How to Combine Books by Theme and Style

This edition of All Booked was originally emailed to subscribers on March 9, 2022. To get Emily Cosentino Lee and Caitlin Fitch’s literary newsletter delivered to your inbox, sign up at

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Recently I read Chandelier by Raven Leilani. This impressive debut novel is a witty examination of race in the United States while exploring how women twist themselves into knots to please mediocre men. A lot of what makes this book great is what isn’t said by the characters or the author. The story is told through the eyes of a young black woman who makes a series of bad decisions while living in New York. The main character, Edith, reminds me so much of Candace, the protagonist of Breakup by Ling Ma. I started thinking about how these two characters would probably be friends or colleagues if this was real life. Breakup is another clever book making statements about race, femininity, capitalism, and more, but through the eyes of a young Chinese-American woman living through a pandemic-fueled apocalypse. When paired, Breakup and Chandelierthough quite different in plot, make an even more powerful indictment of patriarchal norms and racism in the United States.

These connections in theme and style fired my synapses, so I created a collection of books that speak to each other through pages and authors.

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Mrs March by Virginia Feito and Death in his hands by Ottessa Moshfegh are another pair of books that communicate so closely it’s almost uncanny. Both feature paranoid women and unreliable narrators with plots happening almost entirely in the narrators’ heads. Mrs March centers on a 1960s housewife who is lost in her marriage, while Death in his hands focuses on a widow who got lost without her marriage. Both women do such daring things that it took my breath away while reading. Even if in the end I enjoyed Death in his hands moreover, both books are entertaining literary roller coasters. Another book that’s on my to-read list that lands in the same neighborhood is the Nobel Prize-winning novel Drive your plow over the bones of the dead by Olga Tokarczuktranslated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

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If Post-Apocalyptic Traveling Circuses Are What You’re Looking For, Then Read Both the Guardians of Grace by Kirsty Logan and station eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I missed the mark a few years ago when station eleven was the star Santa Barbara reads delivered. But don’t worry, HBO just released a TV series based on the book that rekindled my interest. station eleven centers on a traveling troupe of Shakespearean performers after a species-wiping virus tears humanity apart. Guardians of Grace is a bit more tame, following a circus boat as it floats between islands performing shows after sea level rise covers most of the land, leaving only two groups of humans: the Damplings and the Landlockers. Guardians of Grace is also loosely based on the selkie legend, so a mysterious sea-folk being haunts the book, bringing it closer to things in jars by Jess Kidd.

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If Celtic spirituality piques your interest, then I suggest you read John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara and In the shelter by Padraig Ó Tuama tandem. Both are poetic and beautiful, taking the reader on an inner journey that transcends religion in the realm of how to be a better human in a strange world. For more background on these two authors, you can listen to John O’Donohue on to beand Pádraig Ó Tuama on For the savage.

On another note, it’s hard to be a human, and Santa Barbara librarian Molly Wetta was recently featured on NPR. discuss book recommendations on the history of Ukraine, Russia and the Soviet Union. If you want to know more about the subject, listen to it. SBPL has also created a list of books on its app, Libby, which provides more context for the crisis in Ukraine. Please consider donating to a non-profit organization based in Santa Barbara Direct Relief’s efforts to help the people of Ukraine.

Thanks, readers.


We at Independent receive many books from local authors, sometimes too many! It’s nearly impossible for us to read and review them all, but just because we’re busy bees doesn’t mean they’re not worth attention. In an attempt not to drop the ball completely, we’ve compiled a list of books here that have a local twist. They are all written by a local author, feature someone in our community, or have some other connection to Santa Barbara. I invite you to browse this list. Maybe you’ll find your new favorite read!

The Ghost and the GreyhoundBryan Snyder

At the gates of paradise: what shared journeys to the afterlife teach us about dying well and living better, William Peters

Off-Script: a mother’s journey through adoption, a husband’s alcoholism and special needs parents, Valerie Cantell

Werewolf, David Alton Hedges

The whisper of a distant godDavid L Gersh

the premonition, Michael Lewis

Santa Barbara and beyond: the photography of Mike Eliason, mike eliason

A parable of lies, Laurent Spann

The district of figs, Jeff Shelton

Cinema in Flow, Roger Durling

The Transients, Sergio Missana, translated by Jessica Powell

Mavericks, Mystics and Misfts: Americans Going Against the TideArthur Hoyle

Bedtrick, Jinny Webber

If you are a local author and would like us to feature your book in this section, please email us at [email protected].


Indy Book Club is a monthly community book club organized by the Santa Barbara Independent and the Santa Barbara Public Library, where we read and discuss books on a wide range of themes and genres. Take part in the literary pleasure!

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March Indy Book Club selection: Vincent & Théo: The Van Gogh brothers by Deborah Heiligman

Synopsis from the editor: The deep and lasting friendship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh shaped the lives of the two brothers. Confident, champion, sympathizer, friend, Theo supported Vincent as he struggled to find his way in life. They shared everything, exchanging stories of lovers and friends, successes and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. Meticulously researched, drawing from the 658 letters that Vincent wrote to Theo during his lifetime, Deborah Heiligman weaves the story of two intertwined lives and the love of the Van Gogh brothers.

Get your copy: Borrow a physical copy of the Santa Barbara Public Librarylisten to the audiobook on Houplaor read the ebook at Libby. Find our previous cover story on the Van Gogh exhibit at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art here.

March Book Club IN PERSON Discussion: Wednesday, March 30, 6 p.m., on the terrace of the Vignerons municipales, 22, rue Anacapa. Wear layers as it can get cold.

We would love for you to come discuss the book with us! It’s very informal and we usually spend about 30 minutes discussing the book and then the last 30 minutes giving recommendations and discussing other books we’ve read.

Support it Santa Barbara Independent through a long-term or one-time contribution.

Colin L. Johnson