by Derek Spencer
French fries and ketchup; waffles and maple syrup; graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate: some foods just seem to be made for one another. And just as these food pairings can help reveal new flavors to the taster, so too can pairings of literary texts help your students understand “ingredients” like genre, theme, and character. Here are some text pairings that will help students learn important literary elements while adding some serious flavor to your classroom.
The Things They Carried is a tricky, tricky book. It reads like a memoir at first, but gradually reveals itself to be more like a work of fiction the deeper one delves into the text. Pairing it with The Color of Water can help clarify for students the differences between memoirs and fictional works.
[Permit me this tangent, please: how important is strict adherence to truth for the memoir author? Memoir depends entirely on self-reporting — what if the author incorrectly remembers events … or worse, deliberately fabricates portions of the memoir, as James Frey did in A Million Little Pieces? Should we treat memoirs as nonfiction texts at all?]
If you’re teaching a unit on postmodernism, consider pairing The Things They Carried with Slaughterhouse-Five; both books have quite a bit to say about the sometimes blurry lines between fact and fiction. Many postmodern texts question the concept that there is one true interpretation of any given event — or even that such an interpretation is possible — and these two books fit that mold.
Perhaps pairing Frankenstein with Dracula is a bit obvious, but studying them together may give students a better understanding of Gothic literature’s defining characteristics. Both texts also contain epistolary elements, so students can compare Shelley’s use of these devices with Stoker’s and analyze their effects on the individual texts.
Frankenstein is sometimes described as the first science-fiction novel. Pairing Frankenstein with Brave New World can make for a fine examination of how sci-fi can depict the effects of technological advancement on either the individual or society at large.
Any text among Animal Farm, Candide, and Catch-22 makes a fine companion to Gulliver’s Travels; Swift’s biting criticism has few peers in bitterness, Voltaire’s Candide coming closest. Animal Farm and Catch-22 contain less vitriol but certainly should still be characterized as Juvenalian — the criticism of society found in both works isn’t exactly lighthearted.
Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House. He has previously worked as a writer and editor on the Advanced Placement Literature Teaching Unit, Multiple Critical Perspectives, and Levels of Understanding lines of teaching guides. His favorite food pairing is ice cream and cereal — specifically, Fudge Ripple and Golden Grahams.