Subscribe to The Horn Book

Unexpected intertexuality

I typically read and/or listen to several books at once. At the moment I’m reading Gregory Maguire’s upcoming folklore-based fantasy Egg & Spoon (Candlewick, September; scheduled for a starred review in the September/October 2014 Horn Book Magazine) and listening to the audio edition of Candace Fleming’s narrative nonfiction book The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and 
the Fall of Imperial Russia (Schwartz & Wade/Random, July; starred in our July/August 2014 issue).

maguire_egg and spoon    fleming_family romanov
It’s a particularly apt pairing. Egg & Spoon is set in just-pre-revolutionary Russia and follows impoverished peasant Elena and bourgeois Ekaterina (“Cat”) through their meeting, accidental identity swap, and run-ins with both the Tsar and Baba Yaga. The Family Romanov, of course, begins in the same place and time and chronicles the imperial family’s lives before and during revolution, leading to their eventual assassination.

I haven’t yet finished either book, but making my way through them concurrently is a fascinating experience. Egg & Spoon is pretty light, but learning about the realities of life in turn-of-the-century Russia adds a deeper — and depressing — layer to the fantasy. For example, after their switcharoo, Elena eats so much rich food so quickly that she makes herself sick; meanwhile, Cat realizes she doesn’t know what it’s like to feel hunger. From The Family Romanov: “Often there was little to eat but dark bread. It was a staple of [peasants’] diet, and peasant housewives tried to stretch the loaves by mixing clay, ground straw, or birch bark into the flour.” Oof.

Do you ever see unexpected parallels between books you’re reading for pleasure? Or do you read related nonfiction to enrich your experience of a novel?

(Has anyone seen that Jude Law and Keira Knightley adaptation of Anna Karenina? If so, any good?)

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind