Tonight I finished In the Heart of the Sea, Nathaniel Philbrick's fairly captivating history of the tragedy of the whaleship Essex. I didn't know a thing about the Essex before reading it (the ship was attacked in the Pacific by a sperm whale in 1820, leaving 20 crew in three whaleboats to try to navigate a couple of a thousand miles to South America. Some of them made it.)
What I did know was Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, which I read for the first time last year (only because of the "I Will if You Will" book club at MonkeySee, which was a fun experience indeed.) Melville used the at-the-time-infamous events of the Essex as fodder for Ahab's venge-quest against the White Whale. So as I read In the Heart of the Sea, I kept burbling up with "oh, that's the back story on all the Nantucket Quakers!" and "so, the stuff with the races on board was even more divisive, then," and various other jump-backs to the Melville story. (Not to mention that Philbrick gives a far less cuckoo-pants version of whale anatomy and dismemberment than Melville did. But Melville clearly had more fun with it all.)
Meanwhile, when I read Moby-Dick, I constantly hearkened back to the Master and Commander series by Patrick O'Brian, which I read (or actually had read to me by audio-crush Simon Vance) between fall 2009 and spring 2010. So reading Melville I had a lot of O'Brian floating around in my head defining topgallant sails and watches and various other nautical rigmarole.
So by the time I picked up the Philbrick, I had Melville and O'Brian bouncing around in my brain, and really, they just wouldn't shut up with the chit-chat amongst themselves. Yarns about Galapagos turtles and fishy first mates and that time in Valparaiso went sailing round and round in my thoughts. Not to be outdone, Unbroken contributed plenty of compare-and-contrast stories about being adrift in the Pacific 125 years apart. And I loved it all. I love when books get together. Especially when they jump genres - when it seems like everything I pick up has to do with twins, or Paris, or whatnot, no matter how little else the books have in common. It's just a delight.
Coming up soon on my reading pile is Philbrick's book about Little Big Horn, which will play nicely, I'm sure, with Empire of the Summer Moon and The Worst Hard Time, which have already had a few play dates in my mind. (You wouldn't think those two would play nicely with anyone, but they're surprisingly congenial.) I'm very much looking forward to the ruckus.