Idea Chain

May 7, 2009 at 10:11 am | Posted in Book Blather | 6 Comments

Have you ever noticed that you’ll read something in one book that instantly reminds you of something you read in a different book shortly before?  For instance, a word you see only rarely stands out in your mind, but then it mysteriously pops up again in the next thing you pick up?  I know there is a name for this principle, whereby the more you notice things, the more you notice them.  (I just can’t think what it is).  Still, I think it’s interesting when it happens.

For instance, this week I read I Don’t Believe in Atheists, and then I started The Crow Road, which involves a long-standing argument between characters about… atheism!  I had no idea what the novel was about when I picked it up, because I avoid reading reviews or book jackets.

My man Rocket Scientist and I were sitting side by side on the couch reading a few months ago.  He asked me what a particular word meant.  I told him, and we went back to reading.  Three pages later, I encountered the same word in a different tense in my own book!  I showed it to him without comment, and he said, “No way!”

During the Read-a-Thon a few weeks ago, I found myself reading the phrase “He mustered relish” while eating a veggie hot dog with mustard and relish.

So I have two questions.  One, what is the best way to keep track of these funny reading coincidences?  And two, are they more likely or less likely to happen the more one reads?

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6 Comments »

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  1. I’ve had things like that happen- but I can’t remember any of them particularly right now. I’m sure the more one reads the more these coincidences come up!

  2. Isn’t it the BEST when that happens? I totally love it. (I just had it myself, while following up a lead from Helene Hanff, which led to a lovely little poem by Leo Marks, which I’d read before but didn’t know who had written it.)

    I used to have this totally dorky fantasy that I could stretch an orange string from the part of a book that reminded me of a part in another book either at home or in the library. I pictured this beautiful and complex cat’s cradle of orange strings connecting all the books.

    I don’t know how to keep track of these; by the time I get around to writing them down I’ve forgotten them. I do remember one month when everything I read, even if it wasn’t an economics book, somehow mentioned Thorstein Veblen (he of the phrase “conspicuous consumption”). I wouldn’t have noticed, but let’s face it, “Thorstein Veblen” is a name that stands out.

    I definitely think it happens more the more you read. Which is yet another reason why reading is SO GREAT.

  3. I love synchronicities of all sorts. I’ve yet to notice this kind of coincidence popping up in my reading, though. Now I’m going to be on the lookout for it, because it sounds like fun! I think if it happens to you regularly, it would be fun if you had a weekly or monthly post about all the bits of coincidences that are popping up in your reading.

  4. This has happened to me with increasing frequency these past couple of months. I read A Gentle Madness and learned about printing when it was in its infancy and all the rare tomes out there. Then I picked up The Time Traveler’s Wife and Claire, who is studying papermaking, goes into a research library and asks to look at one of these rare tomes.

    My second example of deja book is also from A Gentle Madness: Basbanes writes about the 1928 Jerome Kern book auction. In another chapter, Basbanes mentions Robert Benchley’s 1934 essay “Why Does No One Collect Me?” Later on, I was reading The Benchley Roundup (which I had checked out before I bought the Basbanes book) and the last humor piece in that collection is about the Kern auction.

    I love your hot dog example. LOL

  5. I did a post about this phenomenon last summer. I have no empirical evidence, but my gut feeling is that it’s more likely to happen the more you read. Since that post, I’ve had it happen a few times in more isolated ways, when I read 2 books that unexpectedly have similar themes or language or something, but I haven’t had a whole chain again yet.

    “He mustered relish” while eating a veggie dog is priceless.

  6. Cool post. I was just thinking about this last week as I was reading two books that on the surface had nothing in common, but I kept thinking about how many things they had in common.


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