Literature is a never-ending, overlapping, sometimes circular conversation — between writers, between readers, between books themselves. Especially when viewed from a vantage, and despite what Vonnegut said, this fact can make for some fascinating and rewarding reading. After all, what’s more interesting than listening in on one genius talking to another? And in story form, no less. There are some novels that are better if you have a little bit of background going in — and sometimes that background is nothing more or less than another great novel. Here are a few books you should pair the way you would a fine wine with an excellent cheese — each enhancing the other and making for a very satisfying evening.
Before reading: Ulysses, James Joyce
You should read: The Odyssey, Homer
This is an obvious one, but it still bears mention. “Ulysses” is, of course, just a Latinized “Odysseus,” and Joyce’s novel is organized in sections that each refer to sections of Homer’s epic (of course, scholars had to figure this out; Joyce was frankly gleeful about his plot to be as esoteric and tricksy as possible). But even a layman (or at least someone who read The Odyssey in high school, ahem) could figure out that the major characters in Joyce’s modernist masterpiece have direct correlations in Homer’s ancient one: Leopold Bloom = Odysseus, Molly Bloom = Penelope, Stephen Dedalus = Telemachus.