The persistence and perversity of synchronicity: how two apparently unrelated books enhance one another and enlighten the reader

sisyphus-2Wow! I think my reading’s affected my vocabulary. But since that’s one of the fun things resulting from challenging books, I won’t complain. I’ll just define the words below.

Recently I picked up two well reputed books. “Travels with Charley: in search of America,” by John Steinbeck, a creative nonfictional account of his cross-country trip, celebrates its fifty-second anniversary this year. “The Dog Stars,” by Peter Heller, a science fiction novel published last year, recounts the story of one of the few survivors of mysterious world-wide devastation.

Strange to me, as I made my way through both volumes, I was struck by their similarities. Both have a man as main narrator, a dog as companion, travel as integral to the plot, and lots of wonderful descriptions of nature—both worldly and our own species. Meetings with strangers (some evil), questions about humanity’s impacts on the environment, insights on human behavior cram the pages.

As I read, at times I had to remind myself which book I held in front of me. No, the pleasant meal John Steinbeck described wasn’t one for survivor Hig to savor. The excitement of a small child at Hig’s visit to his homestead didn’t include Steinbeck as a guest.

Somehow, though, going through the scenes of one book made the plot of the other more vivid, pertinent to what’s going on in the world around me. Fifty-plus years between the creation of each seemed as nothing. The authors seemed to be brothers under the skin. This doesn’t happen, by the way, with television, stage, Internet, or most films. Reading is unique in its ability to entertain and challenge and offer discernments, all simultaneously.

Through chance I picked up two books that enhanced the contents of the other. This happens to me all the time. Psychologist Carl Yung called this “synchronicity,” meaningful coincidences in time that have similar significance and relationship, including those in the mind and the physical world. He theorized perhaps a causal relationship existed.

That I don’t believe. However, another term may describe my situation. “Apophenia,” the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena comes close. As I read about this term, it was coupled with “mental disorder,” and also “creativity.” Hmmm. I know which one I’d pick.

Whatever the occurrence might be labeled, I’m glad it exists. Even more elated I discovered these two books at about the same time. Each gave me more to think about with the other.

  • Synchronicity: the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.
  • Persistence: firm continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition; the continued or prolonged existence of something.
  • Perversity: a deliberate desire to behave in an unreasonable or unacceptable way; quality of being contrary to accepted standards or practice.