The bulk of the books I read are romances, which I imagine is the case for many of us. But I do read and like books in other genres, and I think it can be healthy to switch things up, expand your horizons, and cleanse the palate every once in awhile. Plus, reading outside your genre can help give you inspirations and tools you can use in your own writing. So today, I thought I’d share with you all few of my favorite non-romance/non-fiction books.
East Wind: West Wind: by Pearl S. Buck
East Wind: West Wind was written in 1930 and is the coming of age story of Kwei-Lan, a traditional Chinese girl from a well-to-do family in 1930s China. East and West, tradition and modernity, meet and clash when she marries her betrothed, a Western educated Chinese doctor, and her brother marries a Western woman. Kwei-Lan learns to navigate all the changes and upheavals in her life, and changes and adapts to forge her own path in life, mixing East and West in a way that suits her and her family best. Even though the book takes place 80 years ago, it still resonated with me on a deep level. Like Kwei-Lan, I sometimes struggle with balancing my Western upbringing and my Eastern cultural influences and values my family instilled in me.
I had the extreme pleasure and fortune to be able to take a history class taught by Dr. Restall, who is considered to be one of the premiere experts and scholars of colonial Latin American history in the country. It also didn’t hurt that he had a British accent that was VERY appealing and he was easy on the eyes too. Seven Myths takes prevailing “myths” and beliefs of the Spanish conquest of Mexico and South America and through painstaking research and analysis, shows how popular misconceptions and oversimplification of that history came to be, and paints a more complex, complete, and accurate picture. For example, Dr. Restall discusses how despite popular belief that the Spanish came saw, and conquered based on their superior intellect and military might, the truth was they created alliances with local Native American tribes and used and exploited tribal rivalries already in place.
Dr. Restall’s class and book perfectly exemplify what I love most about history. History often gets boiled down to dates and events, but it’s so much more interesting and complicated than that. History is about people, their stories, and how history is shaped by social, political, cultural, religious, and economic forces. To me, the fact that Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 is a lot less interesting than asking WHY he was sailing for the New World, and how an explorer from Genoa came to sail under the Spanish flag. You tie that into the Age of Exploration, Europe’s growing demand and craze for spices, and the emergence of Spain as a global power, and THAT is a story I want to know more about. Don’t you?
It might seem strange that I’m including a children’s book on this list. But Matilda was one of my all time favorite books as a child. Part of the magic of Roald Dahl is that he always writes from a child’s point of view, and the child is often fighting the odds by battling a much stronger and more powerful adult villain. In this case, Matilda must contend with neglectful and abusive parents, as well as Miss Trunchbull, her school’s hostile headmistress who doesn’t like children and abuses and bullies them every chance she gets. I applaud Roald Dahl for infusing Matilda with wit, courage, humor, and intelligence so she could stand up to her foes and emerge victorious. I remember thinking I wanted to be friends with Matilda after first reading the book! It was my first exposure to strong capable heroines, and I haven’t looked back since.
Lisa Scottoline is a former lawyer turned full time writer who writes legal thriller/mystery novels. But a few years ago, she started writing a column called “Chick Wit” for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Why My Third Husband Will Be A Dog is a collection of “Chick Wit” columns and original material. I find Lisa’s frank, open, honest, and humorous take on life refreshing and engaging. I like that she sees the humor in things and doesn’t take herself so seriously-which is something I personally need to work on. I look forward to reading about her escapades, along with stories about Daughter Francesca, Mother Mary, and Brother Frank, and her menagerie of pets (including a Corgi named Ruby who was put on Prozac) every Sunday. Her subsequent collections, My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space, Best Friends, Occassional Enemies, and Meet Me At Emotional Baggage Claim feature columns and writing from both Lisa and her daughter Francesca Serritella. I enjoy reading about about their close mother-daughter bond, with all its ups and downs, and the love and affection between them is palpable and jumps right off the page.
As you all figured out from my post about Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing, I am a huge political junkie, which is why I found this book so fascinating. James Carville is a Democratic political operative, and his wife Mary Matalin is a Republican political consultant. It’s hard enough to keep political discussions respectful and civil, but imagine how difficult it is when it’s your profession, and your significant other, who is in the same field? I can only imagine how difficult it is not to bring your work home with you-literally. All’s Fair is the story of the 1992 Presidential campaign from the point of view of James, who spearheaded President Bill Clinton’s successful White House bid, and Mary, who was a senior operative and consultant on President Geroge H.W. Bush’s re-election campaign. The book is rife with stories from the campaign from the time the announcement is made until election night, and takes a candid, unflinching look at how difficult political campaigning is. It is grueling, non-stop, exhausting work, where much is out of your control, and the stakes couldn’t be higher-you’re helping elect the next leader of the free world. I found it so interesting to read about how strategy,technology, policy, media, and personality come together, and how politics truly is a mix of art and science. It is truly an illuminating look inside our country’s electoral process.
Let Me Call You Sweetheart is the first book I checked out after graduating from the children/teen’s section of the library and venturing into the adult section. Thus, this book has a special place in my start. Let Me Call You Sweetheart is the story of Kerry McGrath, a prosecutor from New Jersey who gets caught up in a murder mystery when she sees women who’ve undergone plastic surgery and look like Suzanne Reardon, a murder victim who died over ten years ago. The book had multiple POVs and kept me guessing the whole time. I had no idea who the bad guy would be and when it was revealed it literally was the last person I expected-I didn’t see it coming at all. Looking back, this book taught me about plot and pacing. I now appreciate how difficult it is for mystery and thriller writers to construct a tight plot that will lead to the bad guy while still throwing in red herrings and twists and turns, all the while keeping the readers engrossed and turning the pages. This book also sowed the seed of my love for romance as a bit of romance starts brewing between single mom Kerry and Geoff Dorso, a defense attorney, (Having two lawyers who come at it from two different angles and opposite sides of the courtroom? Instant conflict!) and as the case with Matilda, a strong female protagonist. I liked and admired Kerry as a heroine for her strength, her work ethic, strong moral compass, and how great a mom she was to her daughter Robin.
So tell me dear readers: Do you read other books in other genres besides romance? Share them with me down below in the comments! Always looking for book recommendations to add to my growing TBR mountain. ;)