Read Outside Your Comfort Zone
If you’re like most readers, you have particular genres or authors or styles that you love. Your shelves are full of books you’ve read and adored, and there are particular sections you gravitate towards in the bookstore. Whatever your genre of choice, sometimes you just want to try something new and different. Maybe you’ve decided to broaden your reading horizons in general, or you want to explore a genre you don’t know much about. Or you’ve got a task to fulfill on a reading challenge and you’re wondering how you’re going to cross that one off. Three of the most misunderstood genres -- romance, poetry, and fiction in translation -- don’t have to stay misunderstood. Here are three books for each genre to help you get started.
Romance is a huge umbrella genre that is often dismissed by readers who – let’s be honest – have probably never read a romance novel, read one and hated it, or whose only experience with the genre is Fifty Shades of Grey. But there are so many great authors and series within romance that even if your first try isn’t what you want it to be, there are literally dozens of subgenres (including contemporary, Regency, sci-fi & fantasy, historical, paranormal, and suspense), you’re bound to find something to love.
The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean: If you only judge historical romance novels by their covers, you’re missing a lot. Take this regency series by Sarah MacLean, featuring the enemies-turned-lovers Sophie Talbot and Kingscote, the Marquess of Eversley. MacLean’s heroines are smart, passionate, feminist, and sexy; her heros are complex, rakish, and swoon-worthy; and both will completely upend what you think you know about romance. Sarah MacLean’s novels have opened the door for many new romance readers, and since The Rogue Not Taken is the first in a new series (the third is coming out in June 2017) and she has two previous completed series, you have lots to catch up with.
A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev: If you’re interested in romance against the backdrop of different cultures, this story about an Indian woman living in Michigan who hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years -- since she was promised to him at the age of four -- and the famous Bollywood director who has come to secure her divorce from his older brother is both familiar and completely new. Sonali Dev is a bright new voice in romance, and this debut will blow you away in its portrayal of the relationship between the two main characters. They’re some of my favorites in contemporary romance.
Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie: This is the probably the one book that nearly everyone recommended to me when I was getting into romance. Even though it’s nearly 15 years old, this contemporary romance featuring highly relatable and funny heroine Minerva Dobbs is the perfect antidote to Tinder nonsense. You’d think Min Dobbs (and the date she assumes she’ll never see again, Calvin Morrisey) were straight out of your last group text, they’re so familiar. If you think you hate the meet-cute of romantic comedies and roll your eyes at happily ever after, this snarky story will have you cackling with recognition.
If the last time you read poetry was in English class senior year of high school, you’re not alone. Many readers leave poetry in academia, but don’t let that group include you. When we read poetry in school, it’s often about squeezing out every bit of meaning possible and analyzing every word and comma and line break. But poetry can be a wonderful addition to your reading life, something to dip into here and there, a palate cleansing bite or a savory nugget to enhance your other reading. And you can take as much or as little from poetry as you want. (Tip: try reading poetry out loud, even just to yourself, to change the way you take in the work).
Selected Poems of Langston Hughes: One of the most iconic voices of modern America, Langston Hughes is as well known for his fiction, drama, and essays as he is for his poetry. That versatility in his writing makes his poetry significantly more accessible, particularly for poetry newbies. Hughes’s themes will be familiar for modern readers, particularly those that are thinking about social justice and activism. As a part of the jazz movement in Harlem and Washington, DC, Hughes’s language is evocative and rhythmic while still, as was his goal, telling the story of people as they actually lived. Take your time with each of these, line by line, sentence by sentence, and you’ll find so much to love.
Felicity by Mary Oliver: From one of the best modern working poets, Oliver’s newest collection is all about love. Not the sappy, overwrought love poetry that is characterized by odes and roses and sonnets. The love poetry that the 81-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner produces is generous and quiet, a reflection on the realities of caring for the world and the people around us. Oliver is known more for her poems about the natural world (and her collections A Thousand Mornings and Dog Songs, literally about dogs, are wonderful examples), but by turning her eye on relationships between people, she reveals the beauty in the simple moments. Read these slowly, one at a time, with a mug of hot tea.
Transformations by Anne Sexton: This collection explores classic fairy tales and morphs them with Sexton’s highly personal, confessional style of writing. Sexton’s work is very readable, despite language that on the surface can feel complex, because of its humanistic nature. Having struggled with mental illness (and ultimately committing suicide in 1974), Sexton infuses those emotions into Transformations, written three years before her death, and infuses stories you think you already know with complicated and bold feelings.
Fiction in Translation
Writers all over the world are producing some of the best fiction you can buy, but it can be really hard to know where to start if you’ve never really explored work that’s been translated into English. And there are so many questions: which countries are producing the best sci fi, what’s up with Norwegian thrillers, and why exactly does everyone have Ferrante fever? But just as you’ll find all kinds of genres in English, authors all over the world are writing in those same genres in their own languages. The key is to find translated work from the genres you’re already interested in and go from there. And I bet once you check your shelves, you’ll find that more of your favorites than you thought were actually written in another language.
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino: Japanese authors are some of the best at writing modern crime novels. And Higashino has created a detective series that is both familiar to English-language crime readers and new and innovative since the Japanese culture and legal system is totally unknown for most of us. For example, gun laws and the place that firearms have in American culture (and therefore most American crime novels) are absent in Japan. It’s an amazingly creative and entertaining experience to read about crimes where guns are not present. Higashino’s novels are a great entry point for the Japanese mystery genre -- prepare to get sucked in.
A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman: This is one of those novels that, if you haven’t read it, you’ve probably had other book lovers tell you how much you’re missing out on. Let me add my voice to that chorus. Backman’s novel about a grumpy man who wants nothing to do with his neighbors is both very charming and very Swedish. But it’s a delightful and quirky novel that should be on everyone’s shelves. There is nothing intimidating about this story and you will quickly want to consume not only every other novel that Backman has written but others in this genre as well.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon fantasy novel is full of magic, but in ways you almost don’t even notice. Set in the aftermath of the Spanish civil war, this follows a book dealer’s son after he discovers likely the last of author Julián Carax’s works, as someone has been methodically destroying them. No matter what kind of reader you are -- plot-, character-, or language-driven - you’ll find something to love in this historical piece of speculative fiction.