Stacy's Place on Earth
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Friday, January 18, 2008:
Outside the comfort zone
Having recently re-read "A Kingdom of Dreams" (which was almost as pleasurable as it was the first few times), it got me thinking about how my reading has changed over the last....oh, 24 years I've been reading romance. I remember how it all started innocently enough, when I was reading the "Sweet Valley High" books, then the Bantam Young Love books of the early 80's. From there, I filched my mom's Harlequin romances and read my first adult romance, "Burning Obsession" by Carole Mortimer (1982), and the rest was that thing they call history.

Over the years, I've gotten quite an education on romances. There have been hits and misses, and plenty of confusion. (Imagine my surprise? disgust? horror? when sometime shortly after that first Harlequin Presents, I unwittingly came across a naughty, naughty erotic romance involving cucumbers. I have never looked at a salad the same since....) But more than anything, the years have given me a sustaining love of the genre, with all it's flaws and revelations and tantrums and rebellion, as well as the numerous subgenres that have come to life as romances have evolved and changed with the times. It's been an amazing ride.

Sometimes though, I try to jump outside of my self-created box of comfort and try something new, just to see what else is out there, what I could be missing, or even to jump-start my love of romances again when I find myself sliding into a slump. I've always loved biographies, especially those of those glamourous actors and actresses of the 30's and 40's (Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Maureen O'Hara). As a teenager, I was a huge Stephen King fan, devouring his imaginative, and lengthy, tomes until I'd just about permanently overdosed on horror. I would occasionally read true crime stories but they were too realistic and gruesome for my liking. Of course, I have become fascinated with different places (Scotland), legends (Loch Ness monster, King Arthur), and history, and would feed that particular craving. But through it all, I still managed to hold onto my love of romances. Nothing inspires me more than picking up an incredibly romantic and emotional story about falling in love. The guaranteed happily ever after kept me coming back for more, and I have thousands of stories catalogued in my head, some permanently lost in the ether that floats up there.

I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this other than to wonder if, in the last few years, I've reached my romance reading limit and need to replenish the enthusiasm. When I do not react as strongly to a favorite storyline or if I feel my interest is severely lagging, I feel like I should go exploring outside my comfort zone. Leave romance behind for non-fiction, or the classics, or even something off the bestseller list. But the thing is, I don't want to. Not really. Or sure, I try to get all intellectual and smug and pretend that I am all fired up over "The Kite Runner" when in actuality, I can't drum up enough enthusiasm to even find out what it's all about. (Okay I already knew, but that's because I know that a movie has been made about it).
Yet I'm a bit stubborn and truly want to give it a try to break outside that comfort zone and read something completely different. So my question(s) is:
What non-romance book would you recommend?
What made you like it so much?
Do you only read romance, or enjoy mixing it up?

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  1. Stacy - I totally know what you mean! Sometimes you've just GOT to stretch your legs, you know?

    Last year I read EAT PRAY LOVE by Elizabeth Gilbert. Now, sure, it's hot now because Oprah loved it. But there's a reason for that. It's a spectacular book. The set up is this, after a painful divorce and a bout of depression, the author decided to take a year of her life and spend four months in Italy (she was learning to speak Italian), four months in India on an ashraam (she studied yoga) and four months in Indonesia (she'd once interviewed a medicine man who invited her to visit him). The result of the book is a spiritual journey that I truly identified with. Not everyone who I've recommended the book to has loved it like I did, but I thought it was wonderful. It changed the way I look at faith, and it increased my appreciation for things that are important in my life.

    Another book I'd really recommend is LIFE WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen. Fantastic story, fantastic writing.

    Or, THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diane Setterfield. Gorgeously written mystery, I tell people it's a book for people who love words.

    Good luck stretching your legs!

  2. Darn! LIKE Water for Elephants.

  3. I still need to read The Thirteenth Tale ~ It's been on my library list forever.

    Let's see ~ most recently, I'd have to say Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Remarkable story ~ I enjoyed it very much.

    I've heard good things about Like Water for Elephants, The Kite Runner, The Red Tent, and The Memory Keeper's Daughter but have not read any of them yet.

  4. I love historical fiction. Some of my favorite historical fiction that is NOT romance, is the Tudor series by Philippa Gregory. Absolutely fabulous!

    Some other historical fiction that I have enjoyed were:

    The Kitchen Boy and Rasputin's Daughter by Robert Alexander. The first was about the Romanov's demise as told by their kitchen boy and the second was about Rasputin's demise as observed by his daughter. Both fictional accounts, but very steeped in the history.

    I know there's more, but those are what's coming to mind right now.

  5. I'm a big fan of anything by Tracy Chevalier. The stories she writes are gripping and beautiful.

    I read all types of stuff: romance, horror, YA, sci-fi, non-fiction, self help, religious. Romance is by far my favorite, though. :)

  6. I never stick with one genre. Whenever I do, I get burned-out on it and have to explore other genres. Then each new book seems fresh again. Of course, I do always return to romance...

  7. I only read romance although I mix it up a lot inside the genre. I come from a background though, where I read anything and everything, biographies, sports books, suspence, true life murder - you name it and I've read the genre. I've tried reading outside the genre lately figuring I should attempt it. I've started them and something is missing and I haven't finished a non-romance in quite some time. The last one I did finish was a John Grisham novel. And when I did finish it, I couldn't help but think many romance writers could outwrite him by a country mile. So I'm happy with strictly romance.

  8. I'd recommend any of Jeffrey Archer's books. Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less was excellent.

    Synopsis from Amazon:
    "One million dollars - that's what Harvey Metcalfe, lifelong king of shady deals, has pulled off with empty promises of an oil bonanza and instant riches. Overnight, four men - the heir to an earldom, a Harley Street doctor, a Bond Street art dealer and an Oxford don - find themselves penniless. But this time Harvey has swindled the wrong men.

    They band together and shadow him from the casinos of Monte Carlo to the high-stakes windows at Ascot and the hallowed lawns of Oxford. Their plan is simple: to sting the crook for exactly what they lost. To the penny. "

    Normally I would have recced a Karin Slaughter book, but I'd just be setting you up for a fall. :)

  9. I would recommend an excellent book that it's also a bestseller - The Shadow of the Wind. It is a marvelous story that has everything - history (it is set in Barcelona during the Frankish dictatorship), it has mystery, it has a superb love story but above all it is about the love for books.

    Also anything by Neil Gaiman - his graphic novels The Sandman are a complete work of art - it touches mythology, romance, etc.
    Or Stardust, which is a fairy tale for adult and the romance in it is also very very good.

  10. MK, I remember you talking about that book. It sounds amazing, and I'm writing it down.

    Dev, that's what I'm worried about too - getting books that only end up in the TBR pile.

    Jen, love the suggestions. I've been circling Philippa Gregory's work for awhile now, wondering about it.

    Jodi, I saw "THe Girl with the Pearl Earring', and it got me interested in the book.

    Booklady, that's what I've been experiencing, so I'm trying to broaden my horizons.

    Kristie, I'm glad you're still finding a deep love for romance, and the various genres. It's still my favorite.

    Karen, I've heard of Jeffrey Archer, but haven't read any of his stuff. Going to look into his books. And well, having read your blog for a long time now, I know better than to grab up the Slaughter books *g*

    Ana, that book sounds intriguing. Will check it out. I loved the movie "Stardust", and have the book, just haven't read it yet.

  11. Stacy,

    There are a lot of fiction books where the romance is secondary but still a big part of the story. Maybe you want to start with some of those before you take a big step out of your comfort zone? :)

    I LOVE Marian Keyes. She is one of my favorite authors ever. I used to order her in Amazon.UK and pay an obsene amount of money on shipping b/c everything and anything she writes is amazing. Even her bad books are great (IMO).

    I'd suggest Rachel's Holiday (Luke is divine *sigh*) and Last Chance Saloon (another *sigh* for Joe LOL)by her.

    The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simmons is historical fiction but with a very strong romantic plot. Romance readers love it. Actually, I don't think I've heard one single person say they didn't absolutely adore this book. Just remember, it's not a romance so the "romance novel" formula doesn't apply to it.

    La Cucina by Lily Prior

    Ironic humor, fantastical subplot twists, attention to touching detail in setting and tone and a delightful gift for characterization make this sexy black comedy an award-winning recipe for pleasure. The combination of sex and food will undoubtedly invite comparisons with Like Water for Chocolate and 8Y Weeks. Add a dash of Goodfellas, and there's something for everyone.

  12. Hey Stacy - If you decide to read the Philippa Gregory books let me know. The chronological reading order is different from the published reading order.

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