Last August, I posted that I was in the middle of a seemingly interminable reading rut. At that point, the rut had been going on for the better part of my 2018, and unfortunately it really sucked the joy out of reading for me. But almost immediately after posting, I did something that snapped me out of it: I went on vacation.
Two, actually. The first was a car trip to the beach for a weekend, and the second was a two week sojourn to Japan, which meant countless hours on a trans-Pacific flight. Any time I take a vacation, I make a ritual trip to the library (although on these occasions it was actually a virtual trip to my library’s Overdrive page) and pick out books that aren’t from my usual genres but pique my interest anyway.
Mixing up my reading list helped me engage more, so I didn’t feel like I was retreading the same genre tropes over and over. Without further ado, here are a few of the books that helped me reconnect with my reading.
An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
Faeries are usually a non-starter for me. I don’t know why, they just are. But An Enchantment of Ravens came highly recommended to me, so I gave it a chance. I listened to this as an audiobook on my drive to the beach, which I think was the perfect way to consume this book. The writing was lyrical and ethereal, with vivid descriptions that didn’t feel excessive. I adored that it didn’t get too caught up in the nitty-gritty details of the world and concentrated on the give and take between the two main characters—Isobel, a gifted painter, and Rook, a faerie prince. It stuck with me for several weeks after I read it and was disappointed there wouldn’t be a sequel (and later overjoyed to find out Rogerson has another book coming out this spring)!
Just the Funny Parts by Nell Scovell
I had never heard of Nell Scovell before I read about her memoir on the 2018 NPR Book Concierge, but she’s worked on a lot of TV shows I love. I don’t always click with entertainment industry memoirs—they often end up reading as too fawning, too navel-gazing, or just plain under-written. Scovell sets her story apart in this regard by not pulling any punches. She’s frank about the sexism and harassment she faced coming up in the industry. The accounts are often cringeworthy and dispiriting, but she’s a comedy writer, so they are balanced by laugh-out-loud jokes throughout the book.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
This book had been floating around in my atmosphere for a while, but I just hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. I actually had something of a false start—I began with the audiobook but it wasn’t working for me. A few weeks later, I recommitted and checked out a physical copy from the library, and boy was I glad I did! With a beautiful, mystical medieval Russian setting, it brought me back to hearing tales of Baba Yaga when I was a kid while still having the complexities and subtleties of an adult fantasy. Vasya is one of the most compelling heroines I’ve read in a long time, and it did not take me any time at all to devour the sequels.
Educated by Tara Westover
Educated was another book that was introduced to me via the NPR Book Concierge. Westover’s account of being raised by religious fundamentalist Mormon parents in isolated in rural Idaho, never going to school or being treated by a doctor, is stark. Coming from a fairly agnostic household, her life read as completely foreign to me, equal parts infuriating and inspiring. I tend to read non-fiction more slowly than fiction, but this I consumed in one sitting. It also served as a great complement to the recently-released and also very excellent podcast Standoff: What Happened at Ruby Ridge? from Slate.
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton
I had no idea what to expect with My Lady Jane, and it still surprised me! Even though I majored in medieval history, I didn’t know much about Lady Jane Grey. I think, all things considered, that was a good thing, because if you’re expecting a faithful retelling of the life of the Nine Days Queen, you’re not going to find it here. It’s hard to write about without giving too much away, but it’s a zany romp with a surprisingly sweet romance. I can’t remember the last time I smiled so much while reading! Just prepare yourself for a few too many references to The Princess Bride.
Have you read anything that surpassed your expectations lately? Let me know in a comment!
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