Reading Across Genres

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World Book Day was on Monday, and I’m ashamed to say I almost missed it. To my credit I had just spent the past 3 days at a Writer’s Retreat in Lake Geneva, WI. I did at least do some reading on my lunch break that day.

Thinking about World Book Day did make me think about my favorite books of all time, and made me really understand what a wide scope of genres I read from. I think as both an author and a reader, it is important to explore different genres to improve my writing as well as my view of the world.

So in celebration of World Book Day, I thought I’d list five of my favorite books, each of them from a different genre.

Non-Fiction - Evicted by Matthew Desmond

This book caught my eye for two reasons. First off, I nearly minored in Sociology in college and find the subject fascinating. Two, the research for this book is based in Milwaukee, so I know firsthand about the communities this book discusses.

This book offers deep insight into housing in Milwaukee and how large of an impact the housing market has on poverty and segregation. Something I loved about this book is how unbiased it was. While reading there didn’t seem to be a specific slant. Of course the book talked in great detail about how landlords and the housing system is screwing over people who are already down on their luck, but it also showed you the individual struggles and mistakes renters made that led to some of their problems. The complexities of this topic cannot be covered in just one book, but this one does an excellent job of showing the many issues that perpetuate poverty. If it’s a topic that interests you, it has been the best book I’ve read on the subject by far.

Fantasy - The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

In the woods, a boy with horns sleeps in a glass coffin. Humans and the fae live side-by-side, but the dangers of the fae cannot be ignored. And then one day, the boy in the coffin vanishes.

This is an amazingly surreal fantasy novel. Something it does very well is the world building. This place where the main character lives feels utterly normal, despite how strange it actually is. The high fantasy blends with the modern world in a way that utterly makes sense. And it’s a standalone book! While I understand and love trilogies, it’s so nice to find a fantasy book that stands on its own, while telling a great story with strong characters. It has a slow build but once the drama starts it doesn’t stop.

Literary Fiction - The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

As most literary fiction, this novel is hard to sum up in a couple of sentences, and it’s not for everyone. It’s nonlinear, at times confusing, and mildly disturbing.

I read this book during an English class while attending college and wrote a paper about it, so I won’t go into too much detail about the topics it covers here. It’s a book filled with mystery and the loss of innocence. There are tons of themes to be explored, from how young boys view women, to suicide, to how tragedy shapes us, and plenty more. The writing is beautiful and interesting, and if you’re a writer you’ll love dissecting it. This is not a novel that can be read quickly, or you run the risk of entirely missing the point of the story. You need to take time to think critically about this text to decipher what it means.   

Historical Fiction - Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

With my love affair for Japan, the fact that my historical fiction pick focuses on Japanese culture should not be surprising in the slightest. I actually didn’t pick up this book until after college though, which is a bit surprising considering the mainstream attention it got.

The book is written by a westerner so despite how well-researched it is, a book from Japan would certainly be more accurate. But as someone who didn’t actually know much about the world of the geisha before reading, it was exciting. I learned a lot about parts of Japanese culture and history I’d never known before. The prose is beautiful and the story is compelling. If you want to get a proper look at Japanese culture pass on this one, but it gives you a fairly good starting point.

Thriller - The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I hate thrillers. I just really, really do. They’ve just never caught my attention and pretty much anytime I see in the summary that the main character is dealing with a murder, I put the book back.

I don’t remember why I picked up this book, but it broke every notion I had about the thriller genre. The main character was pathetic (in a good way), the plot was intriguing, and the setting was unique. The characters are terrible people who can’t be trusted and the book actually manages to make you feel creeped out. Don’t bother with the movie though, it wasn’t true enough to the book and was a disappointment.