The accomplished woman is well-read—at least if she’s Mr. Darcy’s version of accomplished. I read a lot, but it’s easy for me to get stuck in a reading rut where I keep reading the same genre over and over. But reading narrowly is dangerous–and boring!
Do you tend to get stuck in reading ruts, too? From one reader to another, here are some of my favorite books in five diverse genres to help get you out of your reading rut:
Books About Reading
I love reading about reading, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Even the most accomplished reader will enjoy—and learn from—Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book. Anne Fadiman’s essay collection Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader will bring a smile to your face if you, as I did, see yourself in the many essays about readers and their books. My personal favorite is “Insert a Carrot”–an essay about compulsive proofreaders, of which I am one–which made for hilarious reading. Use Honey for a Woman’s Heart: Growing Your World through Reading Great Books as a resource for deciding what to read next. It contains many lists of recommendations, sorted by category.
- Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
- How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler
- Honey for a Woman’s Heart: Growing Your World by Reading Great Books by Gladys Hunt
Books About Nature
The beautiful nonfiction narrative Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won Annie Dillard the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 (when she was 29 years old–or, as Donald Miller says, when she was “still in her mother’s womb”). I sought out Richard Preston’s The Wild Trees several years ago when I was seeking escape from my own reading rut. Preston’s nerdy-boy-cum-daring-redwood-climber tale was a refreshing–and fascinating–change of pace. Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster transported me into an entirely different world. (There are two ways to approach his breathtaking eyewitness tale of the 1996 tragedy on Mount Everest. Mine: read the dedication page, listing the names of those who died on the mountain that May, and watch their fates unfold as the tale progresses. My husband’s: tape the dedication page shut, and endure the suspense until the sad ending.)
- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
- The Wild Trees by Richard Preston
- Into Thin Air by John Krakauer
Books About Human Nature
As a firstborn myself, I find the birth order concept fascinating–and Kevin Leman’s Birth Order Book is the best book out there on the topic. C. S. Lewis approaches the subject of human nature through the back door in The Screwtape Letters. One short paragraph from this slim volume changed my life, by changing my attitude about “my” time as a young mother–Go get yourself a copy and read letter 21. Daniel Pink is one of my favorite authors that no one else seems to have has heard of. He makes a strong case for why everything we think we know about how to motivate people is wrong in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink focuses on the workplace in Drive, but his insights are broadly applicable.
- The Birth Order Book by Kevin Leman.
- The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
Books About Cooking (not cookbooks)
I love to cook, and I love to read, which means I love books about cooking so much I save them for my beach reading collection. The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman is the first installment in his trilogy about the world of professional chefs–Ruhlman becomes a student at the Culinary Institute of America (the Harvard of cooking schools), and we get to experience that world through his eyes. (Installments two and three are excellent reading as well.) I was completely surprised–and delighted–at the story Julia Child tells in My Life in France. Her tales of meeting her husband, traveling to France, and navigating its culture and cookery will entertain and inspire you. (Julia Child is really funny. This book could go in the humor category!) Ruth Reichl’s memoir Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise was dinner table conversation at my house this week. My 8-year-old son was delighted to hear the tale of how Ruth Reichl—a grown-up–went undercover (like a spy!) to dine across New York as food critic to the New York Times. (The book also contains a favorite recipe of mine, Ruth’s Sort-of Thai Noodles.)
- The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
- My Life in France by Julia Child
- Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
I used to be embarrassed of my love for children’s books—after all, I am a grown-up. Luckily, I’ve long outgrown that stage, and am free to enjoy a good yarn aimed at kids without shame. I first read The Phantom Tollbooth as an 8-year-old and have enjoyed re-reading it periodically ever since. This is a wise children’s book–make sure you get a version with Jules Feiffer’s illustrations. Louis Sachar’s Holes is an account of the misadventures of Stanley Yelnats—all brought on by his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.” I was an adult before I encountered this book, but I’ll make sure my children don’t have to wait as long as I did to enjoy it. My thanks go out to Jessica for introducing me to The Search for Delicious–a tale of a boy, his father-figure, a mermaid and a dictionary.
- The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
- The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt
- Holes by Louis Sachar
What books/genres do you turn to when you need to get out of a reading rut?