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What’s Your Reading Style? (and a request for recommendations)

July 31, 2012

photo credit: old picture of me, that I plan on recreating soon!

Have you ever tried to describe your reading style? This morning, I found myself inspired by clothing style definitions to try to apply the same idea to my reading. As someone who loves playing with words and ideas, I found this quite fun! And here’s what I came up with: I’m a nostalgic, principled, adventurous reader. Nostalgic because I love a lot of older stories (e.g.: classics, fairy tales) and contemporary books that have a similar tone or follow a traditional structure (e.g.: Agatha Christie-style mysteries), principled because my reading often reflects my ethical commitments (e.g.: social justice, the environment), and adventurous because I love to explore new cultures, countries, mind-sets, etc. via books and I’m not afraid of experimental fiction (e.g.: Helen Oyeyemi). I feel like these three words capture the primary, if at times contradictory, veins in my reading. In fact, I’m thinking about incorporating the phrase into my blog tagline. :) So, what two or three words capture your bookish style? Feel free to share in a comment or via a post of your own!

Why was I especially interested in defining my reading this morning? Well, today I’m asking all of you readers for a favour. I’ve been in an on-again, off-again reading slump since late April, and while it seems to have (finally) lifted, I’m still hedging my bets. I want lots of wonderful, dependable books in my ‘what to read next’ library stack so as to minimise another run of abandoned books. That’s where you come in. Who are your very favourite books and authors, the ones that you find yourself recommending over and over, the big-gun titles you pull out when faced with a not-so-ravenous reader?

And for those of you who need something a bit more detailed than ‘nostalgic, principled adventurer,’ here you go:

I love reading diversely, in the geographic, chronological, ethnic, and gender/sexual orientation senses. I enjoy nonfiction and fiction just about equally, although I tend to read a bit more of the latter. I’m especially interested in older books, international authors, mysteries, imaginative fiction (fantasy, magical realism, etc.), gothic stuff, and general fiction works by US/UK authors of colour, but I read contemporary non-genre white US/UK authors as well. I can fall in love with fiction because of an intricate plot, loveable characters, an intriguing setting, thought-provoking themes, or stunning prose. As far as nonfiction goes, I gravitate towards popular science and linguistics, women’s studies, comparative religion, travelogues, social justice issues, and both popular and technical stuff related to international politics, economics, and history. I also have a special place in my heart for ghost-related books, both fiction and nonfiction!

34 Comments leave one →
  1. July 31, 2012 6:19 am

    Hope you’re feeling well again and up to a spot of blogging :) As I’ve just posted, you can’t go wrong with Sjón, especially as I know you like Nordic literature ;)

  2. July 31, 2012 6:23 am

    I love that photo of you!

  3. Beth F permalink
    July 31, 2012 6:41 am

    Love the photo! I have no definition of my reading style except eclectic (which is what *everyone* says). The other thing I often say is that I like “other places, other times.” Sometimes I just want great characters.

    Here are some that I’ve written about on my blog (January to now) that I loved. I’m not sure which would work for you, but I’ve raved about all of these.

    Gap Creek by Robert Morgan (turn of century; character driven; Carolinas)
    Canada by Richard Ford (late 20th century; character driven)
    Juliet in August by Dianne Warren (contemporary; Canada; character-driven)
    Coming of Age on Zoloft by Katherine Sharpe (nonfiction; contemporary)
    Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood (middle grade; civil rights movement in the Deep South)
    The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers (dystopian; feminist)
    Le Road Trip by Vivian Swift (nonfiction; visual; France)
    The Healing by Jonathan Odell (fiction; historical; slave thru 20th century)
    The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (retelling of Trojan War)
    Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson (fiction; the straight edge culture)
    Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr (civil rights; upper Midwest)
    A Good American by Alex George (family saga; 20th century; Midwest)

  4. July 31, 2012 7:06 am

    Love, love the photo!

    I’d have to do a bit of thinking about what kind of reader I am. I feel we’re probably pretty similar in reading tastes, but I don’t want to just copy your adjectives :-)

    Here are a few recommendations:

    The Hanging of Angelique, Afua Cooper. Non-fiction, slavery in early Canadian history. Focus is on a slave woman named Angelique who was convicted of burning down Old Montreal. Fascinating book from a great perspective.
    Voyage Along the Horizon, Javier Macias. Fiction, contemporary, but with an Agatha Christie like feel.
    Medium Raw, Anthony Bourdain. Non-fiction, food/travel/memoir. This is probably an unexpected choice, as Anthony Bourdain can be an over privileged jerk (he does know this). However, this book shows a lot of growth in his attitudes towards women (I guess having a daughter does that to some men). Even in Kitchen Confidential he displayed a understanding and appreciation for worker’s issues. Here, his chapter profiling a fish cutter at Le Bernardin is just beautiful.

  5. July 31, 2012 7:21 am

    I’m a curious, adventurous reader. I’ll try almost anything, and the more experimental and full of new ideas it is, the better I like it. The book I always recommend to people is Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World. No one who I’ve convinced to read it has not liked it (did you see Jenny’s review over at Jenny’s Books?)

  6. July 31, 2012 7:47 am

    From my recent reading here are a couple of books that might fit your reading style. Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen. I just reviewed it at my blog. It’s nonfiction in the style of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Another great read is The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, and it’s a fantastic story of a 11 year old girl coming of age at the end of the world. In the novel Walker has the Earth rotating ever slower causing all kinds of environmental consequences. I feel it’s a metaphor for global warming, but less politically charged. I also reviewed The Age of Miracles at my site, but it’s a few posts back.

  7. Rayna (Libereading) permalink
    July 31, 2012 7:52 am

    I love that photo, Eva!

    Trying to think of some words to describe my reading style… Maybe curious, deliberately random, and lively.

    For recommendations:

    Louis de Bernieres, Corelli’s Mandolin — WWII historical fiction, set in Greece. It’s one of my all-time favorite books that I recommend to everyone (though most of the time people respond, “Ew, that movie was terrible!” Ugh.)

    Emmanuel Dongala, Little Boys Come from the Stars — fiction, set in Congo-Brazzaville. I read this one in an African lit class and loved it! It’s narrated by a young boy and has a lot of satire about war and government.

    Lynne Cox, Grayson — nonfiction, nature. This is one I recently re-read, and is about a swimmer’s ocean encounter with a lost baby gray whale. One of those totally out-there nonfiction books that sounds like it should be fiction.

    Nathacha Appanah, The Last Brother — fiction, set in Mauritius. This novel is about the Jewish prison on Mauritius during WWII, narrated by a young boy whose father works there as a guard. It’s well-written and I really loved it, though the pace is a little slow.

    Liz Berry, The China Garden — young adult with some fantasy/mystery elements. This is one that I reread when I’m in a reading slump myself. It’s about a girl who moves with her mother to a secluded village in the English countryside, where everyone seems to know who she is before she introduces herself. The writing isn’t over-the-top incredible, but I love the blending of history, romance, and mystery in it.

    Whew, I went a little overboard there… Hope you find some good reads from the comments here! (I know I’m writing down a few titles others have recommended!)

  8. July 31, 2012 8:11 am

    Glad that you’re breaking through the reading slump!

    I think I am a bit of an escapist reader, a bit of an explorer, also nostalgic for sure but curious to try new things as well. But that seems so broad! Anyway, recommendations.

    Ahdaf Soueif’s ‘The Map of Love’ was a book I read last year and enjoyed- it weaves together a love story and Egyptian history.

    Margaret Mahy and Diana Wynne Jones are my go-to writers for fantasy when I’m looking for something comforting or that I know I will want to finish reading. Patricia Wrede is good as well.

    The books I recommend to everyone are probably Possession by A.S. Byatt and anything by David Mitchell (especially number9dream but also Cloud Atlas).

  9. July 31, 2012 8:55 am

    I really love that picture! I don’t have anything to recommend but I’m curious to see what you’ll review next. :-)

  10. July 31, 2012 9:05 am

    anything by Javier Marias! I think. I’m reading his new book and it’s fantastic, haven’t read anything of his other work but I will. he’s one amazing writer.

    the books I read are mostly literature. you know. fiction. classics. within that frame, I don’t really mind. as long as the writing is to my satisfaction, I’ll read anything.

  11. July 31, 2012 9:08 am

    Seconding the recommendation for Possession. And we love this idea about reading styles. Might grab it for a post :)

  12. jenn aka the picky girl permalink
    July 31, 2012 9:24 am

    Love the photo!

    As for books, I just finished Destiny of the Republic, which was fantastic. It’s nonfiction and about Garfield’s assassination.


    The Absolutist by John Boyne
    I, Iago by Nicole Galland
    Any of the Miss Silver mysteries (by Patricia Wentworth)

    I think you’d love the last particularly. Happy reading!

  13. July 31, 2012 9:33 am

    Glad to see your post, Eva. I guess I am an eclectic reader, willing to try almost anything. I have noticed that I am putting aside books that don’t engage my interest much sooner than I used to.

    Books I’ve recently read and enjoyed: Possession by A.S. Byatt, Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, Doc by Mary Doria Russell, On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry. I am currently reading The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and loving it.

  14. July 31, 2012 9:38 am

    What a lovely picture! I’ll have to think about my reading style, but here are some of my absolutely favorite books, with links to my reviews when I have one:

    – Anything by Barbara Kingsolver, but especially Prodigal Summer and Animal Dreams. Prodigal Summer is a beautiful, atmospheric novel about one summer in the Appalachians; the plotline is small, but the themes of ecology and live are large. It’s my favorite Kingsolver I’ve read. Animal Dreams has a larger scope and is just a really good, moving story, very well-written.

    The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold: a “mature” fantasy/adventure with interesting characters and plot, complexity, uniqueness, strong females. Not at all your run-of-the-mill fantasy and does not rely on stock fantasy patterns/characters. There is romance, but it is subtle and lovely.

    – I think I may have gotten these recommended from you, but I loved Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See. Wonderful historical fiction novels about two girls from China who emigrate to the USA in the 1930s and then return to Red China.

    – Anything by Ivan Doig (Dancing at the Rascal Fair, etc.): great stories, usually taking place in the late 1800s-early 1900s in the Western USA (Montana).

    – Anything by John Irving: just plain great writing and stories.

    – Anything by Robert Fulghum: non-fiction; insightful, humorous essays on life.

    Unbowed, by Wangari Maathai: her memoir, very interesting and well-writen.

    On Borrowed Wings, by Chandra Prasad: really great novel about a girl who pretends to be a boy in order to attend Yale in the 1930s.

    The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell: really great speculative fiction that addresses big themes of religion and morality.

    I’m sure I could keep going, but these are definitely some of my all-time favorites. Hope you get over your reading slump soon!

  15. Erika permalink
    July 31, 2012 10:17 am

    I’ve found myself recommending The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell over and over again to many different types of readers (and non-readers, as it were!). The last book I read that I just about died over was These is my Words by Nancy Turner. It’s easy to read, fun, and will have you crying like a baby by the end of it– if that’s your inclination. Good luck!

  16. July 31, 2012 11:11 am

    Great photo! And as for characterizing, hmm. Naturalist, escapist, and anglophile are three adjectives that come to mind to describe my reading.

    I have a couple of recommendations that I hope will interest you. Stegner I would recommend to anyone! He is a fabulous writer. The other 5 are recommendations for people interested in the environment. Joan Rivers said she loved Journey to the Ants in last weekend’s NY Times Book Review, so you know you can’t lose on that one!

    Angle of Repose (or, well, anything) by Wallace Stegner
    Journey to the Ants by Holldobler and Wilson (that’s E.O. Wilson, of course)
    Privileged Hands by Geerat Vermeij (science memoir)
    The Lizard Man Speaks by Eric Pianka (science memoir)
    A Primate’s Memoir by Robert Sapolsky (more science memoir!)
    Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine

  17. July 31, 2012 1:19 pm

    What a great idea! I’d say I’m an eclectic, unbiased, atmospheric reader. Eclectic for the types of books I like. Unbiased in that I don’t pass judgement on genre, etc. Atmospheric because the books that stick with me often have a very recognizable style, setting, or way with words that creates a memorable atmosphere.

    Unfortunately I’m too brain drained today to give any recs, but always a great post, Eva!

  18. Vipula permalink
    July 31, 2012 1:23 pm

    what a lovely photo. You do look adorable.

  19. July 31, 2012 2:07 pm

    I finished a book last month that blew me away. I haven’t reviewed it yet because I am trying to write a review that doesn’t just gush. It is The River Warren by Kent Myers who seems to be a regional writer that I just happened upon. The book is told from multiple perspectives and is about an accident? that happens in a small town. I use the question mark because we are unsure if it was an accident. It is absolutely fabulous.

    And I too love the picture.

  20. July 31, 2012 4:36 pm

    I echo everyone else: love the photo! I used to come out of the library just like that when I was young: a stack tucked under my chin, as tall as my arms could extend. I second the recommendation for Kingsolver and my mom always loved Ivan Doig, but i haven’t read him myself yet.

  21. July 31, 2012 4:47 pm

    I don’t know how I’d describe my reading style. I love YA fiction, historical fiction, memoirs/biographies, fantasy, science fiction…the only stuff I can think of that I tend to stay away from are romance novels.

    As for recommendations, I love Matthew Pearl’s novels – always a nice blend of mystery and historical fiction.

    I also love The DIstant Hours by Kate Morton.

    I recently read and loved Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Columbine by Dave Cullen, and Please Look After Mom by Chi-Young Kim.

  22. July 31, 2012 6:50 pm

    I hope your reading slump is really at an end this time! I’m afraid I have no good recommendations as I’ve been slumping a bit lately myself, although I am really enjoy The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Or just the Holmes stories in general.

    As for my reading style, hmm…nostalgic is a good word for me too, as I love old books–and old-fashioned things. (I simply love using my grandma’s old copper tea kettle, for example!) But other words, I’m not so sure. I’m not sure I could easily categorize my reading interests–perhaps eclectic.

  23. July 31, 2012 9:12 pm

    I am such an odd reader, and I feel like I’ve become more and more “immature” in my reading because of my job (HS English teacher). I read so much YA Lit, which is good, but doesn’t fill me in the same way as some of my true loves. I’m a sucker for Native American Literature of any kind. James Welch is my all-time favorite. In fact, I think I’ve read Fools Crow four or five times. Along those lines, I also feel so connected to Sherman Alexie, whether it’s a novel, short story, or one of his poems. I just really love him. Any of these novels or writers can refuel me over and over again.

  24. Alex in Leeds permalink
    August 1, 2012 4:00 am

    I read widely but across both non-fiction and fiction I appreciate careful crafting done with flair – Nabokov’s polished prose or Hodgkin’s ability to summarise an obscure Anglo-Saxon king in one great paragraph that puts them in context perfectly. My favourite books leave me feeling dazzled and challenge me to think.

  25. August 1, 2012 6:46 am

    I’ll second the anything by John Irving advice. Also, a book that I discovered this year by an unknown to me author but which I absolutely loved: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. Other books I’ve read and loved this year include Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale (if you like Hunger Games…) and for a recommendation from my own country: Peter Høeg’s Borderliners.

  26. Tracey (My4Bucks) permalink
    August 1, 2012 8:38 am

    I loved your post and the photo! Made me think about having a photo of myself taken with all of my books in my TBR pile.
    The book I continue to refer to friends and family is ( ‘The Forgotten Garden’ by Kate Morton and I think you might like it. I absolutely adore it and noticed a few other Kate Morton mentions above too.

  27. August 1, 2012 1:53 pm

    I rarely read books by the same author so i mostly go from one to the next, without looking back. Some books which i quite enjoyed recently and alwasy recommend are (1) The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes (2)The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini (3) The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.

    At the moment i am reading Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and it’s pretty great!

  28. Nena permalink
    August 1, 2012 4:16 pm

    When I read this post, the first book that came to mind was “A case of exploding mangoes” by Mohammed Hanif. It’s set in Pakistan, and it’s about the death of Pakistani dictator Zia Ul Haq…It’s very very well written, funny and interesting..

  29. August 1, 2012 10:31 pm

    That’s a great photo! And that stack of books looks sort of familiar to me, too… I hope you get your reading mojo back and are feeling much better! It looks like you’re getting lots of great suggestions (might have to note a few of those down myself!).

  30. August 2, 2012 12:04 am

    That’s actually a really touqh question! i have that picture of you saved by the way ;) It’s one of my favs. I guess I’d describe my reading style as slow and steady and that I enjoy books that fit into the literary fiction category but can have a fantastical element and I love when there is a coming of age and/or lgbt element to them! That both limits and expands on what I read i guess :p

  31. August 2, 2012 12:30 pm

    Alas, my reading tastes are not so obscure or sufficiently different from yours that I think I could recommend any favorite authors/books that I didn’t think you were already aware of. However, I will say that in a year where I have not been reading all that many books because of how busy I have been, one book that absolutely captivated me and completely snared my heart was a debut novel by Carol Rifka Brunt called “Tell the Wolves I’m Home”. I thought it was beautifully written and the story (of a girl whose uncle has died of AIDS) was pitch-perfect and completely heart-breaking. I have been in a bit of a reading slump myself, and that was one book that got me REALLY excited, so you might consider putting a hold on that at the library!

  32. August 8, 2012 3:05 am

    I just love that picture of you and those books and the delight on your face. Wonderful.

  33. August 11, 2012 11:02 pm

    OK. here’s my attempt at concocting some sort of list.
    1. Europe: A History by Norman Davies
    2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
    3. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
    4, Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
    5. God: A Biography by Jack Miles
    6, The Fifties by David Halberstam
    7. Children of Jihad by Jared Cohen
    8. Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore
    9. Hard Times by Studs Terkel
    10. Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books by Aaron Lansky


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