Five Books Everyone Should Read is a new feature we’re running in 2015. We’ve asked some of our favorite authors, readers and bloggers to share five books that touched them or have stayed with them throughout the years.
Five Books Everyone Should Read
When I agreed to write this post I had no idea it was actually a torture device in disguise. I mean, what avid reader can list just five books? Most can’t even list the best five books they read last week. And “everyone” just makes it even harder. Trying to think of a book I’d want my mother, husband, teenage sons, close friends, students, rabbi, and mayor to read scrambles my brain. To have any hope of getting this post finished this year, I’m focusing on romance and romance readers. And I’m going to cheat even more by listing types of books (with examples of course).
1. A romance classic. You can define “classic” however you want. I think of Georgette Heyer as a historical classic, Betty Neels and Charlotte Lamb as category classics, and Sherrilyn Kenyon and Christine Feehan as PNR classics. I have only barely scratched the surface of classics in romance myself, but whenever I manage to resist the allure of the shiny and new and make time for an oldie-but-goodie, I’m glad I did. (H: I chose Lord of Soundrels to represent this category, since I consider it the best historical romance of all time.)
2. A romance featuring a sexuality and gender other than heterosexual with cisgender* characters (*cisgender just meaning a person whose identity fits with the gender that matches their biological sex). M/m is the most popular, probably thanks to romance readers’ love of heroes, but lately I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of f/f and a transgender m/m romance. I could have combined this with #3 and just said, “read more diversely” but I wanted to separate out this particular category because romance is all about gender and sexuality. I think of all the literary genres, romance can have the most to say, and say well, about these issues. (H: That Certain Something by Clare Ashton was Jessica’s pick. It’s a Lesbian Romance.)
3. A romance featuring a main character who is a person of color (PoC). What counts as a PoC may vary depending the reader and the genre context. For example, as a Jewish reader of romance, I know it’s rare find Jewish main characters, so, in the context of genre romance, I do count Jewish MCs in the large “PoC” umbrella, but I probably wouldn’t in literary fiction. I have to look hard to find PoC protagonists (unless I want to read a category, in which case I just go to Kimani). It’s just so easy to keep reading historical and contemporaries (my favorite subgenres) with white characters. But there are great love stories I’d miss if I didn’t make the (not exactly Herculean) effort. In my reading life, I’ve been lucky to have a choice of protagonists that look just like me. I figure the more I buy and read diversely, the better the chance that some other young reader will get to read romance protagonists that reflect her background. (H: A Bollywood Affair is Jessica’s pick. Or The Nurse’s Not So Secret Scandal by Wendy S. Marcus.)
4. A romance in a subgenre you are sure you hate. That is how I felt about New Adult when it first became a big thing. I was like a toddler shaking her head in front of a plate of broccoli. I don’t like first person narration, I don’t want to read about college students, I don’t want to be the victim of some stupid marketing fad. And on and on with the reasons. But then I read Katie McGarry’s Pushing the Limits series, and I loved it. As much as I dislike it when people dismiss the entire romance genre without trying it, I was just like those people when I dismissed NA.
5. A romance you’ve already read. Until I started reading romance in my thirties, I did not have a comfort read. I did not even know what a “comfort read” was. I had books I loved and cherished, but none that I felt I could slip back into and get that wonderful feeling again. It took me a few years in the romance community before I felt re-reads weren’t “cheating” (seriously, is there a Book God keeping score?). But now, the comfort read — Jennifer Crusie’s Anyone But You, or Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Match Me If You Can are my faves — is a regular (and guilt free) part of my reading routine. With the added bonus that I almost always find something new in a book I thought had no more gifts to give me.
Follow Jessica on Twitter: @RRRJessica