Recommendations from a non-blogger

The BookDepository

I love finding new book recommendations from bloggers, but I sometimes feel that we get stuck in a bit of a rut, all reading the same things. This feeling was enhanced recently when I got into an email discussion with Heidi, a former lurker on my blog.

  

heidiHeidi reads approximately 100 books a year, a pretty impressive number, comparable to many book bloggers, but when I asked her for recommendations I hadn’t even heard of the majority of books she suggested. Here are her suggestions:

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The best contemporary and historical fiction book I have read this year is set in 17th century Persia. It is a first book by a new author Iranian American Anita Amirrezvani and is entitled Blood of Flowers (2008). As a first novel there are a few rusty points but overall it is really quite good and well-written. The main character is a young teenage girl whose fathers dies and she and her mother’s only option is to become servants in a rich uncle’s household, leaving their home and small rural village behind. Also because she has no dowry she is forced to become part of a renewable monthly marriage contract in exchange for money. However, she overcomes all her obstacles through creative and artistic talent (rug making which there is wonderful details about in the book). I hope she writes another but it took her five years to write this one! It was on the list for the Orange Prize and Boeke prize in 2008.

One of the most fascinating authors that I have discovered that I notice no one else seems to have heard of is Par Lagerkvist. He was the winner of the Noble Prize for literature in 1951 and is a Swedish author. He is not old fashioned to read at all and his books all feel very modern still. He was very much affected by the two world wars he lived through and his basic premise in all his books is exploring good and evil and how do we live a meaningful life in face of so much tragedy. The easiest way to jump in (and I am almost done) is The Marriage Feast a collection of his short stories. The stories are collected from 30 years of his writing and are very versatile (showing his range). So far I have read The Dwarf and The Sybil and have found both very unique and fascinating. His books and stories have a big impact and resonate—you stop and think about them afterword—paused…. The books are not all dark either (although The Dwarf is very dark) there is usually something hopeful within as well.

Another book I loved is John Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down (as well as East of Eden) another Nobel Prize winner! Both I have read many times. However, not many people have heard of the first as much. The book was banned in certain countries and even had a penalty of death if you read it at one time. It looks at the war from both sides the invaders and the invaded and discusses how it affects everyone and the different ways (It is set in Norway during WWII). It is such a short book (less than 100 pages ) but powerful. Mostly because it shows everyone’s human side—even the Nazis which is part of the reason it was banned.

Also fun books (and many do not think of this author as fun) are A.S. Byatt’s short stories The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye and The Little Black Book of Stories. Fairy tales for grown-ups. As a working mom I love my short stories!

I’d like to thank Heidi for suggesting some different titles for me to read. I hope to get hold of copies soon.

Have you heard of any of these books?

Do you feel that the range of books book bloggers are reading is getting smaller by the day?

If you are a non-blogger – can you recommend any books which aren’t getting the attention they deserve in the blogging world?


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46 Comments

  1. Susi says:

    I am a non-blogger and I have about 30 on my reader that I look at every day. Normally, there is a great variety of books all over the blogs, but there are some that get read by everyone. I like that because it gives you different reviews from different perspectives. But of course, hearing about and discovering books you have never heard of is always a good thing.

    If you love short stories, the do read the ones by Jhumpa Lahiri, if you haven’t done so already. She has published two collections, the first being ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ and the second ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ – I am always amazed at how good a writer Lahiri is and her short stories will take you into a whole new world of imagination. Some of them are set in India, some in America, some in the UK. But all have in common that the protagonists are of Punjabi or Indian descent. The common themes are loss of identity, struggle between generations and the loss of traditions. I simply adore her style of writing and think she is one of the most talented writers I have ever read.

    Then one more recommendation. I have seen Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time’ being bounced around blogs a lot. What I haven’t read about is his second novel ‘A Spot of Bother’ though – I personally thought the latter was even better than the first one and definitely worth reading.

    But still, thanks for giving us recommendations by a non-blogger. I personally simply don’t have the time to keep a book-blog, even if I wanted to. But this way, I still get to read about all sort of books and my TBR pile is growing every day.

  2. Jackie says:

    Susi – Thank you for adding to the list of recommendations! Lahiri is in my TBR pile, but for some reason I haven’t got round to read it yet – I really should.

    I loved The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night Time, but for some reason I thought Spot of Bother wasn’t very good. I will make sure I get a copy now though.

    Thank you so much for contributing. I know that blogging takes a lot of time, but comments as helpful as yours are just as useful to the readers, so thank you!

  3. Claire says:

    Jackie, I read The Blood of Flowers last year and really loved it! It’s a beautiful book.

    I have noticed that there are a lot of recurring books across blogs and a few of the recommendations I have added to my own TBR list but I don’t feel bogged down by them. I think that because I am new to blogging and already have such a long list of books that I want to read that I will never be constrained to a small pool of books to choose from. I am certainly more than happy to share a lot of my good reads with you. I tend to (at least in my opinion) read a little out of the box and catch up on books I have been wanting to read for some time rather than new books and what everyone else seems to be reading (exclusions being a new book by a favourite author or a prize winner/contender that really interests me and that I can’t avoid reading because everybody IS talking about it and I want to be part of the conversation!)

    Anyway, for the moment: have you read Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis? It’s a wonderfully surreal novel about the life of a former Nazi executioner Todd T. Friendly, told backwards; it manages to be funny at times but is often brutal and Amis makes the reader active (and hence complicit?) instead of passive as you are continually having to reverse the backwards action to work out what is actually happening.

  4. Jackie says:

    Claire – I had heard of Blood of Flowers as it was nominated for the Orange prize last year, but have never seen it reviewed anywhere. I plan to read it soon, so am pleased that you enjoyed it too.

    I have heard of Time’s Arrow, but again, never seen it on a blog. I’ve added it to the list! Thank you!

  5. Rebecca Reid says:

    I’m mostly a classics (more than 50 years old) and nonfiction reader and I’d say that most bloggers stick with the new stuff at the expense of the old. I think ARCs are partially to blame for that — people just read the same things because they get them for free. It gets boring to read about the same ARC books on blogs.

    Most people don’t read the books I review and most people probably don’t care. But I’ve decided that I blog for myself and I’m going to read what I want to read.

    I hadn’t heard of Par Lagerkvist’s books but I’ve found that Nobel Prize winners are usually winners for me too! And while I’ve loved Steinbeck, I hadn’t heard of The Moon is Down. Thanks to Heidi for the suggestions and reminders to go back to the basics!

  6. Jackie says:

    Rebecca – I care about your blog! I don’t always comment if I haven’t read the title, but I always read each post. I do love reading about the classics and wish more people would do what you do.

    I agree that ARCs are leading to repetitive posts and so do try to limit the number I read (only 3 so far this year) but I admit to being tempted by all the new prize winning books out there. I’m going to try to find all Heidi’s recommendations, so hopefully you’ll be able to read my opinions of them soon.

  7. JoAnn says:

    I love Steinbeck, but have not heard of The Moon is Down. I’ll definitely check into that one. The others sound very good, too.

  8. Beth F says:

    What a great idea!! I’m not sure if I read that Steinbeck (and I love Steinbeck), but the others are new to me. I’ll have to look into them.

  9. Jenny says:

    Oh, wow, I can’t even express how much reading book blogs has expanded my reading. A few years ago I was totally glum because I had no idea what to read next – and now I never ever don’t know what to read next! Or rather, I sometimes don’t know what to read next because there are SO MANY CHOICES TO CHOOSE.

    …But since you ask, I think everyone needs to read Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Greensleeves, which it appears nobody has read outside of me and my family. It’s wonderful! This girl called Shannon gets tired of being herself, and she decides to be someone totally different (which causes some problems). Honestly, you should read it. Everyone should read it.

  10. Jackie says:

    JoAnn – I read a few Steinbeck when I was a teenager, but can’t remember much about them. I’m going to trackdown a copy of the Moon is Down though. I’m looking forward to it!

    Beth – I think we sometimes forget about non – bloggers. I’m going to try to include them a lot more in my blog.

    Jenny – Do you realise how expensive/rare Greensleeves is?!! I’m not surprised that noone has read it! £60 was the cheapest copy I could find in the UK. Lucky for you I’m treating it as an investment opportunity and bought a copy from the US. It wasn’t cheap though! I hope it is worth it!!

  11. Jenny says:

    …Oh, I realize. When I was in high school, and very broke, I one time TYPED IT for my mum, and had it bound for her for Christmas, because I couldn’t afford to buy her a copy and I knew she really wanted it. Most times people get it from the library. Though I am older now and was able to afford to get a real copy.

    Tell you what, if you don’t like it, I’ll buy it from you. I like to have an extra copy of Greensleeves about the house. :)

  12. Jackie says:

    Jenny – That has to be one of the nicest things I’ve ever heard! I really hope your mum treasures that typed copy.

    Don’t worry about the expense – I buy/sell books for a living, so I should hopefully be able to sell it on for a profit here in the UK.

  13. pussreboots says:

    I’ve heard of the Steinbeck book but it’s not one of this that I’ve read. My favorite Steinbeck is The Long Valley. It’s a collection of short stories. It includes “The Red Pony” which you might have read separately in school.

    Most of the books I read and review are ones from my own collection and are 30+ (sometimes 60+ years old).

  14. Linda C. says:

    I’m a non-blogger, and particularly enjoy reading UK blogs.(I’m in USA). Widely reviewed and praised by critics, but not much blog buzz (that I have read) is the recently published Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, his first novel, but he has two non-fiction books and lots of things published in the New Yorker.

    One of my favorite nonfiction books published a couple years ago: Gertrude Bell, Queen of the Desert by Georgina Howell. If you don’t know the name “Gertrude Bell,” you are in for a real treat. She more or less “invented” Iraq/Iran, spoke nine languages, traveled widely in the Middle East, alone, in Victoria times(Shocking!), worked with the British government to carve up the Middle East–actually, the government needed her expertise since she was the only person to have mapped the area. Fascinating.

  15. Jackie says:

    pussreboots – I have never heard of The Red Pony – I think we read very different things to you in school (they like to kill our joy for reading by forcing Shakespeare down our throats!). I will keep an eye out for it though.

    Linda – Cutting for Stone was mentioned a few times when I reviewed Ghosts of Eden a few days ago. I had never heard of it before, but I am going to try to find a copy, as it does sound great.

    I have never heard of Gertrude Bell – she does sound fascinating! I’m going to have to add her to the wishlist too! Thank you for the recommendations!

  16. lizzysiddal says:

    I think that at certain times in the reading year bloggers buzz like honeybees around the same lists: Orange shortlist, Booker longlist, etc. We all like to read prizewinners. Apart from that, though, I think we discuss an ever increasing variety of books.

    Here are the last books reviewed on the blogs in my RSS feeder:

    Eric Ambler – Journey into Fear
    Ben Kane – The Forgotten Legion
    Sebastian Barry – The Secret Scripture
    Raymond Queneau – The Flight of Icarus
    A S Byatt – The Children’s Book
    Amos Oz – A Tale of Love and Darkness
    Bill Rogers – The Cleansing
    Samantha Harvey – The Wilderness
    Doris Lessing – The Fifth Child
    J M Kearns – Ex-cottagers in Love
    Cynthia Orzik – Heir to A Glimmering World
    Beatrice Colin – The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite
    Reif Larsen – The Selected Works of T S Spivet
    Sarah Grand – The Heavenly Twins
    Effie Gray – Selling Light
    Paolo Giordano – The Solitude of Prime Numbers
    Truman Capote – In Cold Blood
    Deborah Devonshire – Home To Roost
    Shirley Jackson – Life Among the Savages
    David Eagleman – Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlives
    P G Wodehouse – Leave It to Psmith
    Norman Collins – London Belongs to Me
    Gerard de Nerval – Sylvie
    Raymond Chandler – Trouble is my Business

    26 blogs, 26 different titles: 2 of which I’ve read and reviewed, 5 of which are already in my TBR with another 5 likely to join them. What does this prove? That there’s more variety out there than I can handle!

  17. Jackie says:

    Lizzy – Great point, well made! I think you’ve just shown why our TBR piles grow so quickly and how many really good books are out there.

  18. Teddy says:

    Great recommendations Heidi. Blood of Flowers and The Moon is Down were already on my TBR. I added the short story collection, it sounds really good!

    I think some of book bloggers books are the same because we get a lot of the same ARC offers. However, there is still quite a bit of variety.

  19. claire says:

    Wow.. a lot more titles to add to the wishlist here in the comments section! I completely agree with Lizzy. The range of books I read surely gets bigger, not smaller, by the day! I have read books that I never see around the blogs, but then there are even more books I have never read or heard of before, which keeps adding to the TBR!

  20. Jackie says:

    Teddy – It is also because when we spot a great book (The Hunger Games for example) everyone then reads it – word of mouth can spread quickly across the globe, so we find out about great books we otherwise wouldn’t have heard of.

    Claire – I love the comment section. Without it blogs wouldn’t be half as useful as they are!

  21. Heidi says:

    Linda
    I read Queen of the Desert as well and it was very interesting. Interesting contrast for this woman who had such an adventurous life reallly in any age; mountain climbing and desert treks into unknown hostile territories and her sadness over her loss of her loves (an unattainable married man and her first boyfriend who her family disapproved of) and never having children of her own. In the end it stilll remains unclear whether she took her own life or it was an accident. What would a Gertrude Bell with that amazing energy and brain born in this day and age be able to pull off- would she have been able to have had it all? Glad you mentioned it!

  22. Teddy says:

    Jackie, that is so true!

  23. kimbofo says:

    You really think we’re all reading the same books? You’re obviously not reading enough book blogs! I have more than 100 RSS feeds and I don’t see people talking about the same books at all.

  24. Jackie says:

    Heidi – It’s great to see you here! Thank you so much for your recommendations! It looks as though everyone else appreciates them too. I’ve added Queen of the Desert to my list too!

    Teddy – It looks as though we are reading the same blogs!

    kimbofo – You must be reading different blogs to me! I tend to follow people who have similar reading tastes to me, and I see the same books repeated over and over again. Admittedly there are lots of different books, but we all seem to read the same authors/lists of prize winners. I am probably more guilty than most, as I do get almost all my books from other blogger recommendations or prize lists. I know my faults and so am trying to broaden my reading tastes all the time.

  25. Sarah says:

    I think some books pop up on several blogs because of ARCS or publisher/prize hype. But I still find plenty of variety in what people are reading.

    That said, I really enjoyed this post. I’d second the reccomendation of Byatt’s short stories, which I think are a lot of fun and for me, prefrable to her novels.

    I wasn’t aware of The Moon is Down, it sounds fascinating so I will look out for it.

  26. softdrink says:

    I’d recommend Blood of Flowers, definitely. I think certain new releases mob our feed readers, but there are still lots of books being reviewed that I’ve never heard of. Nymeth, in particular, always seems to review interesting books that are new to me.

  27. mee says:

    Sometimes I do feel that many bloggers read in the same relatively small pool of books. Sometimes. Especially the new ones.

    I try to read more older books– though not always succeed to, but I assume a lot of readers have read them when they were younger, hence why they don’t read them again and concentrate more on the new books (while for me I didn’t read English books when I was younger, so I have so many to catch up to). Not sure if that’s what actually happens.

  28. The Moon is Down sounds fantastic, just by that little blurb. I’m definitely adding it to my list, so thank you!

    As for the range of books read by bloggers : I guess that’s just what Bookers and the Orange Prize and the Pulitzer etc. give you. Also, if you’re just browsing at a bookstore, you tend to go for books you’ve heard good things about, which are normally the more ‘popular’ books. Think it was this week’s Musing Mondays meme that focused on Prizes, and how inclined are people to read them – most of the people that replied said they were quite inclined to, barring a couple of exceptions (definitely the minority).

    Personally, I think I like to mix classics and the newer books (is nice to read the newer ones, before they’re deemed classics!). For instance, I just finished Secret Scripture (Sebastian Barry), and my next book is going to be one by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

  29. Eva says:

    I’ve heard of Byatt and The Blood of the Flowers! The other two sound really neat. :)

    I think there has been such an explosion in ‘book tours’ in the blogosphere, or the same ARCs being sent out everywhere, that there’s also been a bit of a narrowing in books bloggers are reading since when I started blogging. BUT, it depends on the blogs you subscribe to. I just seek out the bloggers who read for themselves. And then TBR list overflows! Not to mention, challenges have broadened my reading so much.

  30. Jackie says:

    Sarah – I’m not normally a fan of short stories, but I’ve just started Byatt’s latest book and am enjoying it.

    softdrink – I agree – Nymeth add to my TBR list more than most!

    mee – I didn’t read many classics when I was younger as I was too busy working my way through things like Virginia Andrews and Michael Crichton. I try to read a mixture of old/new books, but the new covers often tempt me. I really should try to ignore how it looks, but I’m afraid that I often don’t.

    uncertainprinciples – I am probably one of the worst bloggers for just reading prize winning books. I love completing lists, so those prizes really pull me in!

    Eva – In many ways I quite like seeing the same books all the time – my TBR pile is big enough already!!

  31. Petunia says:

    I have read both of the Byatt books mentioned. I love fairy tales for adults. They aren’t syrupy and they don’t bludgeon you with preaching. A couple of other great adult fairy tales are “Stardust” by Gaiman and “The Last Unicorn” by Beagle.

    I think that there are so many ARCs out there that flood the book blogging community but more and more bloggers are becoming dissatisfied with the lack of selection in reviews lately that they are vowing to read less ARCs. My post on this subject is here:
    http://educatingpetunia.blogspot.com/2009/05/rethinking-arcs.html

  32. Jenners says:

    I do think it is easy to fall into the “free book” trap and end up reading and writing about the same books as everyone else. It is important to resist and seek out your own books!

  33. Jackie says:

    Petunia – Neil Gaiman has been on my list for a while. I really should get round to reading one of his books.

    Jenners – I’m trying my best to resist!!

  34. Misfit says:

    I pretty much stick to historical novels and 19C lit with an occasional historical romance, so I try to only read blogs that stay within those genres. That said, I don’t always have the best of luck with some of these latest releases, maybe it’s me but I’d rather go find those odd-ball out of print Du Maurier’s than the book that everyone else is glowing and gushing about.

    I use historicalfictiononline and Goodreads discussions to find those out of print treasures, as well as Amazon Listmanias. Fortunately I have a well funded library system that gets all the new stuff, plus has plenty of the old and rare books. I’ve found the occasional free book I do get via Amazon vine to be quite a chore if they are bad and/or mediocre as I _have_ to read it and that takes all the fun out of it.

  35. Jackie says:

    Misfit – Thank you for commenting for the first time! Sites like goodreads and librarything are great for discovering hidden gems. I think they must work very well for historical fiction titles, as these are less likely to feel dated than other books, so I’m sure there are more hidden gems.

    Do you have any historical fiction recommendations for us?, as I haven’t ventured much further than Jean Plaidy and Phillipa Gregory.

  36. Misfit says:

    Jackie, oh my don’t get me started. I guess it depends what period and/or country you’re looking for. Medievals are my favorite at tops there are Sharon Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick. Daphne Du Maurier wrote a couple of historicals, Mary Anne, The Glass Blowers and The King’s General. India? MM Kaye’s The Far Pavilions and Shadow of the Moon, Zemindar, Olivia and Jai. I loved all of Anya Seton’s books. My favorite discoveries from the forgotten past are Gwen Bristow, Susan Howatch and Celeste De Blasis (check out The Proud Breed for those wanting a big fat saga set in old California). I’ll be quiet now :-)

  37. Jackie says:

    Misfit – Great recommendations – thank you! I have an Elizabeth Chadwick here, and loved The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton. The others I haven’t really heard of before.
    Gwen Bristow books are expensive! I’ll have to keep an eye out for those!
    I’ve added The Far Pavillions to my wishlist as it looks great.
    Thank you so much for the recommendations – please don’t keep quiet!

  38. Ros says:

    In terms of historical fiction, I would recommend Tracy Chevalier, Sarah Dunant and Vanora Bennett too. Probably others but those are the first that spring to mind.

  39. Jackie says:

    Ros – I have Tracy Chevalier and Sarah Dunant books here, but have never read anything by them. I’ll try to soon. I’ve never heard of Vanora Bennett before – I’ll look into it – thanks for the recommendation!

  40. Misfit says:

    Jackie, Gwen Bristow’s Calico Palace is coming out in November brand new. Don’t be afraid to try the library, you’d be surprised at the old treasures they have.

    Careful when buying Chadwick, there are two Elizabeth Chadwicks, one from the US and one from the UK. The US writer writes romances the EC from the UK writes the medieval novels.

  41. Jackie says:

    Misfit – I assume you’re from the US, as our libraries in the UK are terrible. I just searched for Gwen Bristow – not a single book by her in the whole county library system!

    Thanks for the warning about the two Chadwicks!

  42. Misfit says:

    Jackie, I am sorry about the library system in the UK. I am very blessed with the county I live in, I couldn’t ask for better. You might try AbeBooks and I believe PaperbackSwap has a UK edition (at least that’s what my friend Boof at Goodreads says). Happy reading :)

  43. Lenore says:

    I agree that this is an excellent idea for a post. I wish I knew some big readers who are non-bloggers, but alas, I do not.

    I’m guilty of reviewing too many ARCs. But I’ve stopped requesting them so I should be able to fit in older/different books soon.

  44. Jackie says:

    Misfit – I didn’t realise there was a UK part to paperback swap. I’ll have to go and take a look. I added them to my bookmooch wishlist, and as I am a book dealer I see a lot of books, so will keep an eye out for them on my travels too!

    Lenore – I don’t know any big readers in the real world either. I’m trying to build a relationship with my non-blogging blog readers though. I’m not sure if it’s working, but this post is getting a lot of interest, so fingers crossed!

  45. I have Blood of Flowers in my TBR and I love Steinbeck and will have to check that one out.

  46. Michelle says:

    I wish I knew more non-blogging people who recommend books to me! Loved reading all the comments though.

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