What I’m Reading: Non-Romance Division

With this post, I’d like to kick off what I hope will become an occasional Ruby Slippered Sisterhood series: What I’m Reading.

As writers, we know that sometimes our personal interests merge and coalesce in inexplicable ways, and can have a direct, positive impact on our writing. If I wasn’t interested in music, ancient mythology and theoretical physics – seemingly disparate subjects – I doubt whether the idea that catalyzed the Underbelly Chronicles’ world would have sparked in my imagination in the first place.

You never know what information might be useful to you, or when, so I definitely indulge my seemingly diverse interests when reading. I nearly always have three or four books going simultaneously: a romance of some type, for bathtub and before bed enjoyment, something non-fiction/memoir/biography-ish on the living room coffee table, and of course, a pile of research books in my writing tote bag – including, unfortunately, my own novel, TASTE ME, because I can’t quite remember what I previously revealed about the heroine I’m currently writing, reformed computer hacker Bailey Brown!

Here’s a quick glance at some of the non-romance titles I’ve read in the last month or two:

Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time” and “Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man’s Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut” – Even though Rolling Stone contributing editor and “Pop Life” columnist Rob Sheffield is one of my all-time favorite writers, I’m dreadfully late to the party reading his memoirs. In “Love is a Mix Tape,” Sheffield uses a mix tape chapter heading device to frame, remember and celebrate his relationship with his young wife Renée, who unexpectedly died of a pulmonary embolism soon after they got married. (For you youngsters, a mix tape is a collection of music selected for a specific person or occasion, usually unified by theme, recorded and played back using an ancient device called a cassette.) This book is…so, so bittersweet, simultaneously the most hilarious and heartbreaking book I think I’ve ever read.  In Sheffield’s follow-up, “Talking to Girls About Duran Duran,” he explores his relationships with women (his sisters, his friends, old girlfriends, Renee) through the lens of loving the English band Duran Duran.  Sheffield reveals himself as the dream boyfriend who completely understands the difference between “John girls” and “Simon girls.” Written several years after “Mix Tape,” Sheffield dedicates the book, simply, “for Ally” – his new wife – which {{melt}} made me SO damn happy for him! For your viewing pleasure, here’s Duran Duran performing “Leave a Light On” from their recently released and most excellent album, “All You Need is Now.”  Yep, thirty years after I first saw them perform live, My Boys still have it. I’m totally a John girl.

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook” by Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain. Tony Bourdain. Tall, lanky, snarky, tinsel-haired Renaissance man. Chef, world traveler, former cocaine aficionado. A middle-aged first time father who has a major bone to pick with Ronald McDonald. Host of The Travel Channel’s “No Reservations,” occasional “Top Chef” judge, and a permanent resident on my “Top 10 To Do” List (c’mon, you KNOW which list I’m talking about), Bourdain possesses one of the most distinctive writing voices I’ve ever encountered. In his break-out book, Kitchen Confidential, he ripped away haute cuisine’s mystique like a scab, with complete foul-mouthed glee. From the review:

Most diners believe that their sublime sliver of seared foie gras, topped with an ethereal buckwheat blini and a drizzle of piquant huckleberry sauce, was created by a culinary artist of the highest order, a sensitive, highly refined executive chef. The truth is more brutal. More likely, writes Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential, that elegant three-star concoction is the collaborative effort of a team of “wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths,” in all likelihood pierced or tattooed and incapable of uttering a sentence without an expletive or a foreign phrase.

His Top Chef blog is laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Bossypants” by Tina Fey. Elizabeth Stamatina Fey honed her writing and acting chops at Second City Chicago and came to cultural prominence as a writer and actor at “Saturday Night Live,” where she ultimately became the show’s first female head writer and helmed the “Weekend Update” desk with Jimmy Fallon and then Amy Poehler. She adapted the screenplay for, and starred in, the movie “Mean Girls,” and teamed again with Poehler for “Baby Mama.” A wife and mother, and currently expecting her second child, she’s also the writer, star and executive producer of the NBC comedy “30 Rock.” As if being one of the strongest sketch comedy, television and movie writers around wasn’t achievement enough, she recently hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list with her debut, “Bossypants.” An excerpt from “A Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter” (p. 261):

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a

Bitch in front of Hollister,

Give me the strength, Lord

To yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends

For I will not have that Shit.  I will not have it.

I’m an epic fangirl.

Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star” by Nikki Sixx. Founder, bassist and chief songwriter of Motley Crue, Sixx still looks hotter than he has any right to, being he spent so much of the 80’s “…so hooked on heroin and cocaine that he had to die twice before he began to contemplate a more positive lifestyle.” This visually stunning memoir of addiction and depression spans one year, 1986-1987, during which Sixx kept a diary, brutal excerpts from which are published here. Sixx, joined by the friends who helped him survive, looks back on that dark year through sobriety’s 20/20 lens. 

Hamlet’s BlackBerry” by William Powers – the subtitle says it all: “A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.” Somehow, Powers found a way to articulate my own inchoate feelings about digital technology and its impact on our lives: the good, the bad and the ugly. If I had to cut to the chase of Powers’ book? “All things in moderation.” So let yourself log off occasionally, and think deep thoughts uninterrupted by technology. Really, it’s OK.

Really. It is.

Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel” by Michio Kaku. In TASTE ME, I name-checked Kaku as a potential candidate for the Underworld Council’s Humanity seat.  I honestly don’t think I could have built portions of the Underbelly Chronicles’ world without exposure to Kaku’s work. He makes  theoretical physics fun!

Fiction, non-fiction, romance, not…what are you reading right now? How does what you’re reading impact your writing?

Tamara Hogan’s debut urban fantasy romance, TASTE ME, was released earlier this year by Sourcebooks. Underbelly Chronicles Book Two, CHASE ME, will be published in June, 2012.

46 responses to “What I’m Reading: Non-Romance Division”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Fabulous post, Tammy!! I love the idea of a regular What I’m Reading feature!! (And you’ve totally sold me on Love is a Mixed Tape…must go download it now….)

    Like you, I’ve always got several books on tap at any given moment, and it’s usually a weird mix–though having a Kindle is changing that somewhat (since there’s only one object instead of several books stashed in different location throughout my house). I think with the Kindle I just read *faster* so I can get on to another book.

    What have I read in the past couple weeks? Well, I finally got to read Hope Ramsay’s WELCOME TO LAST CHANCE!!! The first paper book I’ve read in weeks…and well worth setting my Kindle aside for awhile. Very, very funny and moving–no wonder small-town romance is coming back big time!!!
    Congrats, Hope!!

    What else? I got the Lady Jane Grey Bundle (three novels, less than $10 on Kindle right now) by Deanna Raybourne. I’d enjoyed her THE DEAD TRAVEL FAST, but I love love loved this trilogy!!! Terrific first-person voice, excellent mysteries, and a central romance to die for. Raybourne’s voice is very spare and acerbic for a historical writer, which is an interesting thing to have in the mix. Great lessons in evoking romantic yearning without the least sentimentality or melodrama.

    On the advice of friends, I also read THE PARIS WIFE, a gorgeously-written fictional memoir of Hemingway’s first wife and their years living as expats in Paris (with Gertrude Stein et al)–if you’re a fan of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, definitely check this out: it’s a much more poetic, heartbreaking, emotionally mature look at the era. Right after that I read the very sweet and funny MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND (fans of romance with characters past the age of fifty MUST read this!!!), and the adorable GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY. Both have very satisfying central romances, complicated small village characters, and a nice satirical streak. I also read THE BRONZE HORSEMAN–a very intense historical fiction about a young couple falling in love while trying to survive the Siege of Leningrad…I even got my dad to read that one. Somewhere in there I also read HALF-ASSED, a memoir by a woman who lost half her body weight.

    Next up on the docket? A few paper books I’ve had waiting on my shelves for awhile: Mary Karr’s LIT (I loved THE LIAR’S CLUB and CHERRY), a Regency history called OUR TEMPESTUOUS DAY, the last half of Iris Murdoch’s THE GREEN KNIGHT, and the last half of a terrific book on the history of the alcoholic drink Punch (can’t remember the title just now, but it was so enthralling–yes, really!–I read half of it sitting on the floor of a Barnes & Noble). Plus there’s the new Meredith Duran and a host of other romances…. Yum, I love to read!!

  2. Sitting beside me is 1066 The Year of the Conquest. I have three books on Celtic Myth and Legend awaiting my attention (if I can ever get them back from Hubble!) I finished Grace Burrowes debut, The Heir, a day or so ago, and haven’t picked up another romance since I really need to write!

    I’m going to look into that theoretical physics book, Tammy. That stuff fascinates me.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Burrowes is a Sourcebooks labelmate of mine – isn’t THE HEIR wonderful? Sourcebooks really has released a lot of debuts within the last year or so.

      Dr. Kaku is also a staple on the Science Channel. He has a way of explaining complex subjects in ways which make them easier to understand. Love him. He also has absolutely glorious hair, which I, without guilt, transplanted onto Underworld Council President Elliott Sebastiani’s head.

    • Diana Layne says:

      Oh, work on your medievals, Gwyn, I love medievals!

  3. Laurie Kellogg says:

    READING? With my daughter’s wedding in less than three weeks, I don’t have time to write let alone read anything longer than a magazine article.

    However, as soon as I get a chance to breath, I will be starting Suz Brockmann’s newest, Breaking the Rules, which she so graciously authographed for me at Bantam’s booksigning in New York. I can’t wait to read Izzy’s story. He’s definitely an interesting character.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      A wedding is the best reason for a temporary shift of focus! I have no doubt that you’ll all have a great time. 😉

      I’m on the library waitlist for Brockmann’s BREAKING THE RULES. What I enjoy about Izzy is how he’s grown and matured over the series.

  4. Rita Henuber says:

    The Fifth Witness. The newest Michael Connelly Lincoln Lawyer. A high profile murder trial for a woman. The parallels to another high profile trail are very interesting. Like the judge’s name – Perry.
    SEAL Team Six. Howard Wasdin. Understanding the mindset of men who do the job.
    Cesar’s Way Cesar Millan. Amazing how similar understanding an animal is to a human.
    Bossy pants is on TBR lists

  5. Diana Layne says:

    I’m reading We Are Not Alone, The Writer’s Guide to Social Media by Kristen Lamb. Quite fascinating! As for romance, I recently read Best Man for the Job by Meredith Fletcher and I’m currently reading Alicia Dean’s Death Notice. Yes, I lean toward suspense in my fiction reading and writing. (I live in a boring, small Texas town, need some entertainment. 🙂 ) I simply can’t read more than two books at once these days, am going in too many directions! Next up is Izzy’s story though!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I also read “We Are Not Alone: The Writers Guide to Social Media” not too long ago and came to the conclusion that I’m kind of a failure at online promotion. My native introversion has followed me to my online life – and frankly I see so much tweetpromo that it all turns into a blur.

      • Diana Layne says:

        I’m not finished, but I’m gathering this is more like becoming a part of the community, of creating online friends. My introversion doesn’t seem to extend to online though I am still reserved and when I’m busy writing or overwhelmed with life, I abandon the social media thing. I do try to make a few postings a week, no, not daily. Could never do that. You do what you can. Bottom line is getting the writing that is important to you in every day, I think.

        • Tamara Hogan says:

          I tend not to tweet about writing stuff very often, even with writers. Right now I’m still coming off a U2 concert high so I’m keyed in to the #U2360MSP hash. It rained for half of the concert, and the videos being posted to YouTube are just amazing. I’m still drying out.

  6. Vivi Andrews says:

    Honestly, I don’t really care for non-fiction and rarely read it. I need that story arc and memoir always seemed, I don’t know, self-indulgent on some level? Though I do love Tina Fey, so I might have to grab Bossypants.

    My latest attempts to shrink my TBR were A Lot Like Love by Julie James and Eleven Scandals by Sarah MacLean – both excellent – and then When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James which, yes, I adored, but also got me thinking about derivative characters with the incredible similarity of the hero to House. Next up is The Iron King – as my reward if I can finish this damn novella this week.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I’m a science nerd so I’m massively drawn to popular science books, and also to shows like SCI’s “Wonders of the Solar System” and “Life After People” which projects what might happen to everything humans have made if no people were here to maintain them. I recently banged through Sarah MacLean’s Nine Rules, Ten Ways and Eleven Scandals, and enjoyed them a lot!

      See you later! 😉

      • Vivi Andrews says:

        I’m a Nova Science Now girl myself. Anything with Neil DeGrasse Tyson (who I twitter-stalk) makes me deeply happy, but I’m more inclined to chase science theories that interest me through online articles than books these days. Current obsession: Neuroscience!

        See you! 😀

  7. Diana Layne says:

    I forgot to say I have two research books on Kiowa Indians lined up, my editor said she’d like to look at my Native American books, yay! I’m so excited to get to write on my NA romance books again!!!

  8. Elise Hayes says:

    Fun post–and fun question, Tammy!

    I’m currently re-reading Harry Potter (the final book) because the movie made me want to dive back into that world for a while.

    I’ve also just started reading the non-fiction book, “Parasite Rex.” While I’m still finishing up my current medieval romance, I’m doing some world building for my next project, an urban fantasy, which is going to involve parasites 🙂

    I usually have a romance or urban fantasy going, but Potter has taken over for now. I don’t like having too many books going at once–I prefer to immerse myself in the world of whatever fiction book I’m reading (non-fiction, though, I can pick up and leave off easily).

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I’ll out myself here and say that while I love the Potter movies and the vivid world Rowling created, I couldn’t get through even a third of the first book. Something about Rowling’s writing voice just didn’t click for me. That said, the creation of the world was a stunning accomplishment, and her books got kids reading. It’s all good!

      Ooh! (Eww?) Parasites! Can’t wait to see where you take this.

  9. Ooh – I loved Medium Raw! In the same vein, I plan to take Blood, Bones & Butter to the beach with me. Just stayed up far too late finishing Kalayna Price’s Grave Witch (almost as good as your book!). My book club just knocked off Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell – everyone should make this a must read. Funny and informative and fascinating. Wait till you get to the part about how a famous silverware maker started out as a free love commune!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      It sounds like we have very similar reading tastes, Christi! ASSASSINATION VACATION is on my TBR pile. If you enjoyed GRAVE WITCH, I’ll have to look it up. 😉

  10. Hope Ramsay says:

    I just finished reading all of the nominees for the 2011 RITA in the category of single title contemporary. I loved them all and really I have no idea how anyone picks a finalist among such a strong group of books. I really did love Simply Irresistable, by Jill Shalvis, and it was exciting for her to win, since Jill and I share an editor at Forever Romance.

    If you love cowboys or horses you should read Joanne Kennedy’s book, One Fine Cowboy. If you are not familiar with Susan Donovan — she’s great, too.

    I’ve also been reading a bunch of shortstores — O. Henry, Twain, Poe. I figure if you’re going to study the form, you might as well start with the masters.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      The single title contemporary field was really strong this year, wasn’t it, Hope? IMO, the final round judges couldn’t go wrong regardless of which book was chosen the winner!

  11. Beth Langston says:

    I’m in the middle of a memoir by an ex-Special Forces guy (’cause my WIP involves a teen Army Soldier.)

    I finished Th1rteen Rea3ons Why by Jay Asher this weekend. It’s a powerful debut YA. Made me think. I’m still pondering my overall reaction–but he does a great job of keeping you turning the pages.

    The Iron King by Julie Kagawa won the YA Rita. I read it during the vicodin haze following my surgery (so I can’t say exactly when that was). I rarely pick up paranormal, but I did enjoy this one. Very fast-paced; you could hardly take a breath.

    What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell–’cause my day job boss asked me to…

  12. I’m supposed to be reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet for book club, which I hear is great, but haven’t found time yet. I’m determined to make time soon.

    Just finished Addison Fox’s Warrior Betrayed and loved it.

    Also working on Laura Griffin’s Unforgivable and enjoying it, despite a mishap where my son knocked it into the bathtub and now that it’s dried out it’s about ten times it’s normal size.

  13. Great post, Tammy!

    I just finished 23 MINUTES IN HELL. It was interesting and much more Christian oriented than I’d expected, but considering the subject matter of my series, the info was invaluable. I also just finished a couple of chapter mates’ manuscripts and loved both of them with a fiery passion. I’m floored that neither are published yet. Wont’ be long.

    I love seeing what other people are reading. Gives me wonderful ideas.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Yup, sometimes I read chaptermates’ opening 10 pages at the critique that my land chapter sometimes has at its monthly meetings, and I boggle at the quality of the writing. Yes, it’s just a matter of finding the right editor. 😉

  14. liz talley says:

    Okay, I’m trying this again.

    I’m thinking Vivi is on the same wavelength as I am because I read Eleven Scandals, When Beauty Tamed the Beast, and I’ve been flirting with the Tina Fey book. Tamara’s post just convinced me. Love that scene you pulled.

    I also read Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo (which was not romantic in the least. Lots of evisceration) and the other Eloisa James book that was up for Rita (the Cinderella one).

    I have One Fine Cowboy on my shelf, so it may be next. Thanks for the recommend, Hope. And I haven’t read too much non-fiction, but I am reading a Louisiana travel book for research purposes.

    That’s it for me 🙂 Oh, and of course, we have some Rubies who will have books out soon. I’m looking forward to those 🙂 Still have huge TBR pile on my Kindle, but I keep forgetting to charge it.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      The thing I most appreciated about the Tina Fey excerpt I chose was that Tina seems to be a parent who’s willing to set some expectations, and to let bad behavior result in repercussions.

      I see far too little of that when I’m out and about in public. Don’t get me started. 😉

      • liz talley says:

        Oh, sister, I KNOW what you mean, and I’ve finally reached that awesome point in parenthood where I don’t really care if I embarrass them. If they are acting like, pardon me, turds, I’m going to make them wish they had someone else for a mother.

        But….other than being generally annoying kids, mine are pretty well-behaved. All thanks to sad spoon who made appearances when needed. I won’t even get into the whole spanking debate, but I will say a well-placed wooden spoon on the bottom does wonders. At one point, all I had to do was slide the drawer open in the kitchen to get them to behave. LOL. I’ve been known to grab an ear and lead them back to their rooms and that works too. So I “get” Tina Fey.

  15. Kim Law says:

    Let’s see…I’m listening to Susan Wigg’s Lakeside Cottage, reading a print copy of Karen Templeton’s Husband Under Construction, and reading We Are Not Alone as well as Trish Milburn’s Living in Color on my Kindle app on my phone. Oh, and I also started another eBook on my desktop, but I won’t be finishing that one. I won’t name the book or the author, though. Looks like the only thing I’m not doing is reading something on my Kindle!

    Fun discussion, Tammy!

  16. Okay, I am so getting the Duran Duran book. I’m a Duranie from way back.

    Fun post, Tammy!

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