by guest blogger Maya Rodale, author of smart and sassy romance novels
I confess, after a long day writing novels, I don’t always want to spend the evening looking at more words. Having said that, there is no greater pleasure than becoming absorbed in another author’s world. These books are my favorites from 2013—ranging from historical nonfiction to contemporary romance. They are the books that kept me stuck on the couch, had me up past my bedtime, made me think, or even made me want to get back to writing.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
I loved this inspiring and motivating book. It’s a perfect balance of personal stories, research, and statistics, along with great ideas on how to make the world better for women and men. I always thought of myself as one tough chick, but this book made me realize the instances where I have “pulled back” rather than “lean in.” So I took notes and I’m stepping up. Watch out, world!
The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee
I was totally hooked by this tagline: “An elegant world. A traditional society. And then there’s Betsey.” And then I was completely captivated by this beautifully written and completely romantic novel. Set at a seaside resort in late-Victorian England, Betsey is an unconventional heroine—one with a “besmirched character”—and I just adored her for the pluck with which she tries to make something of herself. In Mr. Jones she has an upstanding hero: He’s steady and believes in her, flawed and yet perfect all the same. I haven’t loved a book like this in a long time.
This isn’t a new book, but I picked it up this year for research (hint, hint about my new series!) and was totally fascinated with this thoroughly researched and well-written account of Charles Babbage, the brilliant Regency thinker and inventor of the forerunner of today’s computers in the 1820s. The author does an excellent job of portraying the character and drama, not just of the original invention of the machine (and failure to build it in the 19th century) but also later attempts to finally build the difference engine for the 200th anniversary of Babbage’s birth.
Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World by Shereen El Feki
This is an incredibly researched, thoughtful, and eye-opening account of the culture around sex in the Arab world, from the intimate lives of married men and women to prostitution and pornography. It’s also about how this culture used to be so open and embracing of all kinds of sexuality before fear, shame, and stigmas around sex took over. The book examines how the revolutions of the Arab Spring are ushering in changes in people’s personal lives, too. As I read, I wondered how one might change a culture to be more accepting of sexual pleasure. Read more romance novels, perhaps? Or have more honest conversations about it, as this book does.
Passionate Minds: The Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment by David Bodanis
The husband persuaded me to read this book with mentions of brilliant women, duels, country estates, gossip, and intrigue—all true. Passionate Minds is the true story of Emilie du Chatelet, a brilliant scientist and unconventional woman in 18th-century France. She was also Voltaire’s lover, and the book covers their long loving-but-complicated relationship. This is the kind of historical nonfiction that reads like a great novel.
The premise is catchy—The Hangover in Regency Scotland. Lady Georgette wakes up to find a hot, naked Scotsman in her bed and a wedding ring on her finger—and no idea how either got there. This book is surprising and delightful, and the voice…ah, the voice! McQuiston’s writing is utterly captivating from page one. Some readers were vexed that the hero and heroine don’t really meet until halfway through the book, but I thought it added a delicious sense of anticipation.
This incredibly thought-provoking book examines how technology is driving a shift in the value of a person’s reputation and how an economy based on reputation empowers individuals and entrepreneurs. It explains why terrorists used FDIC-insured banks instead of an underground network based on relationships; how Target knows a woman is pregnant before she does; and why your Klout score might actually matter. Visit http://www.reputation-economics.com/ for more about the book and read the first chapter for free.
The Crossfire Series by Sylvia Day
I initially picked up the first installment of this series as part of my research on a popular subgenre of romance novels: super-sexy contemporary stories featuring a billionaire hero and the young, strong woman who soothes his angst and opens his heart to love. This new subgenre is otherwise known as “Do You Have Anything Else Like 50 Shades?” I was immediately riveted by this story about two dark and damaged characters falling in love (and having a lot of hot sex) in New York City.
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Curry
This collection of vignettes reveals the working habits of artists, and it’s the perfect thing to read while waiting for a train or in line at the post office. If you are an artistic sort, it’s wonderful to see how normal you are. Some artists are night owls (Thomas Wolfe), while others are devoted to early mornings (W.H. Auden). Some are meticulous in their schedules (Flaubert and Trollope); others get drunk and make art (Francis Bacon). To the surprise of no one, coffee plays a very significant role. The lack of a good, comfortable chair was a problem shared by many, including the American composer Morton Feldman, who said, “if I could only find a comfortable chair I would rival Mozart,” and me.
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
I’m currently reading the latest from the author of Eat, Pray, Love, and after just 114 pages I’m ready to add this epic and enchanting novel to my list. The book features one of my favorite subjects: the plant hunters and scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Another pet topic featured here: the smart heroine discovering pleasure. Above all, the writing is so lovely (but not too writerly) that I anxiously wish to get back to writing my own books.
Maya Rodale is the author of multiple historical romance novels, as well as the nonfiction book Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained. She has a master’s degree from New York University and lives in Manhattan with her darling dog and a rogue of her own. Her latest book is The Wicked Wallflower. Visit her online at www.mayarodale.com or say hello to @mayarodale on Twitter.