Nonfiction, Magical Realism, and More Roman Mysteries
Today's Ask the Editors recommendations find us leaving the shores of multi-generational epics and historical fiction for the weirder worlds of magical realism and non-fiction that's almost too incredible to believe. We've got a lot more recommendations to get through, and we'll continue answering until Friday, May 6th -- so leave your reader profiles in the comments, or on our Facebook page.
Margaret J. asked: My mom reads a lot from a combo of mysteries and non-fiction books. She enjoys reading about Central Asia -- historic and modern, the Great Game, China, the Silk Road. Some of her favorite mysteries are the Mrs. Pollifax series, Ian Rutledge series, China Bayles series, Donna Leon books, Margaret Fraser's medieval mysteries, Steven Saylor's Roman mysteries. She loves discovering new authors so I'd appreciate your suggestions.
Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination by Paul Freedman, a great look at the spice trade in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It doesn't just trace the traders and merchants who bought and sold spices: it also tracks how the spice trade helped shape Europeans' perceptions of their food in particular, and south and east Asia in general. And the few recipes that Freedman has been able to reconstruct might surprise you: in 16th-century Italy, for example, you might find a wealthy merchant eating food that looks a lot more like something out of India than the Italian food we know and love today.
On the more modern side of things, there's Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe by Frank Dikotter. In 1958, Mao Zedong launched a program -- the Great Leap Forward -- to boost China's agricultural and economic production that was overambitious. It resulted in massive changes to Chinese farming communities, the introduction of forced labor, and ultimately, the deaths of as many as 45 million people. Frank Dikotter is the first historian to look into the Chinese Communist Party's secret archives, and through them, he looks at every aspect of the Great Leap Forward, from the politicians who lacked the courage to challenge Chairman Mao, to the farmers who suffered from his fatally flawed plan.
- And to continue our ancient Roman mysteries recommendations from before: Nemesis by Lindsey Davis, the newest of her Marcus Didius Falco mysteries, The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliffe, and SPQR XII: The Year of Confusion by John Maddox Roberts. Each of these is a customer favorite and part of a series, so hopefully that will give your mom plenty of Roman mystery to read for a while.
Judy wrote: My Mother loves to read - all kinds of things and different things. Likes Haruki Murakami. Reads all the way from Mao to Undress me in the Temple of Doom. Has read many Indian novels as she traveled to India. Loves traveling, gardening, collecting, sea otters, and photography. Reads Hemingway, Maya Angelou, If On a Winter's Night, Rohinton Minstry, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and on she goes! She likes unique books that have some depth to them. She buys most of her bookls through Amazon unless they are gifts. Thank you for your help!!
Our Teens editor Jessica says: "I'd recommend anything by Jhumpa Lahiri--The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth, and Interpreter of Maladies. All are all so rich with well-drawn characters and Lahiri's graceful, memorable prose.
Also, if she likes unique non-fiction books she might like Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff, which (to me at least) seems like one of the more original WWII books I've read recently--outside of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, which of course is amazing and unbelievable, although true! (There is shark-punching involved...enough said.)"
And blog editor Kevin writes: "Recommending books for a Haruki Murakami fan is tough because there are so many different elements of his work that people like. Some general recommendations: David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, Zadie Smith's White Teeth, or if you'd like to gift something more classic, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera.
But if she's into the magical realism-as-a-vague-metaphor zaniness of Murakami, I'd suggest Through the Arc of the Rain Forest by Karen Tei Yamashita, or Michael Crummey's Galore.
Keep those questions for us (and recommendations for your fellow Omni readers) coming!