Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Washington is a destination bookstore. In fact, it kind of is Lake Forest Park. There’s not really much else there except this giant, awesome bookstore. So after years of meaning to, I finally made the 40 minute trek out of the city to visit this bookstore. Needless to say, dozens of dollars were spent. Among the books in my haul was a book titled A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. No, I am not planning a bicycle tour along the Silk Road (although Kashgar definitely belongs on my Euphonious Bucket List). In fact, the book is a novel. But I am simply defenseless against a title like that.
I am a total sucker for novels with nonfiction titles. If your fiction book has “Guide” in the title, I probably own it. I don’t understand what the appeal of the faux-nonfiction book title is. I don’t expect to learn facts from my novels. I am not one of those people who believes that historical fiction is a good way to learn history; it’s much easier to simply read history than it is to tease out historical accuracies from fictional devices in a novel. Besides, many of these books are not historical fiction.
The first one I read, and one of the best, was a contemporary novel called A Short History of the Tractor in Ukrainian. It was about the generational and cultural fractures that form in immigrant families, told from the point of view of a middle-aged English woman, the youngest sibling in a family that had emigrated from the Ukraine before her birth. The title came from a book that her father, an irascible former engineer, was attempting to write in his retirement.
I don’t the appeal comes from any desire for a veneer of nonfiction respectability. I already read enough nonfiction to sound impressive and serious in any context (which has yet to manifest in my life) in which I am asked what I read and need a serious-sounding answer. Plus, many of these books have the most darling, twee titles. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, for example.
This spring, when I didn’t really have time to pick up a book at all, I found myself unable to resist a doorstop of a novel titled The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. It was a library book, so I couldn’t just take comfort in its possession. I had to read it, and was delighted that I did so. I felt such kinship with the author that I felt like I could substitute my own biography for hers: a childhood wasted devouring fantasy novels, early adult years developing a strongly feminist ethics and more literary tastes, and finally a middle age of frustration with the tropes of a cherished genre. Emily Croy Barker, whose life story may be entirely different, nevertheless created a self-aware joy of a novel that competently works the pseudo-medieval European world of fantasy while lovingly tweaking its more exasperating elements. It’s an engaging story that also serves as a metaphor for women trying to make their way in the literary world.
Maybe I just like novels with nonfiction titles because they keep turning out to be so good.
I don’t know if other people share my love for novels with nonfiction titles. I certainly don’t need to grow my TBR list. But what did I miss? What are some of your favorite titles?