I talk often about how romance readers experience a unique and frustrating kind of derision from other people about what we love to read. One of my favorite (and I mean that ironically) questions that I've been asked by many people, including folks who are related to me, is, "You do read…other things, right?" As if a steady diet of romance is going to atrophy my three remaining healthy brain cells. Their concern is palpable.

While I do read a lot of romance, I do in fact also read other things. Many romance readers do—we're incurable readers, many of us. And we do read outside the romance genre…a lot outside of it. I have a few different kinds of books that I love in the nonfiction realm, and I thought I'd share a few recommendations. 


I love cookbooks—especially cookbooks that explain the science of cooking, or that tell stories about how that particular recipe came to be. I love learning about culinary mythology and folklore: For example, did you know some sources maintain that the idea of throwing salt over your left shoulder goes back to the ancient Romans? 

I also have two types of cookbooks: digital and print. The digital recipes I use most I have exported and organized in Evernote, where I can search for them by ingredient. But the print cookbooks I treasure are the ones that I use and read like they're deliciously-photographed works of nonfiction—which they are, come to think of it. 

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I also find that if I sit down to browse a cookbook for dinner ideas, I'll start reading it and become so immersed in the book, I forget to actually look for a recipe. Much like picking up a favorite novel, I can't read just one page. I disappear and read for much longer than I intended. 

I just lost 15 minutes reading the cookbooks I am writing about here. Jeez. In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite

Current favorites: 

In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

The Italian Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone

All About Braising:The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking by Molly Stevens 

Organization and Efficiency

I have the unfortunate habit of thinking that if I read enough about organization and efficiency, I will automatically become better organized and more efficient. Really, the secret is working out the best way for you and your life, the key word being "working." Much like parenting manuals, there's usually only a handful of suggestions in each book that fit you and your life—but I keep reading book after book about organization anyway.

One reason is that I find a similar comfort in reading books about organization as I do when I read romance: I'm not alone. I feel reassured that everyone feels out of order and frustrated sometimes, and needs help figuring out a better way. Everyone has these feelings and needs a better routine to make order out of daily chaos. I feel much less isolated and more hopeful, just like when I read a romance with a heroine or hero who has a similar emotional experience. 

Plus it almost (though not completely) soothes my urge to look at 65 different bulletin board systems on Pinterest. Pinterest is a worse time trap for me than well-written cookbooks.

One book on organization that I'm re-reading right now: 

Zen to Done: The Ultimate Simple Productivity System by Leo Babauta


I am relentlessly curious about how things came to be, and why they are. So I love nonfiction about the things we use, how design influences us, and how some tools endure while others become obsolete. I also love nonfiction histories about language, and why the words we use both influence and are influenced by other languages. The things we use and the words we say are altered and influenced so quickly now, that it's fascinating for me to look at the complete long-range history of the things I use daily. Language, especially, is deeply connected to the culture which uses (or used) it, and I learn about people who have different experiences than I do by learning about what they say. 


The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman

The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson

Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish by Dovid Katz

Travel Stories

I find An Embarrassment of Mangoestravel guides very dense and difficult. I feel like I'm reading someone else's itinerary without any understanding of who they are and what they like. The average travel guide reads like directions: Go here. Eat over there. You can stay here. Here are some places everyone likes. Even though I love to travel, I don't love guidebooks.

But I love travel narratives, including collections of essays, blogs from people who make their lives as digital nomads, and stories of how one person decided to do something rather unique: sail around the world, backpack through Asia in six months, travel around Australia visiting every possible part of it—and managed to write about it in a way that brings me alone with them. I'm easily influenced by great writing and great stories. I learned to snowboard after reading Jill Shalvis' romance novel Instant Attraction because I just knew it would be something I'd love (I was right). Similarly, I love reading about different places, especially when the story is so powerful I want to see that location for myself. 


In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof 

Instant Attraction by Jill Shalvis

What nonfiction do you like to read? Do you think your nonfiction reading is related to your romance reading? 

Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. She loves talking with romance readers, and hopes you'll share your new favorite romance reading recommendations. You can find her on Twitter @smartbitches, on Facebook, or on her couch, most likely with her eyeglasses turned towards a book.