Fair warning, the answer is going disappoint you. I’m sure you look at what I write (that being erotic romance novels) and you think I’m reading the hottest books around, when I’m not out there in real life trying out all the crazy things in my books. Yeah, I know what you all think and you’re wrong.
Of the last 4 books I read, 2 of them (and 1 more on order right now) were non-fiction (and none of them were the Kama Sutra either). The sad truth is becoming a writer has changed what kind of reader I am. When I do devote time to reading, it is usually for research in one way or another. Yes, 2 of those past 4 books read were fiction romance but I read one because I tour with the author for book signings and I felt like I should be familiar with her work, and I read the other because it was from a publisher that I considered subbing to and it’s important to read books in a publisher’s catalog to make sure they are a good fit for you, so I count the motivation to read both of those as research as well.
Don’t cry for me though, as I sit toiling away, reading non-fiction books for research because no matter what the motivation for picking up those books, I truly enjoyed reading every one. At least parts of each book have stuck with me on a deeper level. What were these books? While I do not want to be a reviewer in any shape or form, I will pass on the titles and the parts that impressed me enough to stick with me.
UNDER THE SABERS ~The Unwritten Code of Army Wives by Tanya Biank
Quite honestly, I bought this because it’s the book the Lifetime TV series “Army Wives” is based upon. It was pure research (with a heavy dose of envy thrown in). I had one of those “if SHE can turn her book into a TV series, so can I, dammit!” moments. I had wrongly assumed Tanya Biank was a first time author who got lucky while I, an English major with dozens of published books to my credit, toiled away in obscurity.
Boy, was I wrong. It turns out Biank is a reporter based in Fayetteville, NC who has not only covered the military beat for the local paper there for years, but has also been embedded with deployed troops all over the world. The second surprise was the subject of the book and her motivation for writing it.
During the summer of 2002, 4 Fort Bragg Army wives were murdered by their husbands during a 6 week period. In this post 9-11 era when troops surged into the middle east and the entire country mourned, it seemed to Biank that this story needed to be told, and told by more than just a short article in the local paper for each of these women killed.
I will copy here the passage from the book that has stuck with me most. Remember this is Biank writing her own opinion so don’t email me. I’m not saying I agree or disagree, just that it made me think.
Everyone I met who knew Bill Wright extolled his virtues: great father, husband, and NCO. Even the cops had compassion for him. It was harder, in this town at least, for me to find people who had compassion for the wife he had just murdered.
To many at Bragg it was Bill Wright who was the victim, the politically incorrect point of view that was never part of any media coverage, including my own. At the time I never asked the one unthinkable question: Did she deserve what happened to her? The question seemed absurd. Since I didn’t ask it, I couldn’t learn what I know now. More than a few soldiers who either knew the Wrights or had heard about the case later told me, “She got what she deserved.” Or “She had it comin’.” These quick-trigger outbursts (they were never said casually) always caught me off guard. To understand the root of such venom, I thad to take a step back and realize that these men identified more with Bill Wright the patriot, Bill Wright the war vet and family man, than they did with his supposedly cheating wife. An unfaithful Army wife might as well be a terrorist, soldiers hate them that much. Soldiers tend to consider infidelity as a personal slight on their own manhood. When a woman cheats on a buddy, she is desecrating not only her husband but also the flag and all those in uniform. Of course none of this applies when soldiers cheat on their wives.
Rumors of Jennifer Wright’s alleged affairs had been flowing through her husband’s unit for a long time before her death. And in the Army rumors are as good as reality; here perceptions are reality. Sadly Jennifer Wright has never been able to defend her reputation. In the end the ‘great’ father had orphaned his three boys. ~from Under the Sabers page 2-3
Those few paragraphs have stuck with me since the day I read them and dog-eared the page. I added the underscore to the most impactful sentences in my opinion.
Biank goes on to inform the reader that of the 4 wives murdered by their husbands, 3 of those 4 husbands killed themselves afterwards. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, those same 3 men were Special Forces. She explains that back in 2002 they investigated everything they could think of to explain this phenomenon. Was it the malaria injections these men had been given before deploying? Had the Army turned them into trained killers who no longer valued human life? What didn’t fit was the thousands of other men who received the same injections and the same training who choose NOT to kill their wives (affairs or not).
What Biank concludes is this–the Army doesn’t cause marital problems, but when those problems exist they are easily magnified by the stress of long separations, money problems, frequent moves and the perceived stigma which prevents military families in emotional turmoil from seeking help for fear it would negatively affect their careers. Not that I feel at all qualified to render an opinion, I agree with her conclusion.
SOME GIRLS – My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren
I saw this author on The View promoting this book. I immediately thought 2 things: 1) I am about to rewrite a story that is set in a modern-day harem and this would be good for research and 2) here is another person who got a publishing contract not because she can write, but because she happened to have a good story which in light of the recent Oprah book club memoir debacles may or may not be true. Amid the depressing thoughts that I would perhaps have to join a harem to get a NY publishing contract, I ordered the book immediately.
Again, I was proved wrong. This woman was no sham, she can really write. It is later revealed in the text why. To keep her sanity while in this harem she would write. First a journal, later short stories, then later her memoir.
This book is very thought-provoking, the main question being how in the world does a girl who grew up in New Jersey end up in a Prince’s harem in this day and age? The answer soon follows in this passage. Besides the money, jewels, nightly parties, free-flowing champagne and gourmet food, designer clothes, lush accommodations and free international travel, there was this…
Sometimes I fell prey to fantasies of becoming a princess. It seemed so strange that it had entered my orbit of possibilities. What Disney-brained American girl hadn’t lain in bed and known deep in her heart that she was worthy of being woken from an evil spell by the kiss of a prince? That she would open her eyes and, due to no effort of her own, find that she had been saved? Who wouldn’t consider attempting to grab that gold ring, that diamond crown? ~ from Some Girls page 189
The more I thought about it, the more I read, the more I realized that this modern harem was not such a phenomenon after all. I had visions of Hugh Hefner’s mansion teeming with ‘girlfriends’ and ‘Playmates’ at nightly parties. Of ABC’s The Bachelor where 25 women will claw each other’s eyes out for the chance to be with a man who yesterday was a complete stranger to them.
How did Lauren, an NYU student/drop-out, end up there? A struggling actress from an abusive family she went from stripping, to being an ‘escort’, to the harem within about a year when she was 18 and struggling to pay to live in NYC while waiting for her big acting break.
My impression, besides the realization that the Playboy mansion and The Bachelor were both very harem-like, was that being in a harem was far less exciting than I had imagined. The girls wore their normal clothing, not see-thru I Dream of Jeannie outfits. No one made them perform the “Dance of the Seven Veils”. Instead they disco danced. Even though this was the early 90s and disco was long dead, apparently the Sultan of Brunai’s prince brother still liked it and he always got what he wanted. There was no training for the girls on how to be a sexual expert. In fact, there was hardly any sex at all. Understandably. There was 1 prince with 3 wives, and 40+ girls. Hard to get to them all for any mortal man, even a prince. Some girls had sex with him once then were sent home after their 2 week stint. Others became a favorite and stayed for a year, not because they were particularly good at sex, but because they added to the ‘drama’ which entertained the prince, much like the crazy girls on The Bachelor always seem to hang around for a long time because they are good entertainment.
For the Disney-fied little girl in all of us… Yes, the prince did eventually propose to a harem girl since he was allowed legally to take 4 wives, and his first wife had already provided suitable heirs. The joke was on him. The harem girl of his dreams took the money and jewels and disappeared, never to be heard from again. She wasn’t an American, apparently Disney doesn’t reach Thailand and being Princess #4 didn’t appeal to her.
So there you go. My recent reads. I am currently waiting for my next big exciting non-fiction to arrive. I’m torn between thinking I will be bored to death by the 300 page WAR written by war correspondent and author of The Perfect Storm Sabastian Junger, and knowing that after the lasting effects of the past 2 books I read, I will likely again be surprised and enthralled by the story.
Never judge a book by its genre. You never know.