No Romo – Books Featuring Aromantic Characters

So in the last year I finally read The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (see my love letter to Mackenzi Lee here). Aside from being an exciting adventure and a story of feminism and determination, it’s also a remarkable book because of the main character’s complete lack of interest in romantic relationships. She’s focused instead on her ambitions, her family, and her desire for true friends.

What that captures (that most other books don’t) is something called ‘aromanticism’, which is the lack of romantic attraction to anyone. It’s not extremely common, but it does exist, and is often lumped in with asexuality, the lack of sexual attraction to anyone. For a nonfiction treatment of this broader topic, try the excellent book Ace by Angela Chen.

There are some really great books featuring asexuality, including Let’s Talk About Love, Tash Hearts Tolstoy, and Beyond the Black Door, but in all these cases the main character still experiences romantic attraction. For similar characters who don’t have romantic attractions and/or don’t pursue romance, you’ll want to try these titles:

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Tarnished Are The Stars by Rosiee Thor

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Hazel’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

Also check out our Libguide of similar books: No Romo: Great Books Without Romance.

Porcelain Travels by Matthew Felix

I love a good travel story – and I’ve made the LibGuide Armchair Traveler to prove it! Most recently I read Porcelain Travels by Matthew Felix, and I highly recommend it for an entertaining journey and an education on the bathroom traditions in different parts of the world. It’s kind of hard to describe, but here’s the publisher’s version:

Matthew Félix is not a luxury traveler. But traveling on a budget fails to explain why so many of his most unforgettable experiences take place on the toilet, in the tub, or under the shower. From Matthew’s nightmare while relieving himself in Morocco to his unorthodox bathing practices in Paris and Istanbul to the Dead Sea shower incident that led to an arrest, Porcelain Travels is sometimes hilarious, occasionally shocking, and always entertaining.

What I liked was that there were so many levels on which to enjoy it. The toilet and bathing experiences are, for the most part, relatable and humorous (and fascinatingly informative where they’re not relatable); the various locations are a great source of escapism and global knowledge, and the short vignette chapters are engaging and easily readable. Less enjoyable was the author’s somewhat pretentious attitude on some things, but his humility in relating these episodes was a good balance for any sanctimoniousness.

If you’re a devoted travel reader, love cultural comparisons (Europeans’ horror at the existence of the garbage disposal, e.g.), or cannot travel without knowing the bathroom situation, this is a good book for you. Similar vibes include Bill Bryson of A Walk in the Woods fame and David Sedaris, known for Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Nonfiction for the Reluctant, Stressed, and Skeptical

I was recently reminded that there’s a lot of fascinating reading in non-fiction if you only know how to find it. Non-fiction offers a different reading experience than fiction does. Where fiction affects your emotions and takes you on a journey (often tense, angsty, or deeply emotionally wrenching), non-fiction engages your mind with more intellectual fascination. Here are some non-fiction books I’ve read that offer various entry points into the genre.

My top category is always science – I love Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, and What If (1 & 2) by Randall Munroe. I’ve also started on the works of Mary Roach, renowned for her approachable and entertaining forays into topics like death, sex, space, and most recently animal offenders in Fuzz. I’d say my love for scientific non-fiction (and fiction; my favorite author is Andy Weir after all) is because of my natural curiosity, since these books explore different realms of knowledge and the limits of what’s possible.

My second-favorite nonfiction category is books by humorists like David Sedaris; I’ve read most of his work (for the title alone I particularly love Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls) as well as other hilarious and relatable personalities. I remember loving Wow No Thank You by Samantha Irby.

Another very common entry point into nonfiction is true crime books – I’m still working my way into this area but I have read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (a classic and definitely fascinating) as well as The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary and the convicted murderer who was an invaluable part of it.

Many people also love memoirs like Crying in H Mart (I’ll read it when I need to cry and not before, thank you) or poetry by breathtaking wordsmiths like Rupi Kaur (I tried Milk and Honey, and it made me feel raw, vulnerable and exposed so I decided to try again later), or powerful, expose-type social science reads. The power of the latter is in making you feel seen, or as if your eyes have been opened. For that reason I loved Ace by Angela Chen and highly recommend it.

The key in my experience is identifying what it is you value in a reading experience and seeking them out. For me, this includes infectious enthusiasm, a dry sense of humor, a sense of hope, and engrossing storytelling. Do you have something that immediately hooks you, or a favorite nonfiction read? Let us know below!

 

Wallace the Brave by Will Henry

If you love comics and graphic novels about friendship, discovery, and the joy of being weird, you won’t want to miss out on Wallace the Brave by Will Henry.

This comic series, now in its fourth collected volume, centers on the bold and imaginative Wallace in his picturesque hometown of Snug Harbor, where he lives with fisherman father, plant-loving mother, and feral little brother Sterling. Wallace is outdoorsy and adventurous, making his own fun with the help of best friend Spud, brainy Rose, and aggressive Amelia. This is a utopic read filled with hope, light, and appreciation for the small comforts of life — alongside quirky humor and pride in being different.

A wholesome heir to Calvin & Hobbes and as healing to read as the Tea Dragon Society, Wallace the Brave is recommended for all ages who need a gentle, humorous read.

Fuzz by Mary Roach

At long last I read a work by eminent non-fiction author Mary Roach! She’s been on my to-read list for a long time because of her reputation for entertaining and accessible explanations of various topics, and I finally took the plunge with her most recent, Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law.

In this wide-ranging volume Roach explores the field of “wildlife-human conflict” – the zone in which the natural world infringes on human activity and the various methods used to control, combat, or understand that invasion. This includes the predators you’d expect: bears, elephants, leopards, and the like, but also invasive non-native species, dangerous trees, destructive birds, and the cute creatures with unexpected impacts on the ecosystem. Also covered are a wide variety of anti-wildlife strategies including frightening devices (most notably a screaming tube dude), lasers, monkey birth control, poisoned beans, and many more. The book ultimately coalesces around a meditation on humanity and its various approaches to nature – those who coexist, those who condemn, and those who struggle to know determine the right decision.

I enjoyed Roach’s humor, and that the book challenges the idea of human supremacy while still sympathizing with those whose livelihoods (or just their lives) are endangered by wildlife behaviors. I also appreciated the global scope of Roach’s survey and how vividly she renders the people she works with along the way.

If you’re a non-fiction reader, science lover, animal lover, or looking for an entertaining learning experience, give this book a try.

Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

Have you heard the hype yet about Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree? A gentle read for lovers of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, this warm-hearted slice-of-life story captures the magical adventure that is everyday life, while touching on identity, belonging, change, prejudice, and chosen family.

Viv is an orc who’s spent her life as a fighter. But after sampling the gnomish drink “coffee” she has a new dream: to settle down and open a coffeehouse. She gathers her savings, does her research, and then takes the terrifying leap… to civilian life. With the help of a hobgoblin craftsman and a business-savvy succubus she slowly starts to introduce a skeptical community to her new business. It’s not an easy road, and obstacles and frenemies abound, but with courage and the right support Viv has a chance at a new kind of life.

This book is delightful not only because you get to watch orcs, succubi, elves, dwarves, hobgoblins, and other assorted creatures get introduced to coffeeshop culture (including the magic of cinnamon rolls), but also because it’s so full of hope. Viv and her new friends defeat obstacles with determination, good sportsmanship, and clever thinking, without resorting to violence – though they’re also honest about the hardships they’ve faced.

A sensitively diverse book that explores what makes life fulfilling, this is recommended for the weary fantasy-lover looking for a story where people have good days and things generally work out.

 

What If? 2 by Randall Munroe

My favorite nonfiction author is back with a sequel to the delightful, improbable, educational What If – creatively named What If 2. If you like The Martian, Bill Nye, and the rambling arguments held on The Big Bang Theory, you’ll probably want to read a Randall Munroe book IMMEDIATELY, and why not start with this one?

If you’re not familiar with Randall Munroe, he’s the author of (obviously) What If, but also How To and The Thing Explainer (see my and Brenda’s blog posts about those), all of which explain the everyday and the cosmic and the impossible in terms of real science and (thankfully) comprehensible language. Munroe, who trained in physics, became popular first for his webcomic xkcd and then his blog, which was the original form of What If.

In What If 2 he covers a broad swath of questions including a fire pole from the moon to the earth, a lava lamp made from real lava, and how to hold onto a helicopter blade while it’s spinning. Interspersed between these (and many more) questions are my favorite bits, the “Weird and Worrying” questions that are even more off-the-wall and, frankly, make you wonder a bit about the asker.

If you need a laugh and you love science, definitely give this book a try!

25+ Years of Tegan and Sara

Like most aging people I’m starting to realize just how long my favorite artists have been around. For example the iconic band Tegan and Sara have been making music since 1995, recording on cassette tapes. If you don’t know them, Canadian twins Tegan and Sara Quin have been vitally important to building a more mainstream LGBTQ music scene. Their music has the earworm elements of pop music and an unapologetically sapphic core – and recently they’ve grown more reflective about their public image.

Their early music, starting in about 2002, quickly gained popularity in Canada and with teen listeners, featuring albums The Con and Sainthood. Both albums were generally acclaimed as their sound both matured and experimented. It was the seventh album that was perhaps the most successful, and the one I know best: Heartthrob in 2013, followed by Love You to Death in 2016. This is where their indie pop sound really hit its stride with songs like Boyfriend and Closer, featuring danceable beats mixed with melancholy feelings. Incidentally this is also where I heard I’m Not Your Hero, whose hook will forever live in my head rent-free: “I’m not their hero / but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t brave”.

This is a band that doesn’t forget its past: in 2017 their big tour and promotion was celebrating 10 years since the release of The Con (including the creation of an album of other artists’ versions called The Con X: Covers) and in 2019 they released Hey I’m Just Like You, which shares recordings of songs they initially wrote as teenagers. The influence of rock and punk bands like Nirvana, Hole, or the Smashing Pumpkins is more apparent here, and the album as a whole reads more pop-punk than their more recent compositions. In the same spirit they made an all-acoustic version of their 2004 album, So Jealous, which was released as Still Jealous in February.

But the big news of recent years was the release of High School, a memoir about their experiences coming-of-age, which was adapted into a TV series on Amazon Freevee. Viewers are offered a glimpse into a teenager’s life in the early 2000s including the pains of exploring your sexuality and deciding who you want to be. This is definitely a band for you if you’re someone into memoir, legacy, and writing your own history. They’re also politically engaged, passionate activists for causes including cancer research and LGBTQ rights.

This year they released the all-new Crybaby with a new record label. Written during the pandemic, this is the album that nearly wasn’t: originally they were recording standalone singles I Can’t Grow Up and All I Wanted, but were inspired to spin the two into a whole album — luckily for all of us that need more T&S in our lives.

If you like indie music, are a longtime fan, or want exposure to more LGBTQ music artists, definitely listen to some Tegan and Sara today.

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is a family saga that travels back and forth across space and time to paint a vivid picture of the family descended from defiant, enigmatic, independent Orquídea Divina and how they all cope with her unique legacy. You first meet Orquídea when she and her second husband move into their house – which may have appeared overnight, though surely that’s not possible. The people in town are suspicious, but nothing can ever be proven and the sheriff is charmed, so Orquídea and her family are here to stay. We next see her years later as she prepares to die, and we are introduced to her heirs, variously troubled and estranged from her home. This includes accountant Rey, his cousin Marimar, and pregnant Tatinelly. They’ll all have to grapple with legacy, family, and magic if they want to make their peace with Orquídea and claim their inheritance. Meanwhile, flashbacks tell the story of how Orquídea grew up and came into her power, giving hints to the gifts, lessons, and dangers that her heirs have come to claim.

Magical realism is a major part of this book; while Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly live in communities where magic isn’t real, their return to their grandmother’s home of Four Rivers immediately shows that magic is real and has consequences. As a reader this hooked me immediately, but magic also was an effective metaphor for cultural and community knowledge: Tatinelly’s white husband is afraid at the evidence of magic, while for Tatinelly it’s a joyful return to what’s familiar. The subtle knowledge of women is also a strong theme as first Orquídea, then Marimar, Tatinelly, and the other female descendants show intuitive connections to nature, the house at Four Rivers, and the languages spoken (and feelings expressed) by different locations.

Engaging and rich with details, this is recommended for fans of Encanto, Knives Out, and the Umbrella Academy.

A Love Letter to Miss Jane Marple

I’m a big Agatha Christie fan (as you may know). But while her Belgian detective gets a lot of limelight (including from award-winning director Kenneth Branagh) I’m increasingly obsessed with her unassuming village spinster Jane Marple. A woman underestimated by many, her keen wisdom about human nature inevitably uncovers the truth. I love her for many reasons, not least for the message (like Father Brown‘s) that kindness, humility, and observant social skills are just as powerful as Poirot’s ego and famed ‘little grey cells’. Miss Marple is also a fantastic role model for self-acceptance: she knows people see her as a doddering old woman, but she’s OK with that; she knows her limits and her abilities and lets them speak for themselves. If you haven’t tried a Miss Marple book before – I highly recommend it! Here are three of my favorite Marple reads to get you started:

In The Moving Finger, the narrator is Jerry, a man recovering from a plane accident. He and his sister come to stay in the town of Lymstock just as a rash of odd poison pen letters starts sweeping the community. The police start methodically searching for the sender, but not before someone dies. When another death follows, the vicar’s wife sends for an expert to help: Jane Marple. This is a fun read because Jerry, while a sympathetic and enjoyable narrator, is slightly oblivious both to the truth of the letters and his own feelings, which lets the wisdom of women shine – not only Miss Marple but also Jerry’s sister Joanna and the vicar’s wife, among others.

4.50 From Paddington is another classic story of women’s intelligence being overlooked. First, Elspeth McGillicuddy happens to see a woman being murdered on a passing train – but no one believes her. Everyone thinks she’s a vaguely hysterical old woman who’s seeing things. So she goes to her friend Jane Marple and tells her the story. Miss Marple believes her but knows no one else will, especially since they can’t find a body. So she hires Lucy Eylesbarrow, a powerhouse of domestic help, to work at a house near the scene and scout around. Sure enough, she finds it, and it’s up to Lucy and Miss Marple to help the police figure out who she is, and why she’d be murdered on a train and hidden on the grounds of the Crackenthorpe mansion.

In The Mirror Crack’d Miss Marple is called in after a reception welcoming famous actress Marina Gregg to her village. Famous for both her films and her dramatic personal life (including desperation to have a child), her move to St. Mary Mead is a source of wild excitement in town – hence the welcoming party. Suddenly disaster strikes – a local nuisance and blabbermouth collapses after drinking a poisoned cocktail. Everyone assumes the actress was the real target, but when her friend tells her the story Miss Marple isn’t so sure. As more people die and the stakes get higher it’s up to Miss Marple to dig into Marina’s past to figure out the truth.

You can also experience Miss Marple in short stories, large print versions, ebook collections, books on CD, eaudiobooks, or DVD adaptations.