≡ Menu

You Be the Expert in Five Books

You Be the Expert in Five Books post image

In my Monday Tally a few weeks ago I linked to a website called Five Books. The website is a collection of book lists by experts on particular topics and has the tagline is “The best five books on everything.” Their description says,

Become an instant expert

Every day an eminent writer, thinker, commentator, politician, academic chooses five books on their specialist subject. From Einstein to Keynes, Iraq to the Andes, Communism to Empire. Share in the knowledge and buy the books.

One of the reasons I was intrigued by the site is the idea of reading books on a particular topic or theme in order to build an expertise in something. This is a theme that runs through my reading – when I find a topic I’m curious about, I end up reading a lot of books on that subject until I get burned out on it (example: “back to the farm” memoirs). This love of themes is part of why I love putting together Narrative Nonfiction 5 lists.

But could I really be an expert on anything?

There are some genres I know a lot better than others. I think I’m a terrible YA reviewer because I have nothing useful to say, but I’m a lot better on particular types of nonfiction because I’ve read enough of that genre to make comparisons when I review.

There are also book topics that I know more about. For example, I’m pretty familiar with books about women living in the Middle East. I’ve read quite a few memoirs and nonfiction books on the topic, and when I pick up a new book on a similar theme, I see connections and similarities between the stories.

I could even do my own five books list on the topic “Life as a Woman in the Middle East.” I’ve never studied it, but I’ve read a bit and have some ideas. At this point, that list might include:

  1. The Woman Who Fell from the Sky by Jennifer Steil
  2. Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni
  3. All the Fishes Come Home to Roost by Rachel Manija Brown
  4. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  5. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I don’t think I’m the only blogger that reads on a theme or genre or topic enough to be familiar with how it works. Someone at the Book Blogger Convention said that all reviewers are experts in at least one thing – “The Books That I Like” – but I think we could all be experts of a sort, or at least passionate learners on something.

Here’s my question – what topic/genre/whatever are you an “expert” in, and/or what five books would you suggest for someone who wanted to learn about that topic too?

Photo by flickr user ginnierobot

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Fyrefly October 22, 2010, 9:16 am

    While there are a lot of genres/subgenres that I really enjoy, and have read enough about to be able to critically review them, but I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in YA fantasy novels, for example – there’s just so much out there and “expert” is such a weighty word!

    But I will claim to be an expert about the evolution of mating behavior. (I darn well better be, after how many years of grad school!)

    My five:
    1. Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson
    2. Promiscuity by Tim Birkhead
    3. Bonk by Mary Roach
    4. Headless Males Make Great Lovers by Marty Crump
    5. Sexual Selections by Marlene Zuk

    (There are some others that might go on this list, but they’re still on my shelf, waiting to be read!)

    • Care October 22, 2010, 10:05 am

      oh yes. I DO want to read these and not because I want to be an expert on mating behavior – but they all look fascinating!

    • Kim October 25, 2010, 6:19 pm

      Fyrefly: Expert is a pretty big word for most things, so I know what you mean. I hesitate to call myself an expert in anything 🙂

      Thanks for the book list – it looks awesome. I have Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice… on top of the “Books I Want to Read Right Now” list, but I haven’t gotten to it yet 🙁

  • Care October 22, 2010, 10:06 am

    Sorry, I can’t think of a topic! Maybe some that I would love to explore more… I’ll think about it and get back to you. 😉

    • Kim October 25, 2010, 6:20 pm

      Care: Yeah, topics to explore more would be a lot of fun too – keep thinking 🙂

  • Lenore October 22, 2010, 10:14 am

    Recent/Upcoming YA dystopias for sure!

    I’d recommend:

    1. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Trilogy)
    2. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Trilogy)
    3. Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Trilogy?)
    4. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (Trilogy)
    5. Inside Out by Maria V Synder (Trilogy?)

    Of course, lots of readers are probably experts in this area too!

    • Kim October 25, 2010, 6:20 pm

      Lenore: Great list! Lots of those are on the list of books I want to read – especially the Westerfeld book.

  • Anna October 22, 2010, 10:57 am

    Wow, interesting post! I don’t think I’m really an expert on anything, but I’ve certainly read plenty of WWII books and Jane Austen sequels! 🙂

    • Kim October 25, 2010, 6:22 pm

      Anna: I bet you’re sort of an expert on those topics – I’d be interested in some suggestions.

  • Bitsy October 22, 2010, 11:05 am

    I’m not sure I’d consider myself an expert but I love learning about fairy tales and studied them in college a bit. My favorite fairy tale that I’ve read the most about would have to be Little Red Riding Hood. So my five would have to be about that one. Not all of these books are just about Red, some are about fairy tales in general but they all at least mention LRRH in passing.

    My Five:
    1. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim
    2. Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale by Catherine Orenstein
    3. The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar
    4. The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood: Versions of the Tale in Sociocultural Context by Jack Zipes
    5. Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal About the Transformations in a Woman’s Life by Joan Gould

    • Kim October 25, 2010, 6:24 pm

      Bitsy: This is an amazing list – thank you! I was hanging out with my friend Kristin last night and she said she already got a book from the list – Spinning Straw Into Cold, I think. I’m really looking forward to exploring some of these.

    • tolmsted October 26, 2010, 4:48 pm

      Bitsy – Have you read Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves”? It is a great short story based on Little Red Riding Hood… and I think also a film.

  • Chrisbookarama October 22, 2010, 1:06 pm

    lol! Michelle from That’s What She Read told me I was a Bronte expert the other day. Not really but I am a little obsessed with them so maybe that’s my field. Here are my 5 books:

    1. The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell
    2. The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte by Daphne du Maurier*
    3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
    4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
    5. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

    *I could be a du Maurier expert too. I read a lot of her books.

    This was a fun topic! I might not be a real expert but I know what I like.

    • Kim October 25, 2010, 6:25 pm

      Chrisbookarama: Expert… Obsessed… sort of the same thing 🙂 Great list – I love the Bronte’s too/

  • Ash October 22, 2010, 2:57 pm

    Hmm, I guess maybe I’m an “expert” on music nonfiction, although I haven’t read a lot of it since I started blogging.

    1. Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo by Andy Greenwald
    2. Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story by Chuck Klosterman
    3. Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life by John Sellers
    4. Wild Child: Life With Jim Morrison by Linda Ashcroft
    5. Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield

    Wow, I’m surprised that I could actually keep going. I forgot how many books about music I read when I was in high school.

    • Kim October 25, 2010, 6:26 pm

      Ash: Really good list! I’v really wanted to read Love Is a Mix Tape for a long time now.

  • Stephanie October 22, 2010, 4:30 pm

    Thanks for this list! I liked Reading Lolita and Persepolis very much, and I’m going to jot down your other 3 titles. Have you read Nine Parts of Desire by Gerladine Brooks? If so, I’m curious what you thought of it.

    • Kim October 25, 2010, 6:27 pm

      Stephanie: I haven’t read that book, but I really enjoy Geraldine Brooks.

  • lisa (the little reader) October 22, 2010, 5:30 pm

    without ever really intending to, i think i’ve become an “expert” in the subjugation of African people (partly fiction, partly nonfiction):

    1. Kindred by Octavia Butler
    2. The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz
    3. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
    4. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
    5. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
    6. Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill

    i couldn’t stop at five… and i could probably add a dozen more to the list!

    • Kim October 25, 2010, 6:28 pm

      Lisa: I think that’s the fun part of being an accidental expert – you don’t quite realize you’ve done it until you go back to reading your book stacks. That’s a great list – thank you! I’m adding so many books to my TBR from this post.

  • Amy October 23, 2010, 7:09 am

    Hmm… I could think of a few. I’m writing up guest posts for the Buy Books for the Holiday blog though, so I’ll make you wait 😀 I would list books for… Nigerian literature, Salem witch trial fiction and non-fiction, and possibly women’s studies for young feminists.

    • Kim October 25, 2010, 6:29 pm

      Amy: I’m looking forward to your post. I love Buy Books for the Holidays.

  • Marie October 23, 2010, 7:41 am

    Good question! I think if I had to make a 5 list, the one I could make off the top of my head right now would be a Spiritual Non-fiction list. The would have…

    1. The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
    2. Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner
    3. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
    4. The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day
    5. Stalking the Divine by Kristen Ohlson

    I am not an expert by any means, but these are books I always return to again and again. Great topic, Kim!

    • Kim October 25, 2010, 6:30 pm

      Marie: Another really interesting list! You already know I want to read The Cloister Walk, but the others have good titles too. More books to investigate 🙂

  • Maphead October 23, 2010, 11:56 am

    This is a VERY cool question to ask your legion of readers. To risk sounding like an expert (believe me, I’m not !), here’s a list of five books. I’ve recommended these books to folks who might be questioning or at least have questions about what they were taught growing up in a traditionally-minded Christian environment. Since I can’t think of anything better, I’ll call the list “God, Christianity and the Bible in a deeper historical context”.

    1. God: A Biography by Jack Miles
    2. A History of God by Karen Armstrong
    3. Who Wrote the Bible ? by Richard Elliott Friedman
    4. The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible by Robin Lane Fox
    5. A Short History of Christianity by Martin E. Marty

    Please note: Sadly, I have yet to read Robert Wright’s Evolution of God and Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. I have a feeling that after reading them, they will be included in any future lists like this. Fortunately for me, Wright’s book is currently sitting next to me waiting to be read and MacCulloch’s book should be arriving in my mailbox any day.

    • Kim October 25, 2010, 6:32 pm

      Maphead: Lol, a legion of readers – if only I had a legion 🙂

      I like that title of a list, it sounds interesting. I have a few books I haven’t read yet that might make it to the list I suggested too.

  • Memory October 23, 2010, 6:43 pm

    What a tough question! I have several topics that are near and dear to my heart, and about which I know quite a lot, but I’ve gained most of my knowledge from lectures, articles and documentaries rather than books. I could tell someone an awful lot about, say, the parallels between the French Revolution and ancient Rome, or the ways in which Dionysos is more properly the god of madness than of wine, or the use of art as propaganda…. but I couldn’t recommend more than a book or two on any one of these subjects.

    I’ve got the opposite problem with fiction. I could put together a broad reading list for something like LGBT speculative fiction, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending only five essentials.

    • Kim October 25, 2010, 6:34 pm

      Memory: It would be nice to add other sources of information to the expert list – I’ve learned a lot from magazine and news articles too. And I think broad lists are a nice way to think about books too.

  • Jeanne October 25, 2010, 2:11 pm

    Like Amy, I just made a list for Buy Books for the Holidays in one area I’m an expert in, poetry for teenage girls.

    The other area that immediately comes to mind is the subject of my dissertation, 18th-C satires that blame by praise. Few people in their right mind want to read five of those, but here are some of the best:
    John Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel
    Henry Fielding, Jonathan Wild
    Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub
    Alexander Pope, The Dunciad
    Peter Pindar, The Lousiad

    • Kim October 25, 2010, 6:35 pm

      Jeanne: Lol! I know the feeling — too much of a good thing. I haven’t read and of those books but one or two might be fun 🙂

  • tolmsted October 25, 2010, 7:36 pm

    Pandemics. It’s pretty sick (no pun intended) but I love fiction and non-fiction books on plagues, outbreaks, pandemics, etc. My list is contains 6 books – not sure if this makes me an expert or a hypochondriac in training.

    1. Journal of a Plague Year by Albert Camus (Fiction/Bubonic Plague)
    2. Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic by Steven Berlin Johnson (Cholera)
    3. The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever by Molly Caldwell Crosby (Yellow Fever)
    4. Bring Out Your Dead: The Great Plague of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia 1973 by John Harvey Powell (more Yellow Fever)
    5. America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918 by Alfred W. Crosby (Spanish Influenza)
    6. The Ballad of Typhoid Mary by J.F. Federspiel (Fiction/Typhoid)

    • Kim October 26, 2010, 6:35 pm

      Tolmsted: Lol, I love the intro to your list 🙂 I think I had Ghost Map on a TBR list at some point, and the rest sound great oo.

  • Jenny October 30, 2010, 10:10 am

    I don’t know everything about anything, but I know lots of things about Oscar Wilde, so I would do these books:

    1. The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
    2. The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde, ed. Merlin Holland
    3. The Stranger Wilde: Interpreting Oscar, Gary Schmidgall
    4. Oscar Wilde’s Last Stand, Philip Hoare
    5. Son of Oscar Wilde, Vyvyan Holland

    Mm, that was fun. Yay for Oscar Wilde. <3

    • Kim October 31, 2010, 8:59 am

      Jenny: Good list! I like the mix of genres in it. I don’t think I know everything about anything either, but there are some topics I think I know more than average because I read about them so much.