Shortform Reads: Rediscovering Romance Novels

Which author does Sasha think is prolific? Which book does Sasha thank for giving her the motivation to floss?

Sasha works as a book guide writer here at Shortform—she makes educational guides that help readers gain insights into their favorite books. Sasha is originally from Tokyo, Japan. She moved to the United States for a while, and is now back in Japan.

Our Interview With Sasha

Here’s what Sasha had to say about how her heritage influenced what she read as a child, her opinion of e-readers, and more.

What’s your favorite book?

I hesitate to say I have a favorite book, but one I often reread is Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. I read a lot of books that give me advice, but this one is the most beautiful by far—both because of the advice she gives and how well she writes it. I still haven’t made it through a reading without crying.

What are you reading these days?

I’m trying to be better about allowing myself not to finish books I’m not thrilled about. So I’ve dabbled in a few since then, but the most recent book I’ve finished reading is The Last Boyfriend by Nora Roberts.

I’m currently reading Educated by Tara Westover with my book club. It’s fascinating so far, and I’m really enjoying it!

And next on my list is A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century, based on a recommendation from my father. It’s apparently about how our evolutionary biology affects us nowadays, so I’m excited about it.

If you could have a dinner party with any three authors—dead or alive—who would they be and why?

#1: Nora Roberts. She’s so prolific, and I’d love to pick her brain about how she does it.

#2: Tim Ferriss. He’s interviewed so many incredible people, so I’m sure he has a wealth of knowledge to share.

#3: Gretchen Rubin. She’s such an interesting writer, and I love all the experiments she does—but more importantly, she just seems like she’d be down-to-earth and fun to talk to.

What’s your favorite genre?

I know people think it’s cheesy, but I recently rediscovered my love of romance novels. I’ve read a lot of self-help books for work—both at Shortform and before—and I love the fact that you can soak up so much life experience and knowledge from the comfort of your chair. But reading romance is purely about escape: It’s total fantasy. And when the world is going through so much, sometimes it’s nice to read something that has a guaranteed happy ending.

Are there any book genres or tropes that you dislike or refuse to read?

There’s nothing I refuse to read, When I was a kid, I even read the nutrition label of the cereal box at breakfast if I was bored. I tend to avoid horror because I’m a wimp and it scares me, but I’ll still indulge in a Stephen King from time to time. Also, I love true crime, so I don’t know what that says about me—nothing good, probably.

What’s your favorite way to read a book? 

I was really upset when e-readers first came out because I thought they were going to ruin the reading experience, but I actually love mine! I have a Kindle, and I use iBooks sometimes, too. But my favorite is still paper—can’t beat the smell of a good, old book.

What book do you think everyone should read in their lifetime?

Tiny Beautiful Things is full of so much life advice. Also, maybe Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s packed with so much useful information about how tiny habits can compound to change your life.

Who are your favorite authors?

I really like Nora Roberts, who I can always rely on for a solid romance novel. I also am a fan of Diana Gabaldon, who wrote the Outlander series. The first book is about a woman who time-travels back to 18th-century Scotland and falls in love, but the series follows so many other characters, too. I love how the author built that world so well, and she manages to take even minor characters and turn them into such interesting, likable humans in other books, which I think is fascinating.

How have your reading tastes changed over the years?

Hmmm. I think I’ve covered this already with my productivity-to-romance transition, but I guess the other thing is that I used to read fantasy all the time. As a kid, I spent a lot of time reading Tamora Pierce. I don’t read fantasy as much anymore because most fantasy novels are in a series, and I tend to prefer standalone novels now. In fact, I’ve read a number of fantasy novels in recent years that I didn’t realize were the start of a series—most recently, N. K. Jemisin’s The City We Became.

Was there a specific book that sparked your love of reading?

Not a specific book, but it’s an interesting story. I am half-Japanese, half-American, and I spent my early childhood in Japan. At the time, there was very little information available on how to raise children bilingually, so my parents weren’t sure what to do. Since we were living in Japan, they spoke to me mostly in Japanese—and I didn’t speak English that well. They were really concerned, so they got me into reading English books. I speak English better than I do Japanese now, so I’d say it worked out pretty well!

Do you have any guilty pleasure books?

Does a genre count? I love celebrity memoirs and essays. I Don’t Know What You Know Me From by Judy Greer is fantastic.

What’s an interesting fact that you learned from a book recently?

I worked on The Culture Map guide for Shortform and learned that Japanese and American people literally view things differently. When Americans look at a picture, they tend to focus on individual items in the picture. But Japanese people tend to focus on the relationships between items. Given my heritage, this was really interesting and fun to test.

Have any books you’ve read caused you to make any life changes or to change or develop any habits?

I floss thanks to Atomic Habits! I used to floss after I brushed my teeth, but I didn’t like how my mouth felt. Atomic Habits taught me the power of ending your behavior with a positive feeling, so I started flossing before I brushed my teeth instead, so I still had that minty feeling. James Clear, my dentist thanks you.

Also, The Defining Decade by Dr. Meg Jay dramatically changed how I approach relationships in my 20s. She talks about how you must actively decide what next step to take with your partner instead of sliding into what society expects because it’s easier.

What are your favorite book adaptations?

The Lord of the Rings series. The amount of detail that went into all of those sets and props is just stunning. I had a book about the making of the series as a kid, and it made me want to become a prop designer for a while.

What are your favorite books in the Shortform library and why? 

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. I love Cal Newport, but I’d been putting off reading this book because I was worried it was full of information I’d heard already. I read our Shortform guide of it, realized it wasn’t true, then picked up the book—and I’m so glad I did. There’s a lot of information about why you should give up technology, but this book also talks about what to replace that with—which was useful and helpful in my quest to view fewer screens.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I was expecting something dry and medical, but the author does a beautiful job of telling the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family in an emotional way. She also includes herself in the story, which was an interesting choice that I appreciated. I also have a personal interest: I had my kidney removed as a kid due to a rare condition, and the doctors kept it to study it, so I enjoyed learning what might have happened to that tissue.

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. She splits people into four categories based on how they respond to others’ expectations versus their own expectations, and then she talks about how to design your life using that framework. It transformed how I develop habits.

Sasha’s Book Recommendations

About the Series

Here at Shortform, we want to give our employees names and faces so you can get to know the people who make the magic happen. That’s why we’re doing this series where we interview our employees and share their thoughts and opinions. You can check out more employee interviews here.

Shortform Reads: Rediscovering Romance Novels

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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