Laurie Notaro: Toss the Book You Have in Your Purse and Read These Instead

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Instead of reading Fifty Shades of Grey, read Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons. Finally re-published after 70 years, this hilarious romance by the author of Cold Comfort Farm won't make you blush, but it will make you laugh. Brimming with unlikely romances between the rich and the servants, the rich and their pets, and a pretty widow and a rich, slightly slimy heir to a fortune, the book has everything to offer in the romance department except episodes of heaving and throbbing which it doesn't need.

There's also a bi-polar fiancé, a drunk, homeless hermit who lives in the woods, blackmail and common acts of bastadry.

To find: Hopefully any bookstore, but definitely by special order or online.

Instead of Casual Vacancy, read Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson. In what may be one of the first examples of meta storylines (take that, Japer Fforde), Miss Buncle's Book is a book within a book within a book. A huge blockbuster in 1934, the story centers around the hapless Barbara Buncle and the politics of the tiny English village she lives in--and how she completely upends it. When her dividends begin to dwindle, Miss Buncle finds herself without income and few choices. So she writes a book. About her neighbors. Under a pseudonym.

It becomes a massive best seller, causing the village to erupt in panic, suspicions and allegations. Again, no filth! But there is romance, kidnapping, and scandal as the real life characters begin to take on the lives of their fictional versions.

To find: Again, special order, or online; was recently republished by Persephone Books and Sourcebooks Landmark, so it is definitely in print.

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Laurie Notaro