An illustration of a female figure looking into a colourful, exciting landscape visible through a gap between several tall books.
An illustration of a female figure looking into a colourful, exciting landscape visible through a gap between several tall books.

Do you read broadly, across wide and varied genres, or do you stick to the same sorts of stories, the tried and tested favourites you know you'll love? Well, if you fall into the latter camp, don't worry, we're not here to judge. In fact, we've all been there.

At penguin.co.uk, we recently got drawn into a lively conversation on our ‘gateway reads‘ – a book we might have initially picked up with some trepidation but we ended up enjoying it so much that it got us hooked on a genre or subject matter we hadn't explored before.

These are our team's gateway reads, maybe you'll find some inspiration to set off on a literary expedition of your own.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (2004)

I am a self-confessed wimp when it comes to anything vaguely scary, yet there is no escaping the plethora of crime fiction. These are usually the most buzzed-about, book-club-picked, found-at-the-top-of-bestseller-list books out there and so it’s natural to feel like playing it safe means you are missing out.

That all changed when a kind librarian handed me a copy of Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. “Read this,” she said, “everyone raves about it.” Read it, I did and before I'd finished the last page I ordered the rest of the Jackson Brodie series. 

Case Histories changed my perception of the crime genre. It wasn't as ‘hide behind the sofa’ scary as I had imagined but a clever, plot-driven read following a private detective as he investigates a series of cold case murders in picturesque settings.

This book not only sparked my journey through countless crime scenes, mysteries and more recently, an adventure following a group of retirees-turned-amateur-sleuths but proved there are plenty of crime stories for wimps like me.

– chosen by Sarah McKenna, managing editor

Spillover by David Quammen (2012)

I used to be a fiction-only reader. There was variety within the novels I read – classic crime, translated fiction, graphic novels and more jostled for space on my shelves – but I hardly ever ventured into non-fiction territory. When I had to, it was mostly academic texts that I worked through at a glacial pace, having to reread parts to fully understand what was being said. It took a lot of effort, didn't feel very fulfilling and, as a result, I found it taxing and dull. 

I thought all non-fiction was like this until 2011 when an editor handed me the manuscript to David Quammen's then upcoming book, Spillover, a prescient investigation into infections like SARS, AIDS and, more recently, Covid-19, which orginate in animals before crossing over to humans. Along with the manuscript, I was given the promise that it ”read like a thriller”. Well, it wasn't an overstatement because I was hooked as soon as I opened it, turning the pages long into the night, unable to put it down till I reached the end.

Aside from the fact that Quammen's exploration into zoonotic diseases is itself fascinating, Spillover was the first book that made me realise non-fiction doesn't have to be impenetrable and that this type of narrative-led non-fiction really could be every bit as gripping as a thriller. A decade after I first read it, I vividly remember the excitement of racing through it and it's still the book I press onto others who feel wary of non-fiction.

– chosen by Indira Birnie, senior marketing manager

Poor by Caleb Femi (2020)

Most of us will have studied poetry in school, but if you’re anything like me, it often felt just an arm’s length away – if not an ivory tower’s length. But last year, during a reading lull, I felt compelled to try again, and bought Caleb Femi’s highly touted debut poetry collection Poor.

In his verses on life in and around a North Peckham Estate, Femi’s joy, rage, astuteness, sense of humour and eye for beautiful detail shone through, illuminating daily life for black youth in a grounded, gripping way. If you’ve ever been sceptical about poetry’s power to reflect real life, Poor might be the gateway you’ve been waiting for.

– chosen by Stephen Carlick, associate editor

The Death of the Gods by Carl Miller (2018)

I first picked up Carl Miller's The Death of the Gods back in 2019, after it won that year's Transmission Prize. I was never a big reader of non-fiction, but after working in social media for a few years I'd become conflicted, eager to know more about the big corporations that had become so ubiquitous in everyday life.

From a cyber-crime raid in British suburbia to the engine rooms of Silicon Valley, the book explores how the centres of power are shifting in contemporary society, and how this correlates with the advancement of modern technology. It's completely fascinating and terrifying and made me feel very aware that I'm a small, insignificant player in a big old world, which is more comforting than it sounds, and a marker in my mind of all good non-fiction.

It covers a lot – politics, press, warfare, algorithm-powered data science – but, nevertheless, left me hungry to know more. It's also very readable and will introduce you to some incredible humans you almost certainly won't have heard of before. Take Marianne Grimmenstein, a woman who, at 70 years-old, used change.org to force the German government to make changes to its Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, helping to protect the rights of workers and the environment.

Since then, I've become hooked on books about big tech, capitalism, and its impact on society. If you’re similarly inclined, I highly recommend Will Storr’s brilliant Selfie, Sarah Frier’s award-winning No Filter, and John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood – it’s a wild ride.

– chosen by Fran Pymm, social media editor

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2014)

Writing about nature hadn’t really registered on my reading horizon until Helen Macdonald’s remarkable debut turned up. A book about grief, recovery and Mabel, a goshawk, Macdonald’s memoir pushed the traditionally male and parochial boundaries of nature writing into personal and gripping new territory.

Personally speaking, H is for Hawk was a book that led me to discover other nature memoirs, such as Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun, as well as end up writing one myself. On a broader publishing level, Macdonald’s work ushered in a new breath of life to the genre.

– chosen by Alice Vincent, features editor

Which books have been your gateways into new genres, authors or subjects? Email editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk and let us know.

Image: Alicia Fernandes / Penguin

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