Following an instinctive urge to read a full fledged novel, I detoured to the public library and scanned, as you do, the 'returned books' shelf. I see it as an excellent filter. There, I found my latest read, Sashenka by Simon Montefiore. A single morning later, I am a nearly a quarter way through this slab of a book.
This certainly did not happen with the Victor Hugo novel that I gave a stab at. So what is so captivating about this story, simply based on historical research and dramatised by excellent prose? Incidentally, it is about a pivotal time in Russia's timeline, starting just prior to the revolution. Although Russia is rather unfamiliar territory to me, I can draw lines to the Chinese revolution's context passed onto me by my forefathers. Reading a story full of layers of discovered/recorded context can only be done in comparison to what you already know, anchored on the culture and heritage in which you reside. Avoiding specificity, here is an example: once I was talking to a friend, who is of a completely different heritage to me, about past political movements and how we perceive foreign countries due to these 'eccentric' movements. The view of a country differed so much to her's that I immediately thought someone was misguided, or at least, misinformed.
Taking on this book, full of unfamiliar territory meant that I had to keep an open mind whilst still taking every detail into consideration to what I already know. Perhaps a detail that I had once read about in some fantasy novel is a daily affair in this story - the connection is rejuvenated and justified. In my opinion, it is useless to just read stories of your own basecamp; reading Jane Austen as an English native will hardly make you ponder the global human condition.