Choosing to pick up a book outside of your comfort zone can be scary. What if you don’t like it?
Well, I suppose you can say that you’ll never know if you don’t try it! Today’s discussion post is all about trying to encourage anyone to try reading something out of their comfort zone now and again. I read a lot, and I read the vast majority of genres. That wasn’t always the case though. However, there are genres and topics that I consider myself ‘not to read’. That’s not to say I don’t pick them up once in a while! How do you know you don’t like something unless you take the plunge and give it a go?
If you want to try something new, but don’t quite know how to do it, you can find some suggestions below that might help you on the right track… Or prove to you that your judgement was right in the first place. Who knows? You win some and you lose some!
Try a new genre/sub-genre/combination
With such a wide variety of books out there, there is no way you have tried every single possibility. It may be that you have never tried one of the main genres before. Before I started my blog, I wouldn’t pick up horror books. It wasn’t something I thought I’d enjoy.
As a first step, I decided to pick one of the most prominent authors in that genre – Stephen King, and give one of his books a try. My first ever read was The Green Mile. Not only is he an iconic author of the genre, but I picked this book because I was familiar with some the story. I hadn’t ever watched the film in full, but I’ve seen enough snippets of it that I had a rough idea of what was going on. That helped immensely! Having some sense of familiarity helped me gel with the story, and let the new experience of the author and his writing style (and the genre) shine through. I’ve gone on to read a number of King’s books, with plenty more still on my TBR.
Sometimes it isn’t as easy as that though. Maybe you don’t know or recognise a prominent author to start with. In which case, I would recommend picking up a book that ties into multiple genres… or is of an audience you relate to. For example, if you want to try to read a book aimed at a younger audience as opposed to an adult book, choose one in a genre you already know and like. Likewise, if you want to try and branch out into another genre, find a book where that genre overlaps with one you already know you get on with. There are so many combinations nowadays that I think you can find something to get you started.
Book Clubs/Buddy Reads and Readalongs
If you need a push to pick up something new, then joining a book club or a readalong can be a great way of encouraging you to do so. A group may be able to vote on the book chosen, but ultimately, it’s the overall result from the group that decides what book gets picked up.
And sometimes, that’s not the one you want.
There is nothing wrong with this; in fact, I’d argue that this is a great thing. Not only does it give you the encouragement to try something you wouldn’t pick up on your own, but it also gives you the opportunity to talk about why you come to like it (or don’t – that bit’s up to you). It makes you think about your reading tastes and really define what works for you and what doesn’t. You can then take that forward and try new books with that element that you have found you liked. And who knows, by reading other books that have the same, you may find another topic/theme/genre that you haven’t come across before and also enjoy. And so it snowballs.
If you don’t have the confidence to be a part of a group, then having a trusted friend instead could be a solution. It will be a lot easier to read the book together and pace yourselves in such a way that you can have a more structured discussion every few chapters, if you wish, or even just be able to meet up more regularly to talk about it and have more detailed/meaningful conversations!
We can only read so many books in our lifetime, but one of the most valuable resources we can use when it comes to sharing the book love and recommendations is each other! We all have our own slightly different tastes, but we can also have a lot in common with others. If you have a trusted person or a group of individuals with which you have a lot in common, they can give you some really good recommendations that align really well with your tastes. Maybe you already take them up on some of them.
But, it is also true that they can recommend great books that don’t necessarily fit in to your idea of ‘your kind of book’. If you already trust this person’s opinion regarding your similarities, then it’s a reasonably safe bet to trust them on your differences too. They are the best people equipped to give you a recommendation, so why not take a chance and take them up on it?
If in doubt, don’t wig out – understand you reading tastes
You aren’t going to love every single book on the planet. For most of them, there’ll be things you like and things you don’t. I have a pretty good idea of what I like and what I don’t like based on my diversity of reading. That is something that comes with experience… and pushing the boundaries now and then.
For example, I don’t really enjoy romance as a genre. However, I will occasionally pick one up (I read The Duke & I by Julia Quinn in May), or read a book where this overlaps with another genre, such as historical romance or fantasy romance. I read The Duke & I, and overall I neither loved nor hated it. There were bits I didn’t like, and unless you read books like that, you don’t really understand what it is you don’t like about them.
My biggest problem with this book is that it flaunted how characters are treated differently based on gender. Men are deemed attractive if they are roguish and rakish, but women couldn’t possibly put a foot out of line or be seen doing anything inappropriate lest they ruined theirs and their family’s reputation. That is what I don’t like… and that’s not necessarily a reflection on the book.
Another example; I have previous experience where I have not enjoyed a book that was not written in traditional prose. Yet, I’m currently reading The Appeal by Janice Hallett, and the story is told through the written communications between characters (text messages, emails, letters etc). Just because I didn’t enjoy the writing style of Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to enjoy The Appeal either. Neither are written in traditional prose, but they are both very different from each other too.
Another example of this is Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. The story of this book is told through interviews of characters after the events of the book have happened, and one of the characters (the interviewer), we don’t know at all. These are all completely different styles, but all testament to the fact that you shouldn’t dismiss one because they have a loose similarity to another. Of the three books, I disliked one but enjoyed the other two.
Instead, define more precisely what you don’t like about a book. The thing I didn’t enjoy about Girl, Woman, Other is that it was written like prose, but it lacked the traditional grammatical structure we expect.
You can see in both of these examples that I have read books out of my comfort zone, and from that experience I’ve been able to take away exactly what I liked and didn’t like. Yes, I didn’t like the gender differences in The Duke & I, but I liked the narrative style. It was easy to read and despite my niggles, it didn’t stop me finishing the book.
On the other hand, I couldn’t finish Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. One of the biggest factors for me is a book’s writing style, and if I really can’t get on with it then it doesn’t matter how good the story is – I can’t finish it. Again, this is something that I’ve learned through experience. I’ve picked up books that haven’t worked out for me, and that’s fine. You don’t have to love everything you read. And if you are concerned about spending money on books to then not enjoy them, then there are ways around this too. If you have an e-reader, you can download a sample to try the book before you buy. Many people will probably have access to a library, or at least an e-library. So, if you’re really not sure, try and borrow it!
Try to push your boundaries now and again. You don’t have to do it very often, you don’t have to do it very much. How far you want to take it is entirely up to you, as is the means in which you do so. All I can say is that I have learned a lot about my reading preferences by trying something out of the box.
There are times when it doesn’t work, and that’s fine. You’ve learned from it. There have been many more times where I have found something that I’ve really enjoyed and gone back to again; the experience has broadened my horizons. And I will continue to do so. Once upon a time I was a teenage girl who almost exclusively read fantasy books. Look where I am now… still a predominant fantasy reader, but I also read a wide variety of genres around that. All because I pushed my boundaries.
As with everything, reading taste evolves. I’ve already established that mine has changed significantly in the last 10 years. But just because I’ve pushed the boat out before, it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading out of my comfort zone. I want to pick up new and different books. One of the biggest changes I would like to make is incorporating more non-fiction into my TBR.
Dare I say it, I want to try my hand at romance books that tackle difficult topics. I really enjoyed Me Before You, which centres around a character who wishes to end his own life. That was a romance and I really enjoyed it, even though it was upsetting to read. There are romance books that centre around abuse and other less savoury elements of life rather than just mushy plot lines. Who’s to say I won’t enjoy those? I can’t… until I’ve read them at least.
If I can push myself, I have every faith that you can too, and I hope this post gives you some inspiration to do so and how to go about it if you’re not sure!
When was the last time you tried something out of your comfort zone?