For Top Ten Tuesday this week, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, our topic is books we enjoyed recently that are outside our usual type/genre/comfort zone. Here’s the thing: I like my comfort zone. I think my comfort zone is actually pretty broad. Part of the reason I read so voraciously is to learn and understand new things about the world, to experience life from another set of eyes than my own. Being more mindful of what I’m reading – trying to read authors who are of a different nationality or race than I am – continues to be a rewarding and enlightening practice. But I also know what I like, for the most part. So as I choose my next read, I don’t tend to pick titles from left field. I guess what I’m getting at with all this is that I had to think about this topic a while, dig a little bit for things that I’ve read in the last year that were a “stretch” for me. So here goes.
- Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. I didn’t grow up reading comics as a kid, and I have thus far read very few graphic novels. They’re just not a type of book that I naturally gravitate toward. But I have been trying to branch out and read a few titles, and this one was nearly universally positively recommended. I LOVED it. It is simultaneously charming and moving while also being an exciting page-turner.
- The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. I also am not naturally inclined to read Teen/YA books. Maybe because when I actually WAS a teenager (or pre-teen) this whole subset of fiction didn’t really exist. I mean, there was Judy Blume, Christopher Pike, and those teen romances published by Silhouette. But I pretty much went straight from reading The Babysitter’s Club to reading Agatha Christie, Victoria Holt, and Danielle Steel. In any case, I try to read a couple of teen books a year simply to be able to recommend things to my library patrons. This one was fantastic – it’s a mystery and a ghost story, with the right amount of suspense and not too much teen drama or romance. I will definitely read the other two in the series – eventually!
- The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman. I really resisted reading this book – but it was a book group pick. I didn’t feel like reading about the romantic “travails” of a narcissistic, privileged, young white man from New York. It turned out to be one of the best book discussions we’ve ever had, and I was totally engrossed. Waldman is a very skilled writer and I even bought (and really liked) the follow-up novella told by Nathaniel’s friend Aurit called New Year’s.
- A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. Y’all have surely heard a lot about this book – it won the Man Booker Prize for 2015. Let me just say that this book is LONG and CHALLENGING, two adjectives that do not describe books I eagerly reach for. But it was TOTALLY WORTH IT. I wrote about it (rather glowingly) here.
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I’m a wimp, especially when it comes to scary stuff. I was nervous about reading this even after I’d read We Have Always Lived in the Castle and discovered that I adored Shirley Jackson. But it had the right about of scary – turn-the-lights-up bright scary, but not I-can’t-sleep scary. Crazy good.
- Gulp by Mary Roach. Nonfiction is something I enjoy, but fiction is my first love. I kind of have to make myself pick up nonfiction, even if it’s something that sounds really interesting. This one was a great pick for someone who doesn’t normally read nonfiction. Funny and interesting – I learned a lot, especially about the horrendous C. Diff infection and what really killed Elvis.
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Boxes checked off: YA/Teen, Fantasy, Paranormal, Audiobook. All formats I have only taken baby steps in. This book is SO GOOD, especially as read by the brilliant Mr. Gaiman himself. Suspenseful and genuinely moving. After reading this one, American Gods, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I count myself among Mr. Gaiman’s many fans.
- Tar Baby by Toni Morrison. I’ve written previously about how Ms. Morrison’s works intimidated me. This is the one that got me over my (unfounded) nerves.
- The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. A YA novel about basketball told in free verse? Not my usual fare. But I’m profoundly glad I read this. It’s about so much more than basketball. I dare you to read it and not cry. This is also a book that a “reluctant reader” would probably really like.
- My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Reading this captivating series has made me realize how much good contemporary fiction I’m missing that is not written in English. So I chose this title because it awakened me to my lack of awareness of works in translation. (BTW, I’m reading the third installment of this series right now and it continues to absolutely TRANSFIX me.)
So there’s my list. Do you have any recommendations for the genres in which I’m a relative newbie (graphic novels, YA, audiobooks, science writing/nonfiction, scary stuff?) How do you (or do you) make yourself read outside of your “comfort zone?”