So it’s been a very busy few months for me. I’ve barely had time to read and, when I have read, I’ve noticed I’ve gone for the same couple of genres: Sci-Fi and Fantasy.
Why’s that? Well, I do have a few books in my pile that aren’t my usual “thing” and I do make an effort to read a range of genres, but when you’re having a bit of a shitty time or you’re rushed off your feet, you want to do something you know you’re guaranteed to enjoy when you finally get some down time. For me, that’s reading. However, when it comes to books, there are a few genres I prefer; like Sci-Fi and Fantasy, but also sub-genres of Apocalyptic and Dystopian. So these last few busy and also sad months have meant I’ve retreated into my genre comfort zone.
But before I delve any further into my comfort zone and whether reading exclusively within it is a good or limiting thing, let’s look at the definition for ‘comfort zone’:
There are two slightly differing definitions, but I feel that both of them apply when it comes to reading.
But let’s not lie, we all do it. It’s okay to have a favourite genre, of course it is! Don’t think I’m saying there’s anything wrong with that. However, the idea that your favourite genre becomes so much of a ‘comfort zone’ that you don’t read beyond it – that you get too ‘settled’ and don’t need to make an ‘effort’ or ‘yield… results’ – is an idea that throws up a few questions.
Let’s start with the pros and cons of reading within your comfort zone.
- You’re more likely to enjoy a book within your preferred genre
- Therefore, less likely to be a waste of time and money
- Becoming familiar with certain authors and reading your favourite ones
- More likely to read faster – good for reading challenges
- You miss out on good books simply because they’re not in your favourite genre
- You miss out on different writing styles – definite con for those looking to write or study English literature
As you can see, there are more Pros. However, I am actually a firm believer that you should read outside of your comfort zone.
I never used to read outside of my comfort zone, at least not in my early teens. I would exclusively read YA and more often than not it would be Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I’d read the odd Historical one, but only if it were set during either of the World Wars, and also the odd Contemporary, like the Georgia Nicolson books by Louise Rennison, but only because everyone was reading them and they were quite funny.
Like I’ve said previously in this post, there is nothing wrong with reading only in your comfort zone, such as only reading YA, or only reading YA contemporary, etc. etc. However, I’m here to convince you that reading something a little different to your usual taste really is a good thing.
I only started reading wider when I was planning to do an English degree at university. That was from about 16 onwards. But still, that was only one or two slightly different books in my spare time, and whilst they weren’t YA they were adult apocalyptic fiction or WWI/II fiction. So, still not that wide, but I knew that you couldn’t go to an interview with a university and not at least be able to mention one Dickens book.
It wasn’t until I got to university that I really realised the benefits of reading outside of my comfort zone.
Getting my reading list for each course in first year, I looked up the books and would groan when I read the synopsis of many, or even just looked at the cover. They all looked so old and boring.
But then something miraculous happened: I actually enjoyed a lot of them. I was even enjoying books written in the 1600s. Hey, I couldn’t always understand what in God’s name was going on, but what I did understand was actually interesting. Things like Roxana by Daniel Defoe and The Monk by Matthew Lewis. Roxana was a somewhat feminist text that shocked the nation, and The Monk was just really weird and deranged but a lot of fun.
Then second year happened, then third year, and I discovered even more books I was surprised to find myself enjoying. I discovered a real love for Modernist Literature, and found my new favourite author in Virginia Woolf.
These were books I never would have even glanced at if it hadn’t been for the fact I had to read them for my degree. Of course, there were a number of books I thought were horrendous, but there were many more that I actually liked.
Do I still read outside of my comfort zone now that I’ve finished my degree? Not as much, I’ll admit, but I couldn’t read what I wanted for three years so I’m making the most of that at the moment. However, there are quite a few books on my radar that I now want to read because of the broad scope of genres and time periods my degree introduced me to.
I feel that you are definitely missing out on so many good books if you only read a few genres, especially if they’re quite limited genres, like only reading Dystopian novels, or only reading YA Dystopian. Being ‘widely read’ is so often seen as a snobbish phrase, that you’re being looked down on if you haven’t read all of the classics and Chaucer to boot. But if you love reading and you love books, why limit yourself?
I do agree that you need to be ‘widely read’ if you want to write for a living or want to study English at university. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still read your favourite genres, especially YA. I still read it. YA is too often frowned upon as being ‘kiddy’ but, as I just said, if you love reading then why limit yourself? People who think YA is only for young adults are mistaken. Yes, it should have the intention of entertaining and educating young adults, but it can also do the same for adults. You’ll miss out on some very good stories if you skip out on YA, just like you’ll miss out on some very good stories if you only read YA.
This also relates to reading diversely. There is a lot of support for reading diversely at the moment and I think it’s amazing. Not only because it means that there is better representation for people of colour, or other sexualities, or people who have disabilities, but also because it means that it opens up the scope of novels, allowing people to read and learn about things they may not have previously heard of or understood.
After all my persuasion to read outside of your comfort zone, how do you do it? Here are some handy tips:
- Look at critics reviews – has a new book just come out that’s getting widely praised by reputable newspapers, magazines, etc. and/or winning awards? Then that’s probably a good book to try.
- Same goes for the classics – there are many ‘classics’ and they’re called that for a reason. It doesn’t just mean Dickens. Victorians not your thing? Try Modernist Literature and the likes of Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, Henry Green, Patrick Hamilton and James Joyce.
- But what if nothing is really catching your eye in the other genres? Well then, read diversely! Like YA Contemporary? Then why not try reading about characters of other ethnicities? Or other sexualities? Or with disabilities? There’ll be lots in your preferred genre that you haven’t found yet.
- Enjoy Fantasy but running out of good books? Try YA Fantasy! Or vice versa. Go up or down in ‘age groups’ within your favourite genre.
So, discussion time! Do you try and read outside of your comfort zone? Do you agree that you should make an effort to do so? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!