Let’s Discuss: Reading Outside of Your Comfort Zone

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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’:

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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.

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Let’s start with the pros and cons of reading within your comfort zone.

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

caitlin

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21 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss: Reading Outside of Your Comfort Zone

  1. I completely agree that if you like reading, you should make an effort to read outside your comfort zone but it’s so hard! I also almost exclusively read YA and I know I need to widen my horizons a little bit.

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  2. Great post! Although I’m an old fart, my favorite genre is still YA SFF. I often read out of my comfort zone so that I don’t pigeonhole myself, and if I read a YA series back-to-back, I will be in need of a change. I recently read by Ta-Nehisi Coates which is nonfiction about racism in the US and that was way, WAY out of my comfort zone. But I gained a lot by reading it.
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
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    • Thank you! Haha like I said there’s nothing wrong with reading YA when you’re not a young adult! Glad to hear you also try and read out of your comfort zone though. I’ve heard a lot about Coates book so I might have to give it a try, sounds way out of my comfort zone too but also really interesting!

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  3. I actually have to disagree that those definitions of “comfort zone” apply to reading. Because I read pretty much exclusively sci-fi and fantasy, but it doesn’t only produce barely acceptable results. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on good books because, while contemporary romance and mystery and other genres may have books that are amazing for other people, chances are that they wouldn’t be amazing for me because they’re just not my thing. There are certain things I like and certain things I don’t when it comes to books. I have tried other genres, and these are the ones I stick to because they’re the ones that do produce the best results, the books I end up loving. But within the SFF genre I do read YA, NA, adult, I read all different subgenres, I read about different countries and time periods and types of characters (lgbt, disabilities), etc. And I do take chances sometimes on books that I’m not sure about if there’s something about the book that interests me. The few books that I did force myself to read outside my comfort zone this year all ended up being somewhere between mediocre and awful. So I’m happy just reading the books that interest me 🙂

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    • Yeah I don’t think reading in your comfort zone only produces “barely acceptable results” because you’re not really looking for results when reading haha but I do think it can limit you. But if you’ve found a genre that works for you and you don’t really like anything else then that’s fine! Sometimes it just doesn’t work for people to try and read other genres but at least you read widely within your preferred genre, that’s all that matters really. 🙂

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  4. I read outside my comfort zone quite a bit. Sometimes I find amazing gems and I’m SO glad that I decided to read a different genre. Other times, I’m completely disappointed and then go back to my tried and true favorite genres. It’s a tossup for me, but I keep trying.

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  5. I totally agree with this. I spent 11 years studying literature at various universities, and I was constantly forced to read books I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. (My degrees are in English lit, publishing, and children’s lit.) I learned that my instincts about books are sometimes wrong. A cover/synopsis can make a book seem horrible, but you never really know until you read it. It might be amazing.

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    • Glad you agree! It’s good to hear you’ve had the same experience as me when it comes to studying literature! It’s definitely taught me not to judge a book from the cover or blurb so much, especially if that book has received high praise; there must be a reason for why it’s getting good reviews after all! Like I never would have picked up a Virginia Woolf novel from the blurbs but now she’s my favourite author. And congrats on your three degrees! I think English Lit was enough for me haha it fried my brain.

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  6. I love this post!
    I struggle a lot with reading out of my comfort zone. Actually, I describe reading as “comfort”. Before I pick up a book, I read a lot of reviews about it and make sure I’m 100% sure of what I’m going for. Sometimes, I even spoil myself!
    But I had bad experiences in the past, when I went for a book completely blind. I ended up having some anxiety episodes, because the book dealt with sexual abuse, a topic that I feel very, very uncomfortable about. I don’t know why, but it’s just a sensitive topic for me, and everytime I stumble with books or even news about it, I end up not being able to get it out of my head for weeks and weeks.
    After that, I didn’t want to read books out of my comfort zone and I became more obsessed with reviews. However, I still think it is possible for me to read books that are out of my alley, and they can still give me good feelings! I think I’ll put that as a goal for the next year. I’ll still research a lot, but there are a lot of classics that caught my eye, and I don’t think any of them involve topics that I’m sensitive about. And as a person who only reads YA, it will be a great change!
    Sorry for the LOOONG rant, by the way. It was a fantastic post!

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    • Aww thank you! That’s really nice to hear. I definitely do a bit of research before buying a book to see whether it’s as good as it sounds, but I try not to look into it too much as, like you said, you can spoil it for yourself! But if you’re worried something might contain a sensitive topic then it’s definitely a good idea to research it first, regardless of spoilers, your mental health is more important. Glad to hear you’re gonna try and read some books that are out of your comfort zone next year though! I hope you enjoy them! I’ve found a fair few of my favourite authors and books that way. Sometimes it’s good to take the risk. Besides, there are bad books in every genre, even your favourite. And don’t worry haha it’s great to hear your thoughts. 😊

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  7. This is such a great post! I completely agree that reading outside of our comfort zone is super beneficial! I used to only read fantasy and contemporary and kind of refused to read anything else and that was so… confining. I’ve branched out to other genres and more diverse reads and I surprisingly like them just as much. And with google and goodreads I think finding a book to read isn’t that hard anymore, like literally all we have to do is ask hahaha though I’m still hesitant in BUYING books outside of my comfort zone. I’m always like… “what if I hate it?” if I have infinite money I’ll probably by them all but I don’t so I get very selective in it haha :’)

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    • Thank you! I’m glad you agree! I’ve found it’s definitely limiting if you only read one or two genres. I think that if you really enjoy reading then you should be able to find books you like in most genres. So it’s good that you’ve branched out too! And yeah definitely, it’s so easy nowadays to find new books, and if you’re unsure about a book that’s outside your comfort zone then you can just read some reviews and that should help you decide! And same here haha I have to be selective when reading out of my comfort zone because I just don’t have the money to buy loads of books. 🙈

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  8. Yes! Reading the tried & tested is fine, but needs to be blended in with the far-ranging! That way you find soooo many things you wouldn’t’ve found before. And I don’t consider people who have read the classics widely-read unless they’ve also read romance, sci-fi, bestsellers, etc, etc. Someone who doesn’t have the ability to enjoy books from a variety of genres is not widely-read as far as I’m concerned! 🙂

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    • Glad you agree! I’ve definitely found so many of my favourite books by reading outside of my comfort zone. And yeah definitely, if someone only reads classics and nothing else then they’re not widely read either so they’re certainly no better than the people they might look down on for reading popular “commercial” books! 🙂

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