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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Why Diversity Is A Good Thing

Why Diversity Is A Good Thing

Recently, there has been a lot of talk around the notion of ‘diversity’. There have been some good arguments, some bad arguments, and then some really ugly arguments, especially after that video.

I’ve managed to steer clear of any arguments because I wanted to see what everyone had to say on both sides. Now I feel it’s time I weighed in with my own opinion.

If you’re looking for some other great posts on diversity, then check out these:

Puput @ Sparkling Letters

Lauren @ Wonderless Reviews

Anyway, here’s why I think diversity is a good thing.

Representation

I am a middle class, heterosexual white girl. I am everywhere. I can read any book, watch any TV programme or any film, and I will see myself reflected back at me time and time again. I don’t need to look for someone like me in books because I am everywhere. 

And I hadn’t quite realised that until this debate on diversity appeared, when suddenly it was so apparent to me that I did not read diversely until recently. I still don’t read extremely diversely, although I’m really trying to change that, but my degree in English at least opened up a wide array of books to me, and I’ll be recommending some at the end of this post.

It’s not that I go out and actively seek books with only white protagonists; I buy a book because it sounds good and, more often that not, I’ll open it and discover the character is white. This is not good. 

In my opinion, there is no excuse not to represent different races and religions within a book, because they are everywhere. Whites are not the dominant race, nor is Christianity the dominant religion. Of course, you will find more white people in certain countries, such as the USA and the majority of Europe, but white people aren’t everywhere. Africa isn’t a white continent, neither are India or Iraq or Korea or Argentina white countries. There are so many different skin colours and races. Yes, certain skin colours will be prevalent in certain countries, but in our age of globalisation races and cultures are mixing. A Muslim may be a minority in America, but they are not in Pakistan. They are not lesser because there are fewer of them in one country.

In addition, homosexuality is still just as important and deserves the same representation. Just because there might be more heterosexual people doesn’t mean that LGBTQ+ people are not as important.

I find it worrying and laughable when I see some white people complaining about how POC are trying to eradicate whites. No one is asking for that. If you suddenly got rid of white people in books, then again books would not be diverse. It works both ways.

Okay, let’s say suddenly there are no more books being published with white characters. You might see one or two, but they’re on the sidelines and they’re pretty 2D, essentially just plot points rather than people. You, as a white person, start to become confused. You wonder, where are all the people like me? Where is my race? Why are we not included? There are lots of us!

Now, that’s exactly how POC feel a lot of the time. They feel marginalised. They can’t find themselves in books even when, in reality, they are just as numerous as any other race. I have no problem connecting with a POC character. In fact, I enjoy learning about other races and cultures. At the end of the day, everyone is human; how can you not connect to another human because their skin colour is different to yours?

The same goes for straight people who say they just can’t connect with homosexual romances. Well, how do you think homosexual people feel reading heterosexual romances? Also, at the end of the day, a romance is about love. Love is not exclusive. Do you think it’s weird when someone says they love their dog or their cat? No. So why should it be weird if a man says he loves another man, or a woman says she loves another woman? Of course, loving an animal is very different to loving another human, but why is it okay to profess your “love” for your pet but it’s then “uncomfortable” if a man says he loves his boyfriend? Love is universal and should be open to all, no matter your gender or sexuality, and if a woman loves another woman or a man loves another man then I don’t see how that’s any of your business.

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However, there are going to be some instances where books cannot have truly diverse characters. This is mainly in historical novels. For example, if you want to write about a tribe of Celts in the remote Irish wilderness, then your characters are going to be white. Yet just because a character is white doesn’t mean they have to be straight. Of course, homosexuality may not have been accepted in the community, but that doesn’t mean everyone would have been 100% heterosexual and totally not harbouring any other feelings.

The same goes for if you’re writing a book in Medieval Japan. Pretty much everyone is going to be Japanese. This is diverse in that it’s a race other than white, but it’s still only one race. However, that’s because the time period was not like ours; they didn’t have globalisation to allow this substantial mixing of races and cultures and religions. Diversity of race is a product mainly of modernity. There have always been other races, but they were unable to mix like they do today. However, diversity of sexuality is not a product of modernity. I mean, look at the Ancient Greeks!

No one is saying you need to make all of your characters diverse. As I said, the historical setting may not allow it, but that doesn’t mean you always have to write about a white country. Ye Olde England wasn’t the only place out there! However, if you’re writing a Contemporary novel, is it really an accurate portrayal of the times we live in if all your characters are white, middle-class and heterosexual? Take London as an example: it’s a hub of multiculturalism. You cannot walk down any street in London without seeing a plethora of skin colours, or without seeing hijabs or turbans, or without hearing Polish or Punjabi. If you want to set your book in London, you have to be prepared to not only do research on the city itself, but also on its inhabitants. And there are many.

Of course, don’t force it; don’t make all your characters diverse just for the sake of it or because you feel pressured. No one is asking that all your novels have to have different races and different sexualities. However, by writing a book you are attempting to capture life. Life is diverse. No one person is the same. Even in Fantasy, there is the scope for so much diversity. Fantasy is just another potential reality; it still needs to represent the diversity of life.

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Now, here are some diverse books I’ve read and which you should definitely check out if you want to read about different races or religions or sexualities, or just want a book that has someone like you:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid: Depicts a Pakistani man’s struggle to adjust to his life in America post-9/11. (Also a great film).

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson: A semi-autobiographical novel about a young lesbian girl growing up in a 1960s Northern England industrial town amidst a strong Christian community.

The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers: The life of a young tomboyish girl, her cross-dressing male cousin and her African American maid in a Southern American town during WWII. The novel tackles the themes of sexuality, race and gender.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: The novel spans a number of different timelines and characters, from the slave trade in the South Pacific to post-apocalyptic tribes in Hawaii. The characters are all very diverse in terms of race and sexuality.

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston: The memoirs of a Chinese-American growing up in 20th century USA. It depicts the struggles between Chinese culture and American culture.

The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix: Not only is this an amazing Fantasy series, but it also features a group of clairvoyant women living in a glacier who have dark skin and are generally just badass. The main protagonists are white, but that’s more to do with their deathly paleness from constantly entering the river of Death than a specific race.

Half Way Home by Hugh Howey: Features a gay protagonist struggling with his sexuality. It’s written from a very unique viewpoint as the characters are teenagers but have only just been ‘born’ from their test tube state. The protagonist is forced to understand his sexuality in a world where such things are not already clearly outlined.

Rebel of the Sands: A Fantasy series set in a Middle Eastern land and culture. It’s also strongly feminist.

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So, what’s your view on diversity? I’m happy to discuss it in the comments as long as everyone is respectful! Do you agree with me or disagree?

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Discussion: Does a Character’s Name Affect Your Opinion?

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There are some names that have been completely tarnished by people I know in real life.

There was a girl I knew called Jade who was pretty horrible, so now I’m not a fan of that name. (Sorry to all other Jade’s, I’m sure you’re lovely). Also, George. I’ve known too many George’s and too many of them have annoyed me.

As a result of this, it can sometimes be a little harder to connect with characters who have names with bad connotations for me. Writing this out, it sounds silly really. I shouldn’t be judging a character simply because a girl I knew when I was ten was mean. It’s one of those things that sticks with you but I try not to be so judgemental of a character because it reminds me of someone I know; that would just be petty.

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But what about when you just don’t like the name? Or the name doesn’t seem to suit the character?

For example, what about Four in Divergent? I think the nickname really fits. But what about his given name? (If you haven’t read the books and don’t want to know his given name, even though it doesn’t spoil any plot points, then skip to below the book covers).

His given name is Tobias and as soon as I read that all the mysteriousness of Four disappeared. For some reason, the name just killed the mood. It just doesn’t sound very tough when the whole point of Four is he’s meant to be tough and strong and confident. He’s meant to instill bravery in Tris and represent the endurance and heroism of the Dauntless faction. Four does that, Tobias doesn’t.

On the other hand, I recently reviewed an ARC of Girl Detached by Manuela Salvi. I adored it and you can check out my review for it here. I won’t give anything away, but the antagonist of the novel is called Ruben. I’ve always loved that name but after reading this book my opinion has changed slightly. I still like the name, yet it now reminds me of a manipulative man. I guess I won’t be naming any future sons ‘Ruben’ anymore!

Of course, that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get my drift. There will always be a slight association with that name. Just like the name ‘Angelina’ will always make Angelina Jolie spring to mind. Or how names like Chandler and Rachel will make many people think of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to take someone named ‘Chandler’ seriously.

However, what about the idea that characters with names you like will make your opinion of them increase? One name I’ve always liked is Sam. In Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series (which I’m always talking about on this blog), there’s a character called Sameth, Sam for short. He’s one of my favourite characters and after reading the novels I liked the name ‘Sam’ even more. If Sam had been a horrible character, my opinion of the name might have gone the other way, yet instead the name will forever make me think of this character and have good connotations for me.

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I know this post was brief, but it was only a thought and I wanted to hear some other opinions on it. So, what do you guys think? Are there names you’ll always dislike because of someone in real life or someone in a book? Are there names you like more because of some of your favourite characters? 

Let me know in the comments below!

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The Sunday Post #6

TheSundayPost

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted at The Caffeinated Book Reviewer in which book bloggers recap their week and look at what’s to come.

My Weekly Recap

So the UK has opted to leave the EU and I am absolutely devastated. I’m not going to go into detail because I don’t want to start a debate, but I’m hearing some seriously frightening stuff about the future of Britain and my own future. I wholeheartedly agree that the vast majority of Leave voters are not racist, but the Leave campaign attracted notable racist and sexist groups such as UKIP and Britain First and now these racists have had their views legitimised by Leave winning. There have already been numerous reports of blatantly racist acts directed at Indians and Pakistanis, as well as Eastern Europeans. I’m struggling to recognise my own country at the moment.

But anyway, enough of that. Here are the posts from this week:

Some of you may not have seen my discussion post because Bloglovin never displayed it! It’s only just become available on Bloglovin but, being a discussion post, I really wanted it to reach my WordPress followers and my Bloglovin followers so I could actually have a discussion with you guys! This has happened before and I’ve e-mailed Bloglovin about it. Anyone else had this same problem?

So, if you’ve only just discovered my discussion post, please do get involved if you have an opinion on it!

Coming Up

I’m just over halfway through Golden Son so hopefully the review will be going up within the next week or two on Ellie Maloney’s Sci-Fi blog. Once again, I’ll post a link to it on my blog when it’s up!

Next books I’ll get to reading after Golden Son will be The Girls and The Next Together.

I missed Waiting on Wednesday this week so hopefully I’ll get round to posting that in the coming week.

I’ll also be posting a review of The Conjuring 2 so keep your eyes peeled for that!

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And Finally

I know I featured one of Tinie Tempah’s new tracks a couple of weeks ago, but he’s just come out with another catchy tune and I’m loving it. It makes me want to go to Nandos. You’ll see what I mean when you listen to it.

Caitlin (1)

A Novel Discussion: How Important Are Characters Clothes?

A Novel Discussion

I recently reviewed Carrie Ryan’s YA Mystery Daughter of Deep Silencewhich I gave 3/5 due to its lacklustre characters and plot. However, one thing I didn’t like about the novel that I didn’t actually mention was the style of one of the characters. Sounds petty, I know, but as soon as Greyson Wells, the love-interest, was described as wearing ‘pressed khakis and a light pink button-down shirt’ to a posh fundraiser, I knew I would never grow to ‘swoon’ over this supposedly handsome love interest. Not a chance.

Who wears khakis to a respectable event? What are you do wearing those monstrosities? I immediately imagined the short khakis, not the long trousers, which I’m presuming he’s wearing because it’s summer and they’re by the beach, but still. Unacceptable. And khaki with pink? Don’t even go there.

Yes, I am well aware that I sound like the fashion police right now, but of course I’m exaggerating (just a little). I’m pretty sure ‘pressed khakis’ are much more popular in the USA (where the novel is set) than the UK, so khakis might sound extremely normal to any American reader. In fact, when I google ‘pressed khakis’, there are only results for American retailers, no British ones. But for me, it just sounds like a fashion disaster. Invest in some nice suit trousers, Greyson Wells, not khakis. I think of khakis and I see Donald Trump, and I really don’t want to imagine the love-interests in novels as young Donald Trump’s.

So, this got me thinking; how important are the clothes characters wear? Clearly Greyson Wells’ fashion sense was enough to put me off him a little, but his personality wasn’t great either. Sure, if he’d had a great personality, I’d have forgiven the khakis, because I read novels to learn about and enjoy these fictional people, not lament over their dress sense. But still, it clearly affected my overall attraction to him as a character.

Of course, in Fantasy or Sci-Fi novels, clothes are often used to convey status, such as the use of flashy armour, family insignia’s, jewellery. Even today, clothes still convey status. A man wearing an Armani suit? Must be rich. Maybe a businessman. Or a celebrity.

Let’s use a TV programme as an example here. Arya Stark in Season 1 of Game of Thrones wears a thick cloak, a fresh dress, her hair clean and plaited. Arya Stark in the most recent Season is wearing rags, her hair limp and greasy, her skin dirty. You don’t need to watch Game of Thrones to understand that something bad has happened to Arya between these two stills. Clothes show status, but I don’t like Arya any less for being dirty and in rags. So why did Greyson Wells’ outfit put me off him?

Maybe I expected him to dress well because his father is a rich senator, but wealth doesn’t equate fashion sense (yes, Donald Trump, I mean you). Or maybe, because he’s the love-interest, I expect him to dress in a style that I like on men. Just a normal suit would have sufficed. But I can’t expect every girl in every book to dress how I do, or every boy to dress how my boyfriend does.

However, you do expect a love-interest to be one thing: handsome, in some way or another. I don’t expect every man in every novel to look like Tom Hardy, although I can dream, but they do need to have something that’s attractive about them. Whether that be their face, their personality, their physique or style, you want to be attracted to them, you want to root for them to end up with the other main character, be they man or woman, if there’s a romance.

Let’s take another example from a TV series, Peaky Blinders:

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Now, let’s ignore the fact that Cillian Murphy is very pretty and focus on the clothes. Clean, sharp (I’m not talking about the razor blades in their caps here), layered. You know they’re organised, that they care about looking good, that they have money. Their suits say power and confidence. Clothes tell us immediately what someone is like before they’ve even opened their mouth. John, on the left, hat slightly askew – what does that imply? That he breaks the rules? You’d be right about that, but then again they all do. Tommy, in the middle, hat straight, arguably a nicer waistcoat than John’s – he’s the leader. Arthur, right, coat buttoned-up – things he wants to hide? Yes, but I do watch the show, so I’m probably just reading into it. But still, you see what I mean, their clothes can tell us what they’re like. And also, those suits are way more attractive than khakis and a pink shirt. I’d make my boyfriend dress like the Peaky Blinders if I could (yes I would, Mark).

So how important are the clothes that characters wear? In my opinion, quite important. They tell you something about the character. Even if it’s a knight in armour, you know they’re strong and respected. Clothes will tell you if someone conforms or rebels, what their personality may be like, how much they value their appearance.

On the other hand, some authors never tell us what their characters are wearing. Do I mind? No, I just imagine them how I like, or how I think best fits their personality. Yet this still proves the importance of clothes; not just as something to cover people up with, so characters aren’t running about naked in our heads as we read a book, but so that we can project what clothes we like and want onto them. It gives us a sense of ownership, makes us like them more. In the end, clothes, to me, are an important factor of characterisation. But does it matter a lot? No, unless your character is personality-less and dresses like Donald Trump, in which case, yes, it matters a lot.

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So, over to you; how important are the clothes characters wear? Let me know in the comments below, whether you agree or disagree with me, I’d love to hear some other opinions!

Caitlin (1)