In Which I Step Out Of My Literary Comfort Zone

Ask me what kind of books I prefer to read, and I’ll tell you in no uncertain terms: I prefer historical classics, especially English literature, new literary fiction and travel memoirs.  Ask me what books I have no interest in, and I’ll be equally emphatic: bodice-ripping romances and graphic novels hold zero appeal for me.  Ask me about other genres and I might waffle a bit more.

There are two genres in particular that I’m equivocal about: dystopia and fantasy.  Sure, I’ll tell you that I don’t particularly care for them, and that’s true.  I’ll tell you that they won’t be my first choice, and that’s also true.  But I’d be stretching the truth if I said there was nothing in either genre that I have read and liked.

Take dystopia, for instance.  The plots always intrigue me, but then when I finish the books I often feel disappointed for some unidentifiable reason.  Perhaps I’m just not at home in a post-apocalyptic world?  Still, I have read and liked certain dystopic novels.  For instance, The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, was disturbing but engaging at the same time.  When I closed the book, I wished I had checked it out of the library because I never wanted to look at it again, but lately I’ve been contemplating a re-read.  It’s not topping the list at the moment – too many things that I haven’t yet read and want to get to first – but I think I may like it more on a second go-round.  And that’s not to say I didn’t like it the first time; it was very good and I was glued to the book.  But giving it time to settle definitely improved my outlook on the book and made me more willing to re-read it in the future.

Oh, and then there’s The Hunger Games trilogy.  Young adult… and dystopia… two things that I generally don’t go for.  But I absolutely couldn’t put the books down.  I was obsessed, obsessed to a degree I haven’t experienced since the end of the Age of Potter.  I talked my bestie R into reading them because I needed someone to screech at when the first movie trailer came out, and I wanted a foil for “Gale vs. Peeta” debates.  (She was Team Gale, I was Team Peeta.)  Despite not being a dystopia kind of girl, I literally cannot get enough Hunger Games.  (Nor can R, now – she might be more obsessed than me.  I created a monster.)  I could talk all day about the many fascinating messages crammed into these insanely exciting books… but I’ll let you read and discover for yourself.

Then there’s fantasy.  Again, not something I’m typically attracted to.  Oh, I read The Mists of Avalon in high school, sure.  But it’s generally just not something I “go for.”  I haven’t even read The Lord of the Rings and its progeny.  (I plan to, but they never seem to cycle to the top of my list.  I’ll get to them, though, I swear.)  But there are some fantasy books that I’ve read that made me stop and think, maybe I should give this genre a fair shake.  For instance, I recently discovered Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy.  I liked the first book, The Magicians – I wasn’t completely sold, but I did find it amusing, particularly when the characters made fun of Harry Potter.  But the second book, The Magician King, absolutely blew me away and I’m now anxiously awaiting the final installment.  The Magicians trilogy spoofs on The Chronicles of Narnia, which I’ve read many, many times and loved – but I find it hard to consider Narnia fantasy.  To me, Narnia is a classic and a stand-alone masterpiece.

And I guess I can’t claim to be “not a fantasy reader” given my boundless levels of Harry Potter dorkdom.  My Pottermania affliction is widely known.  I’ve dressed up as a member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team (Alicia Spinnet, to be exact – and now you know just what a nerd I am) for a midnight release party.  I just can’t help it.  The Harry Potter books have everything I look for – great characters, humor, an exciting and engaging plot, and good writing (okay, I realize opinions differ on that last point, but I think Rowling’s writing is very good, especially later on in the series).  I can’t help it.  I just love to dive into the world of Hogwarts.  Now, imagine if I never pushed myself outside of my comedy-of-manners comfort zone!  I’d never have found Harry, Ron and Hermione.  And I shudder to think just how boring life would be without those three.

What is your literary comfort zone, and have you ever read and loved a book that pushed you outside of it?  Any dystopia or fantasy novels you’d recommend to me?

9 thoughts on “In Which I Step Out Of My Literary Comfort Zone

  1. My comfort zone is pretty close to yours – perhaps one reason we like each other’s blogs so much! 🙂 But I, too, am a Hunger Games and Harry Potter fan – and I love The Lord of the Rings. (Read them, please!!)

    I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery, but have been reading them more than usual lately. Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series and Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series are two current favorites.

    • LOL, I KNEW that I’d get a comment from you after admitting that I’ve never read “Lord of the Rings,” Katie! 🙂 I do mean to read them, I swear. The TBR list is long and the days are short! But I promise I’m going to read them, sooner rather than later.

  2. I equally love Hunger Games and The Magician King!

    As I’ve admitted…I’m more of a genre reader than anything else. I keep eyeballing A Handmaid’s Tale, but haven’t tried it yet.

    If you’re looking for more dystopic books, Jill at Rhapsody in Books reviews them all the time. I have a couple on request at the library after reading her reviews!

    • Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll check out Jill’s recommendations and might do some adding to my already wildly overgrown TBR list! 🙂 Over the past year I’ve opened myself up to more adventures in genre fiction than I usually do and I’m having a good time with it! Love your blog, by the way.

  3. My comfort zone is light reads – mainly contemporary fiction in the romance genre. I am slowly and steadily trying to break out of it. I can’t say I have been successful, but yes, I have made a start.

    I am wary of classics, non-fiction and fantasy books. I know I am missing out on a great deal of wonderful books by not reading these genres. I am going to try harder in the coming year to do so. 🙂

    You might want to try reading Inkheart and Roald Dahl’s books for some fantasy. Roald Dahl’s books would be more of children’s fiction, actually.

    • I think we have comfort zones for a reason – because that is what we like! And since reading is supposed to be fun, it’s best to stick with what we like, MOST of the time. But there is something to be said for expanding our horizons and trying different things! I love many classics and would be glad to recommend some to you – have you read much Jane Austen? Perhaps that would be a good place to start. I love your Roald Dahl suggestion! I read a few of his books as a child and would love to revisit them. I think I remember reading somewhere that he had done some adult fiction too – must follow up on that and find out if it’s true.

  4. No, I haven’t read any Austen, though I would love to begin. I have her Pride And Prejudice and Persuasion with me. I usually begin one of these two books, read a few chapters, and then give up. This year, I want to try and finish at least one book. The problem is not with the story – I do enjoy the storyline – but with the flowing prose, I guess.

    Yes, Roald Dahl has written quite a few adult fiction books also, but I haven’t read any of them. I have read most of his children’s books, and I LOVE them. My favourites are Matilda, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and The BFG. Please DO read them if you haven’t already. 🙂

    And, oh yes, you SHOULD read Paddington Bear if you haven’t done so already. He is way too cute not to be read. 🙂

    • Between “Pride and Prejudice” and “Persuasion” I would recommend “Pride and Prejudice” first. “Persuasion” is Austen’s final novel and is a bit more somber than her earlier works. I started with “Sense and Sensibility” for my first Austen and loved that, but Lizzie and Mr. Darcy are my favorites.

      Loved “Matilda” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” – and have you read “James and the Giant Peach”? My mom used to read it out loud to her first graders and they loved it – as did I. “Matilda” is my favorite; I love her sweet, bookish nature (and the touch of naughtiness when she punishes her parents – though they deserved it) and I ADORE Miss Honey. I’m putting “The BFG” on my list, though, because I have not read that one. And I agree with you that Paddington Bear is darling! I had a Paddington cuddly toy when I was little. Although my boss recently asked me if I had to choose, would I prefer Pooh or Paddington and my answer was an emphatic “Pooh.” I’ve loved Pooh since I was very, very, very small. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Bookish A to Z Survey | Covered In Flour

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