Reading beyond your genres and comfort zone

Onlyoublog_outside of genreI am tempted to get Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Cardespecially after seeing it on sale for the Kindle.

Ender’s Game, of which the movie version is out in the theaters right now, is a YA novel about a brilliant boy who’s been drafted to train as a soldier to fight future alien attacks. It’s classified under Science Fiction and, on Amazon, under Science Opera, something I have never even heard of. It’s also the kind of book that is ordinarily not my cup of tea and not up my alley.

I couldn’t admit that I wasn’t really into science fiction until I was an adult. Growing up I hung out with a group of girlfriends who were obsessed with Star Wars. Succumbing to peer pressure I suppose, I followed them blindly to stand in long lines to see every sequel to Star Wars 6+ times. Secretly I wondered if I was missing something.

So over the years I’ve pretty much stuck to non-fantasy reading, having a hard time even with dystopian fiction and magical realism.

Until a couple of years ago, when more than one intelligent adult friend told me that I HAD to read The Hunger Games. Dystopia and dying children. You pretty much can’t turn me off more than that. But I gave it a go, because I trusted my mother-girlfriends who all seemed to react to the series with an emotion I had honestly never seen when it came to books.

I won’t say that I LOVED The Hunger Games the way my friends did, but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it enough to have bought the whole boxed set (though my interest didn’t sustain me enough to finish the third book…probably because I had spaced the books out too much) and to have waited for and watched the movie soon after it opened.

The best part, though, is that after reading The Hunger Games I noticed myself paying more attention to books that I normally never took a second glance at. Other dystopian literature. Stories about war and terrorism. Manga. Science stories. Books about religion. Stories about places I had no familiarity with. Writers whose nationalities I knew little about. Writers whom I’d always considered intimidating. In fact, the less I knew about something, the more likely I was to want to check it out.

I’ll admit that if Ender’s Game is only about aliens, I may not be so interested. But it’s also about the pressures to perform and satisfy adults and the isolation of being taken away from your peers to train to such a high level. That story line appeals to both the mother and daughter in me. And the aliens? Well, it’s an excuse to let my hair down, and I remember how good that’s felt the few times I’ve done it 😉

What is normally your cup of tea and not your cup of tea? Have you tried to read beyond your usual genres? If you have, how has that gone?

29 thoughts on “Reading beyond your genres and comfort zone

      • Oh, how embarrassing. I knew that someone had but didn’t go back and see if it was you! I don’t think you’re supposed to love dystopian fiction. You’re more or less supposed to be chilled by it. I think we had a brief discussion about Handmaid when you reviewed it. By definition, it’s a bleak view of the future. It is often used as some sort of teaching point–if we don’t watch out, this is likely to be our future world. I don’t read a lot of it, but the way I judge whether it’s any good or not is by how much it seems to resound with the current state of affairs, and Handmaid just seems to get more and more relevant. Sorry for the boo-boo! I almost looked, but then I got lazy!

        There is SOME dystopian fiction that tries to end up with a more positive outlook. The only book that leaps immediately to mind is Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I have to confess, though, that I didn’t like the emphasis on the religious vision that she has.

        • Oh, no worries at all, Kay, as I also forgot the discussion (this is nothing about you but all about me and my memory, especially of late) we had! I remember it well now, as you had mentioned the point about our current issues in the government with reproductive rights. My apologies too!

          Your explanation here about dystopian lit is very helpful. I’m going to read The Road soon since I’ve had it on my shelf for some time now. I think I’ll know better what to look for. I’ll also check out Parable of the Sower. Thanks!

  1. I had to laugh when I read your reaction to fantasy and dystopian fiction. I had a similar response when I read Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay earlier this year ( I seem to rarely stray outside my well-worn reading grooves, but occasionally when I do I am happily surprised. I tried my first graphic novel (Essex County by Jeff Lemire) last month and loved it! That said, every other graphic novel I’ve looked at since then has not inspired me at all.

    • Thanks, Lee-Anne! (I just visited your link and thought your reaction was pretty funny too, and would be similar to mine.) I’m also reading a graphic novel right now, recommended to me by a friend studying in Japan after I told her what my reading interests were. She recommended to me the English translation of a popular manga about mother-daughter relationships. I needed a few minutes to adjust when I read it, but so far I like it and am appreciating the different sort of enjoyment that I can get from a manga. I’m glad you found one that you loved! I will have to look that one up.

  2. Mystery is like candy for me – ha! However, I recently started reading Sarah Addison Allen and Lisa Van Allen – mystical, whimsical, fantasy – did not really think I would go that direction, but glad I did. I think it is good to mix it up once in a while. The one book that really took my by SURPRISE was The Shack – it is that kind of book that you cannot explain because it has a different meaning for everyone that reads it! Happy Tuesday:)

  3. Thank you for this encouragement to step out of the genre comfort zone! I think we all should challenge ourselves in this way to some extent, if we’re able to; I need to do it more, at least. My tastes sound very similar to yours. I couldn’t imagine liking The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game (is everything a “game” now?), but I tried them and liked them. I think dystopian and sci fi work for me when they’re just as much about relatable characters as about the world they’re in.

    • Yes, exactly! I think the reason I stick with my “real life” fiction is because I really need to be able to relate to my characters and what they’re going through. But if I can get that from sci fi, then that works for me.

      I’m glad you enjoyed Ender’s Game too, and nice connection you pointed out about the “game” in the titles 😉

      Thanks for stopping by, Anna!

  4. For a long time, I kept turning to familiar genres; mysteries and women’s fiction. It is only recently that I’ve started reading other things too. It’s been good so far and I’m glad to have discovered new things. I’ve found the reviews of dystopian books pretty interesting if a little disturbing at times. Your review of The Handmaid’s Tale was one such review, and I think I’ll read it some time soon. As far as the Hunger Games trilogy is concerned, the first two books were captivating, but Mockingjay was a big disappointment; the author told us about happenings instead of showing, especially in the end. But perhaps that was because of a first-person narrative.

    • Thanks, Akshita! Now I don’t regret not having finished Mockingjay. I’m glad you’ll try The Handmaid’s Tale. Although I don’t usually like to read such bleak stories, I think dystopian fiction is good for making you think. I too want to explore more of it.

  5. Sometimes I make myself read a book I wouldn’t normally read, just for fun. And, if it has been well chosen, I usually end up liking it. But it doesn’t stop me from going back to my regulars. It’s fun to do every once in a while, though.

  6. I’ve never thought of Ender’s Game as YA — it’s definitely geared toward mature readers. Frightening and amazing. I hate the author’s politics, but I’ve loved the book for years. I loved the book so much that I was beyond annoyed that they made it into a movie.

    I love the idea of reading outside your genre box, even though my own foray into romance didn’t go so well this year. Sigh.

    As for The Road . . . it was required reading in one of my grad classes. It’s a good book, but . . . shudder. I won’t read it again. The images are too real and I’ve never gotten them out of my head.

    • Ha ha, I thought you were very brave to venture into romance 😉

      Thanks for your input about Ender’s Game and The Road. What you wrote here (along with what little I have read about it) is enough for me to set it aside…I think I know what you are generally referring to and that would be too difficult for me to read.

  7. I like clever detective stories, especially Jeffrey Deaver, and occasionally horror, but I will read just about anything as long as it is well written. I get easily put off if it isn’t. A book I read which is outside my normal tastes but was absolutely brilliant was “The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap” by Paulette Mahurin. I recommend it.
    By the way, I think you might enjoy “Me & Gus on the Roof of the World”, by….well it was me actually – hehehehe shameless plug there!

    • I haven’t read it yet. Rushdie is on my list of “writers that intimidate me.” 😉 I do want to make a stab at it in the new year though. Good luck with your transition to literary fiction. Sometimes you just have to find the right book. I feel the same way about classics, but reading East of Eden was a lot more fun that I expected and made me more hopeful.

  8. Cecilia,

    I tend to gravitate toward memoirs. Lately, though I’ve been trying my hand at YA. I just purchased Divergent.

    Your post will definitely inspire me to consider more books outside of my reading routine. It is the best way to learn about different ideas/characters. I am guilty of trapping myself in the world that I know already.

    • I’m glad, Rudri! It’s only natural to go to what appeals to you. I hope you enjoy Divergent and other YA novels. I’ve heard wonderful things about Eleanor & Park too.

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