Most of us love learning. Whether actively (like attending that woodworking class you’ve been meaning to try for years) or passively (such as throwing on a YouTube tutorial video while tidying up your living space), access to information on building new skills is readily available to us. Why, then, does it often feel so daunting to read outside of one’s comfort zone?
Let’s define comfort zone first. When used here, I am referring to genres. Most people stick a genre and stay in it, for months or years at a time, when it comes to reading. They explore sub-genres and sub-sub-genres, but only rarely venture outside of the safety of this genre-woven net. Picking up a mystery might be easier for someone who enjoys romantic suspense, for example, than it might be for an avid fan of literary fiction to try out a new high fantasy novel series.
Whatever genre has drawn you in, it can be difficult to get out – and book-buying algorithms don’t make this easy! They show you more of what you already know you like, and less of what you haven’t previewed, clicked on, or purchased at all, making it difficult to branch out in the ever-expanding forest of reading options.
Reading for Writing
1. Read and research reviews
Review aggregate sites like Book Marks, Comic Book Roundup, Reedsy Discovery or book review sharing apps like The StoryGraph can aid in your search for new reads. These sites are regularly updated by professional reviews or avid users, meaning you can access tons of information about any and every title that catches your eye. Click on a cool cover or interesting title and see where it takes you.
Book vloggers (or booktubers) who share content on YouTube are also a great choice; some review one book per video for an in-depth experience, while others will go over everything they read in a month or even a year, allowing you to learn a lot and get someone else’s opinion in a short amount of time!
2. Wander into a bookstore
Going to your local bookstore and asking the booksellers for recommendations can be a huge help. Saying something like, “I loved [popular paranormal romance title here], but I’m looking to try something a little different. Maybe still with [insert paranormal creature of your choosing here], but…” and seeing where the conversation leads you can open a world of possibility.
If all else fails, simply wander! This also works in your local library (shoutout to librarians everywhere). And, on that note, if you have an account, you can connect OverDrive to your e-reader and access thousands of books, for free. Try as many as you like, at no financial risk.
3. Turn to TikTok
We also recommend getting on BookTok! Readers and writers alike flock to this social media site to share quick reviews, engage with their audiences, and recommend dozes of books – many of which have gained explosive popularity by blowing up on the platform. Plus, there’s plenty of laughs to be had here.
Once you’ve found a book outside of your zone, great! Now all you must do is read it. I recommend having a “backburner book” nearby – one from your preferred genre, something you’re re-reading, or the next instalment in favourite series to grab and flip through if you find yourself a little overwhelmed by the new title. It’s totally normal to find it taxing to process new information – especially if you’ve moved from something as drastic as litfic to epic fantasy sagas! Take a break, refresh, and try again later. And, of course, if the book isn’t for you, there’s no shame in adding it to your DNF pile.
Remember, reading is a skill like any other. It takes time to develop an unconscious understanding of the common tropes, images, and vocabularies that are used in different genres – and even within the same genre, these can vary. Keep an eye out for our sub-genre breakdown series for more information (and a refresher) on Romance, Mystery, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, and Literary Fiction sub-genres.
My final world of advice? Be patient with yourself and practice, practice, practice! We’re confident you’ll be surprised by what you find yourself diving into once you set foot in new waters.