If there’s anything I’ve learnt at university, it’s that reading books you otherwise wouldn’t normally try can be really rewarding. A book I love, The Go-Between by LP Hartley, is a book that I would never have read if I hadn’t had to read it for university. Another book, Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend, I wouldn’t have read for the same reason.
What I’m trying to say is: don’t be afraid to read books out of your comfort zone (even if you have to). They can be really rewarding. We read books to learn more, and become more empathetic, so surely reading books you don’t normally pick up is just helping you to become a “better” reader? (If these are the terms we take to mean a “good” reader, of course!)
Let’s talk about what I mean when I say you ‘comfort zone’, though. A ‘comfort zone’, for me, is a book that makes you happy and chilled out. For example, if you like YA books, your comfort zone might be exclusively YA, or perhaps YA and fantasy. Your comfort zone might be exclusively one [sub]genre, or all poetry books, or all prose.
What I’m encouraging you to do, is, essentially read something different. And if you’re not sure where to start: here are some books I suggest.
Magical realism/historical: Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
Yes, this is the book listed above! Lolly Willowes is a fantastic, if odd, magical realism book. I would DEFINITELY recommend it, even if this is the type of book you like! It can also be classed as historical, I think, as it was written and set in the 1920s; so if you exclusively/often read modern day or futuristic texts, this might be one for you to try.
Different/unique/unusual and violent writing style: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
This book is written…weirdly. It’s a dystopian London setting, but has its own kind of language. It can be difficult to get into, but I found it rewarding once I’d got the hang of what I was reading. It’s also a very violent book. I would suggest it if reading violence isn’t your think, though, because it is written in the most beautiful way. (Although Burgess walked out of the premier of it when it was turned into a film because it was so violent. I won’t be watching that, despite ‘liking’ the book.)
Gothic: Florence and Giles by John Harding
This is a book I will always recommend because it is so so creepy and brilliant. Like A Clockwork Orange, Florence and Giles has a rather odd way of writing (although the sequel, The Girl Who Couldn’t Read, is written in standard English). It is about a girl who thinks her brother’s tutor has come back from beyond the grave to haunt them and kidnap her brother. I’m actually checking over my shoulder as I write this because it’s creeped me out so much!
Poetry/Ancient Greek/translation: Poems by Sappho
I read the version by Mary Barnard, but I have a feeling that’s out of print now (although I found it on AbeBooks!). Sappho was an Ancient Greek lesbian poet who wrote beautiful pieces. Only snippets remain now, but they are still delightful to read.
Epic/translation: The Odyssey by Homer
This is one of my favourite books, so of course I have to recommend it. The Odyssey is about as famous as you can get for a translation. I would definitely suggest trying it. Yes, it might take you a long while (which is why ‘epic’ is also written there), but it’s worth it, even just to say that you’ve read it.
Translation/LGBT+/historical : Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjon
This is already on my top ten favourite books of the year. This is a wonderfully written tale, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Moonstone is wonderfully written, set in 1918, LGBT+, and translated from Icelandic. It’s also dedicated to Sjon’s deceased uncle, so it’s kind of a faction novel I guess and also an evocation.
YA: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I could probably recommend an infinite amount of YA books, but this is the one I think is exclusively YA (ie not YA fantasy, YA sci-fi, YA dystopia). It’s a story that’ll keep you hooked, and is a great entry into the genre if you’re not too sure on it.
MG (middle grade): Wonder by RJ Palacio
This is such a great tale about Auggie. It’s a middle grade book, which means that it’s aimed at children between about 11 – 15. However, I firmly believe that MG is for any age and anybody. Most MG books are absolutely fab, so even if you want something different than Wonder, there are so many recommendations out there.
I’m going to stop my personal recommendations now, but I’m going to direct you to the Huffington Post, who recommend 5 books I’ve never read before, and also forreadingaddicts. But just a quick Google, heading to the library, or even asking a friend, colleague or professor, will give you loads of recommendations. Read outside of your comfort zone! You’ll never know what you’ll discover. #ClichéMuch?