We are often creatures of habit, especially with regards to our choices in books. For me, I have a habit of going back to Nicholas Sparks books again and again. Call me cliché or stereotypical, but I've always been drawn to a good love story. Not just any love stories, I'm talking full on boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, and then boy-gets-girl-back-with-the-grandest-of-all-gestures-and-they-ride-off-into-happily-ever-after. Or in the case of Nicholas Sparks books, boy-dies-in-tragic-accident-and-the-story-ends. Either way, we all have a specific type of book that we're drawn to and can't seem to let go of.
It's not that we need to let go of our genre comfort zones completely, but maybe it's time we venture out into the world — aka the local bookstore — and live a little. Over the last year, I've discovered how to branch out and find books that I wouldn't always jump at the chance to read. Small steps that get you to shift your view little by little actually make a big difference to opening up your reading world. You may discover that underneath the romance-obsessed-super-nerd is a budding mystery-reader just waiting to get out.
Here are a few ways to shake off your old habits if you're ready to break out of your genre rut:
Pick A Topic That Makes You Uncomfortable
I know we’ve all heard the timeless cliché that “life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” but the truth bears repeating. Find a topic that you never dared pick up before, because those are sometimes the books that become your favorite stories. Sure, maybe you’ll pick up a science fiction novel and find out that you do, in fact, hate it, but at least you tried. Every book may not light a fire inside your soul, but it will open doors for things you never even considered. Find a book that makes you cringe or laugh, and it might end up being the book beg all of your friends to read.
Choose An Author Whose Views You Disagree With
This one may be the hardest to embrace. Of course, I think we want to know more about those with whom we have a difference of opinion, but it's not our first instinct to pick up a book written by those people. For example, I consider myself a feminist, so you won’t typically find me reading a Donald Trump book (too soon?). However, I can agree that reading a book written by someone I disagree with will clarify my own ideas about life, while also helping build the foundation for a more open outlook.
Remember That Young Adult Books Aren't Just For Teenagers
Anyone who hasn’t read The Fault in Our Stars, Holes, or We Were Liars is missing out on some of the best fiction of this generation. While they may be marked as teen fiction, these books have some of the most provocative and entertaining storylines I've ever read. So, if you don't usually read YA, start now. (Also, it’s totally OK if you fall in love with a teenager who’s a fictional character in a book — at least I hope so.)
Choose A Book That Was Assigned Reading, But That You Never Actually Read
Whoever thought that assigned reading could actually be interesting? Sure, it seems as though every book a teacher ever assigned got automatically blacklisted, however, if you open your mind, this could be the way to finally get yourself to a whole new place in your literary life. Break out the old syllabus and get to reading. You may find that you have a new respect for Wuthering Heights when it isn’t forced upon you.
Read Something That Intimidates You
There are two reasons a book can intimidate you: size or content. You're not alone if you feel like a book is out your league with what you can handle with time or intellectual capacity — I've been there, too. But challenge yourself to take on these titles and read them cover to cover. No book is too big or too sophisticated for you to conquer, I promise.
Choose A Story That Speaks To You
Finding a story that really gets at your essence as a person can be totally empowering. For me, being an African American woman, I find it important to read stories about those who came before me, even if they're tough to read. Although you may read to escape, you might find that reading books from authors who've written powerful stories could be life-altering.
Pick A Person Whom You Admire
There are so many admirable women writing stories these days. Amy Poehler, Lena Dunham, Roxanne Gay, Mindy Kaling... need I go on? Find someone whose story you want to learn and read her book. You might think, “I’m not really into memoir...” but that's the whole point! Find a person you're into, and you might find that the rest falls into place.
Choose A Book About Something You Don't Understand
This may seem a little in-your-face obvious, but trust me — it’s not. We may think we're choosing books about experiences that have nothing to do with our everyday lives, but somehow, they're still connected to us. Go the complete opposite direction and find a book about dinosaurs or astronauts. You might end up really learning something from a character who is your intellectual opposite, or feel charged by an adventure that you'd never experience in your daily life. Whatever it may be, find a story that is disconnected from your reality, and explore someone else’s life for a while.
Judge The Book By Its Cover
Sometimes, in order to get out of choosing the same type of book, you need to pick a book based off of nothing at all. Maybe you just really like the color scheme, or think the girl on the cover is pretty — whatever it is, choose a book simply because you enjoy the cover. Don’t read the back, or go to a certain section in the store; just walk up to the first stand you see and choose a book for its art. It can be so exhilarating reading a book you know nothing about, because the possibilities are endless.
Don’t Be Afraid To Take Risks
In general, just don't be afraid! It'll allow you to take a big leap; for me, it was making the hop from romance to mystery, but for you it might be going from fiction to nonfiction. You’ll always have your go-to genre to fall back on, but take a chance and see what comes of it. You’ll be a better person for it, I promise.
Images: Pedro Ribeiro Simões/flickr; Giphy (4)