How To Find A Book Outside Your Comfort Zone
All it takes is a quick walk though my home library (see: books stacked on literally every shelf and surface, in an order that only makes sense to me) for my bookish tastes — aka: my reading comfort zone — to become pretty clear. I have shelf upon shelf of memoir; stacks of fiction that somehow never topple over; plenty of biography, poetry, political nonfiction, yoga and wellness… and with the exception of a stray graphic novel or YA title, that’s about it. It’s clear that I love my literary comfort zone, and I really, really tend to stay in it.
But as all book-lovers know, a true bibliophile recognizes when it’s time to branch out — expanding your tastes, shaking up your reading routine, and reading books outside your comfort zone. It’s scary, I know. We’re wading through uncharted pages here, and for someone who doesn’t usually read, say, fantasy, or graphic novels, or environmental nonfiction, you’re probably a little skeptical about what you might find there. Plus, there’s the looming question: how do you even find a book outside of your comfort zone, in the first place? Diving into any ol' genre and just picking up the first thing you find there doesn’t seem too reliable a method of selecting your next great — if unexpectedly so — read. (Although, it can be.)
Never fear, bookworms. I’ve got you covered. Below are nine ways to find a book outside your comfort zone. Good luck!
1. Join A Book Club
Joining a book club (or starting your own!) is a surefire way to read outside your comfort zone — and as a bonus, you already have a group of fellow readers to discuss your experience with. The best book clubs are the ones designed to give each member a chance to share their own, unique reading interests; so be sure each month you rotate who selects the group read. Or, check out an online book club. Bustle has our very own: Bustle's American Woman Book Club, which you can learn more about by clicking the link.
2. Only Read Books That Have Been Recommended To You By Other Readers
Sounds scary, I know. The trick to this one is to make sure you’re asking a variety of people, not just the besties who share your reading tastes. Ask for book recommendations from friends, family, the folks you work with, people on social media, your local librarian, the Starbucks barista — whoever comes to mind. Then set aside a few weeks (or months, depending on how many recs you get) to read only the books that have been recommended to you by other people. And hey, return the favor by recommending some back.
3. Check Out Recent Book Award Winners
You could spend years only reading the winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature — an endeavor that would transform your reading life for sure. But the Nobel is far from the only coveted lit prize. And if you don’t want to read all the way back to 1901 (when the first Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded) check out the recent winners of awards like the Man Booker Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, the Hugo Award, the National Book Award, and others. Each award has its own, unique criteria, so you’ll definitely add a diversity of books to your TBR pile.
4. Try An Immigrant Author Or a Book In Translation
You can make your way around the world with this one — through books! Consider tackling a book from every continent, or if you’re feeling super ambitions (and have some time in your reading life to dedicate to this goal) a book from every country. You don’t have to read through them all at once either. Just having the list — and the books — on hand will allow you to add immigrant authors or books in translation into your regularly scheduled reading routine.
5. Read Only Debut Writers
This is a fun one: not only are you getting to know a brand-new writer, you’re also supporting a debut author — something that, as a reader myself, I think is super important. There are tons of organizations that give out first book awards, so consider checking out the previous winners of awards like the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, the Guardian First Book Award (discontinued last year), the Lambda Literary Award for Debut Fiction, and more. Or, just search for debut authors online — about a million lists of amazing books will pop up.
6. Find Out What Your Favorite Authors Are Reading
I am always surprised to find out what my favorite authors are reading, blurbing, and getting inspired by — and it’s rarely what you’d think. Writers hardly ever read only the kinds of books that mirror the ones they write themselves, as I guess we shouldn’t expect they would. But by signing up for their newsletters, checking out their Goodreads profiles, or following them on social media, you’ll get the inside scoop on the books that are piled high on your favorite writers’ own bookshelves, and be inspired to check them out yourself.
7. Shop Outside Your Usual Bookstore
I know, I know — we all have our routines. I love the feeling of walking into my favorite bookstore, knowing exactly what sections I want to check out, grabbing my coffee, and sitting in the same cozy chair I’ve sat in a hundred times before. But the fact is, not all bookstores are the same. Indie bookstores are often more likely to stock books from indie presses; some bookstores focus on a particular theme like feminist or LGBTQ literature — practically guaranteeing that you’ll find more books in those genres there than anywhere else; some bookstores are more mindful of stocking the work of local authors… the list goes on. Something as simple as shopping outside your bookstore comfort zone could lead to you reading outside your reading comfort zone. Give it a try.
8. Actually Narrow Down Your TBR Pile
It sounds counter-intuitive: if you want to expand your reading tastes, why would you narrow down your TBR pile? But by zeroing in on a certain reading goal: buying books only written by women writers this year, or only adding nonfiction written by authors living outside the United States to your lineup, or dedicating an entire month to reading nothing but fantasy novels, you’re actually pushing the boundaries of what your TBR pile usually looks like. A month of fantasy novels (or anything else that doesn’t usually make your list) is a long time — you might realize there’s something there you really love.
9. When All Else Fails: Choose At Random
Find yourself over-thinking or second guessing the books you’re trying to incorporate into your reading comfort zone, and suddenly your favorite activity has become just another thing stressing you out. So don’t! If you’re struggling to put together a game plan for expanding your bookish horizons, then stop planning and start pulling books off the shelves. The next time you’re in a bookstore, grab three books — each from a different section of the store — at random. Maybe even do it with your eyes closed (once you’re standing in front of a shelf, that is.) Don’t analyze, just buy. Then read! Quick, easy, and you never know what you might end up with.