Monday, September 2, 2019

Ten Books I Enjoyed That Were Outside My Comfort Zone

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This week we're talking about books we enjoyed that were outside of our usual reading comfort zone. Back in 2016 I talked about recent reads that were outside my comfort zone, but this time I'm trying to look at the broad range of books I've read and figure out which books I've truly liked despite their being outside my usual genres. As I said in that past post, I tend to read pretty broadly, but there are definitely some genres I'm less inclined to pick up.

1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The combination of "fantasy" and "over 600 pages" is generally enough to steer me in the opposite direction, but this book managed to suck me in and then was incredibly rewarding of my patience. Since reading this I've found that I have a taste for "low" fantasy (set in our world with other-wordly elements) over "high" fantasy (set in a made-from-scratch other world), but I'm still not keen to pick up much in this genre and definitely not if it requires a time investment. This, though? This was stellar.

2. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
I find a lot of literary fiction to be good but not great; I usually enjoy the read but it doesn't stick with me. I also tend not to be a big fan of books without much plot. (I really did not like Mrs. Dalloway.) Yet I found so much to love in this quiet story about the lives and friendship of two couples, and I'm glad to have picked this up.

3. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
I stay far, far away from horror as an HSP, but I gave this one a go after it was recommended by a friend. There were definitely a few horrifying moments, and one scene I had to skim over, but on the whole this was a well-written, intriguing, satisfying book, and I'm so glad I didn't miss out on it!

4. How to Be Successful without Hurting Men's Feelings by Sarah Cooper
There are a lot of these tongue-in-cheek humor books out there, and they're amusing to flip through for 90 seconds in a bookstore, but I rarely want to sit down and read one, and when I do I generally find that the humor gets old very quickly. This one, though, I had put a hold on (via ebook) when I first heard about it, so I read the whole thing on my phone one afternoon and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Cooper manages to maintain the sarcastic "advice" tone throughout while delivering a pitch-perfect takedown of sexism, harassment, and double standards for women in the workplace.

5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
I don't read much in the way of true crime (see above re: my sensitive nature) but I could see after reading this why it's considered a classic; it's extremely well written. I'm still not sure how I feel about the "nonfiction novel" as a category, but I'm glad to have read this nonetheless.

6. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
I read very little science fiction, partly because I'm a world-building snob and partly because a lot of it has, shall we say, problematic angles. (I'll spare you my rant on Leviathan Wakes right now.) At first I thought there would be too much to keep track of in this book, but once I got my head around the book's universe, I genuinely enjoyed everything from the explorations around gender to the characters' high-stakes political dilemmas.

7. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
I don't read much fantasy, and I especially don't read YA fantasy, because the percentage of books I've enjoyed in this genre is minuscule compared to those I've suffered through. It was only because I kept seeing this enthusiastically recommended all over the blogosphere that I picked it up, and then I managed to get two men in their 30s hooked on the series as well. It's just so good, particularly on audiobook.

8. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
There are very few books referred to as "sagas" that I've actually enjoyed, but this was one of them. (Maybe because it manages to stay within a single character's lifetime so it doesn't jump around quite as much as "multi-generational" sagas.) It was immersive and heart-wrenching and unpredictable and so damn good.

9. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I have a weird thing about time travel plots, but after reading this I realized that I only dislike plots with voluntary time travel, where a character is intentionally going back in time to change something. Henry's time travel is involuntary, and he's not able to change anything that's already happened, so that alleviated my time travel-related anxiety. I'm also not a big fan of literary fiction with love stories because there are so many ways they can be done poorly, but somehow this book managed to hit exactly the right spot for me.

10. Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson
I very rarely pick up anything that could be considered a "celebrity memoir" because 1) I just don't follow celebrities closely enough to know who most of them are and 2) the ones I've read have been hit or miss. Wilson's memoir was interesting, though, because although it was undoubtedly her celebrity that got the book published (and she does have some fun stories from the set of Matilda), it's really a fantastic, beautiful memoir that's just about life, and surprisingly I found her life very relatable.

What is your reading comfort zone, and what's outside of it?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Kaffir Boy and Reading People
Five years ago I was reading: The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, Someone Knows My Name, and White Teeth
Ten years ago I was reading: The Poisonwood Bible

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