Reading outside my comfort zone

I hadn’t really thought about reading outside of my comfort zone this year, but there have, over the years, been a number of books I’ve thought about reading but haven’t, because, if I’m honest with myself, I’m a little scared of them.  And I’m not even sure what I mean by scared. 

I’m talking about books that look interesting but feel like they might be … tough reads.

A little while ago I came across this Stephen King quote: “I sometimes think that people don’t challenge themselves very hard to read stuff that’s a little bit more textured or nuanced.” And I thought to myself, Oh, wait! That’s me.

And then I thought, what’s wrong with a more challenging book, one that’s more textured, more nuanced? Nothing. I just don’t read them.

So I thought maybe I would, this year.

First author I’m tackling? Haruki Murakami. Mainly because when Ti writes about any of his works, I immediately think to myself, ooh, I’ve got to read that book. She makes him sound so good: strange and quirky, and the thing is, I like strange and quirky.

As Ti puts it, she’s a Murakami groupie, and she’s very good at it. Very good indeed. A couple of years ago she had a readalong of Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and I’ve always kicked myself for not joining in back then. I really wanted to, but something held me back.

I have one of Murakami’s short story collections, and have read a few of the stories in it, but I’ve never taken on an entire novel of his before. Thankfully, Ti has promised she will be there for me if I get stuck in any of Murakami’s books. She recommended I start with After Dark and while I was on my library’s website, I decided to put a hold on The Strange Library as well, since that’s his newest book (although I think it might be a better idea to buy my copies of Murakami, so I can mark them up and indulge in all the marginalia I want).

The Strange Library arrived first – I picked it up from the library on Friday. My husband and I are trying this thing where we’re going to start doing some of the things that the other is interested in. So that means I’ll be going to more concerts and music things, and he’s going to read more. We were sitting at my desk, trying to pick a book, and he saw The Strange Library and decided he’d like to give it a try, too.

strange library

So he read it this morning. Which meant, of course, that I had to read it sooner rather than later. So I did. (It helped that The Strange Library is really a novella. Plus it has illustrations.)

And I liked it! It was strange and quirky and best of all, highly readable. I even wrote down a quote from it that I liked (since I couldn’t mark it up, it being a library copy and all). I put it on an index card because I’m trying this index card note-taking system I found online. So it’s my first card.

“At the same time, my anxiety had turned into an anxiety quite lacking in anxiousness. And any anxiety that is not especially anxious is, in the end, an anxiety hardly worth mentioning.”

I really love that line.

The ending, though – there were so many different ways to read that ending. It made me think. I reread it several times. There it was, in its small font (while the rest of the story was done in a much larger font) and so even the choice of font size could have so many meanings. And ultimately, there’s a lot of fun in letting your mind bring up all these possible connections. Even though there’s no way you can really know whether any of those connections are “the” one.

As for my husband? He’s not much of a fiction reader, so this might not have been the best choice for him to start our “book club of two”. He thought it was okay. He says if he’d read it in university, he might have gotten excited about it, because he’d be trying to find all these themes in it. And he thought there were cultural aspects to it that were thought-provoking. But mostly he thought it was just okay. He’s not too keen on reading another Murakami, though.

He’s reading Trigger Warning now. Which is definitely not a book that’s out of MY comfort zone. I’m looking forward to seeing what he thinks of Neil Gaiman’s short story writing.

And I’m looking forward to reading After Dark. More Murakami!

Do you try to read out of your comfort zone?

15 thoughts on “Reading outside my comfort zone

  1. Suey

    Good luck with this endeavor! Sounds fun. I don’t know that I read out of my comfort zone very much. I’m not exactly sure what that is even. I’ll let you know I figure it out! Meanwhile, I can’t wait to hear about your music/concert adventures! :)

  2. rhapsodyinbooks

    I suppose it depends how you define “out of my comfort zone.” For example, I hate reading fiction about torture of women, but I think it’s important to know about it in real life. But I’d rather not have it added to a gazillion books (especially crime books). With Murakami, I can hardly follow his sentences! So is that out of my comfort zone or just writing I don’t like? I’m not sure!

    1. Belle Wong Post author

      That’s a good question. It really does depend on how you defined “out of my comfort zone”. I think my definition is more a book that I’m interested in, but I’ve been avoiding because I think it will be too big a commitment on my part – whether that’s because it’s a big book that’s not in the normal genres I read, or because it’s a topic I’m not as comfortable reading or whether I think it might be a challenge. When I started reading dystopia a few years ago, that was reading out of my comfort zone because I don’t like dystopia in general but there were a handful of titles that looked interesting. But if they hadn’t looked interesting to me, I wouldn’t have counted it as reading out of my comfort zone!

  3. Ti

    I love that you gave him a try. I think he is intimidating to a lot of readers but so many of his books are simply written. It’s just his ideas that are kind of out there. He crosses the reality line often and sometimes without warning, although with Wind-Up every time you heard the bird you knew you were in another world.

  4. Ti

    I should add, that the Wind-Up read-along was more interesting because of the readers who joined from around the world. I had folks from Australia, Japan, China, Africa. It was crazy to think of all those countries reading his work.

  5. Random Michelle

    That’s actually an intriguing question.

    I avoid, for example, dystopias, not because they are hard, but because I feel miserable while reading them and often for days after. And I avoid horror because I HATE being scared.

    I also avoid true crime and books about horrifying subjects, because they make me depressed and miserable. I feel as if listening to and reading the news about the things that happen in the world is penance enough, and I should be allowed to not read books that make me miserable.

    That said, I love mysteries and thrillers, possibly because they tend to have a satisfying conclusion where the killer gets his just desserts. So it’s not murder and mayhem that distresses me, just misery I suppose.

    1. Belle Wong Post author

      I feel the same way about dystopias – they’re often so cheerless. But a few years ago there were a couple of titles I thought looked interesting, so I ended up reading them. They turned out to be good picks because they weren’t all about misery. But I’m with you on not liking to read books that make me feel miserable.

  6. Bernadette

    There are some things I avoid for the same reasons as Random Michelle (e.g. true crime – I like to pretend the only crimes are fictional ones) – I don’t make any effort to read the things outside my comfort zone that fall into this category

    There are other things I avoid for the reasons you (and Mr King) identify – they would challenge me – I’m trying to make a bit more of an effort to read stuff in this category but honestly not a massive effort. Reading is my fun time. I have lots of other things in my life that challenge me (some I enjoy some are pure hard work) but reading is the thing I do that’s just for me and I don’t want it to be a chore. I used to be in a book club that read nothing but this kind of book (most of it what someone elese I know calls mis lit – all gloomy ‘literature’ where everyone is miserable and nothing happens) and one day I just decided NO MORE. Now I read what I think I will enjoy. I don’t care if other people don’t think it’s highbrow enough or that I’m wasting my time – it’s my time to waste :)

    1. Belle Wong Post author

      Same here, Bernadette. I don’t consider something I’m not really interested in as being a challenge or outside my comfort zone (I just think I’ll be bored by them, which isn’t much of a challenge and isn’t a comfort thing either!). It’s really about books that look interesting but I know they’ll be more of a challenging read. I’ve had a tendency for a while now to just avoid those kinds of books.

  7. jilllora

    Hey, if you still want to read The Wind Up Bird Chronicles, I’d be up for a readalong! After Pet Sematary, of course. 😉 I just read both The Strange Library and 1Q84…loved the first but not the second. The only other Murakami I’ve read is Kafka on the Shore, and Wind Up Bird has been on my list.

    1. Belle Wong Post author

      I’d love to, Jill! I mostly read books from the library but I think I’ll buy a copy of Wind Up Bird Chronicles so I can mark it up. So we’d be looking at end of April, beginning of May, right?

      1. jilllora

        Yay!! Why don’t we plan for May, so there’s a few weeks break between the two? That should give me plenty of time to find it, since I know it’s hiding on the shelves somewhere… 😉

        1. Belle Wong Post author

          Sounds good to me! And I’m going to leave the hashtag in your hands 😉 (I’ve already started stockpiling pictures of my cats for #gangstercats … Well, okay, I’ve got one so far …)


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