For a lot of people, explaining what they enjoy reading is easily done with one or two words: science fiction, fantasy, romance, nonfiction. Through no fault but my own (yes, you read that correctly) my own explanation is a little more complex. Upon graduating from college I realized that I could finally read whatever I wanted since my time wasn’t occupied with literary analysis, and I started keeping track of the books I was reading for fun; looking back at what I read in 2016, the variety present among the patterns is rather striking.
To deny oneself the ability to explore all of the possibilities in literature is simply wasting a grand opportunity to grow. I understand people have their favorite genres or authors (Lord knows I do), but remaining static in our reading only keeps us in one place as human beings. A case for reading the same author or genre is easily made, but why should we diversify when it is so much more comfortable to remain in what we know?
Reading the same types of books can become stale after a while; noticing common tropes and obvious similarities to other novels has actually turned me off from a book on more than one occasion. Granted, there are authors who seek to push their genres but the vast majority of genre novels by definition use similar plot points and motifs. The reason people continue to write new and exciting stories within genres is to push those boundaries and bring something to the table that hasn’t occurred before.
Similar to those added elements helping to progress the evolution of a genre, reading different types of books expands the range of both our reading and our perspectives. I didn’t read nonfiction for a long time, mostly because my area of study was literature and fiction; through expanding my horizons by forcing (an unfortunate but apt verb) myself into reading nonfiction, I now see its value through its inherent capacity for simultaneous instruction and entertainment.
That being said, I also realize people come to love the elements of specific genres and that this consistency is often comforting to them. I read science fiction and fantasy novels almost exclusively from when I was very young to high school. I loved the escapism these genres afforded me which was essential while I was in my transitional teens.
Though absorbing these imaginative stories helped me to cope with the social and personal struggles of high school, it wasn’t until I started to branch out in my reading that I began to see more of the world, written or otherwise. Thanks to this broadened perspective and willingness to try new things, I can find books I would never have read otherwise. For example, I had originally removed Love in the Time of Cholera from my reading list when I saw it classified as a romance novel. As can be seen in my review, it is so much more than that and if I hadn’t afforded it a second chance and put it back on my list I would have continued to dismiss it incorrectly as just another sappy love story.
Since I overcame my apprehension and took the time to read the book, I now have added credibility to any critiques or opinions I may hold. I have read Twilight and feel this gives me the ability to comment on it rather than dismissing it due to the common consensus among literary snobs. Did I like it? That’s a complicated question. I see its value as a romance novel, if a flawed one, but the supernatural fiction fan in me balks at the very idea of calling the creatures in the book vampires. Again, the credibility of my argument without actually reading the book is moot because I would have no actual experience or evidence from which to draw.
I have a decent track record of selecting books that interest me and I end up enjoying most of them (though not always). Without putting ourselves out there as readers and trying new things, we limit the possibility of growing not only our literary tastes but what we are able to identify with as well. Implementing variety in our reading can expand our worldviews with something as simple as a google search, though nothing compares to the recommendation of a friend or local book seller.
As cozy as reading one genre or type of book can be, there is more to be gained from diversifying our interests than from remaining stagnant and stubborn. We may find characters and stories that speak to us more than anything we have previously encountered, and that in turn may lead us to interactions with real people that we may have shied away from. Adding variety to your reading doesn’t have to be like a bucket of cold water in your face; ease into it and just try with one book that overlaps with some of your interests but takes place in a different genre; you won’t regret it.