Discussion: Stepping Outside Your Bookish Comfort Zone

If you’re anything like me, when you’re choosing which book to read next you probably gravitate towards one or two specific genres or topics. For the past four years (since I’ve started blogging!), the genre that I’ve reached for first has been fantasy.

But lately I’ve been feeling a little…bored. When you primarily read one genre for many years, you’re going to encounter a lot of the same old tropes, storylines, and character archetypes. These days it seems like the more fantasy I read, the fewer exciting, original stories I come across. Even though I know intellectually that there are actually more compelling and unique fantasy stories right now than ever before, I’m just a bit burned out on them.

It’s time for me to stretch my wings a bit and start reading more outside my comfort zone. A few weeks ago I decided to set aside my ARC pile so I could read Rachel Caine’s STILLHOUSE LAKE, a mystery/thriller combo that I’d purchased during a Kindle sale. That book completely knocked me off my feet, took me by surprise, and kept me reading late into the night. Trying something outside of my comfort zone got me excited about reading again!

Not only did I “discover” a new genre that I’m keen to read more of, but I’m also feeling enthusiastic about reading fantasy ARCs that only a few days prior I’d thought ho-hum. I can’t help but wonder: if I read outside my comfort zone more often, would it improve my overall reading? With this in mind, I’m going to try reading 2 or 3 books per month that I’d normally never reach for. Let’s see what happens! I’ll be sure to do a write-up of my experience so I can let y’all know how it turns out.

Am I the only one who typically reads the same kinds of books? Do you ever get tired of your genre or subject of choice? I’d love to know your take on things. What do you do when you want to read outside your comfort zone? Where do you turn to for recommendations in a genre you normally wouldn’t read? And of course, do you have any non-fantasy recommendations for this reader? Hit me up, because I’m in the market for some off-the-wall reads.

What do you think about reading outside of your comfort zone? Let me know in the comments!

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  • This is a great question! I would have to say I’m the opposite. I feel like I’ve created a monster for myself by having a primarily SFF blog, and now all I read is SFF, because of my obligations to read review books, when I actually love other genres, especially literary fiction. But review books take all my time, so that’s all I read. I would even love to have time for non fiction. Maybe someday I’ll figure out my “over requesting” problem and strike a better balance😁

    • Thanks, Tammy! I know exactly what you mean about feeling like you’ve created a monster by having a genre-specific blog — I felt the same way before I decided to branch out and review other genres (well, mostly my romance reviews). Admittedly I don’t request that many review books or get that many unsolicited ARCs, so the TBR mountain from publishers isn’t as much of an obstacle for me. Sadly my own TBR pile is a monster of my own making!

  • Greg Hill

    I’m the same way. Fantasy (along with SF) are like my first love of reading, and yet lately I hardly read ANY fantasy. I’ve been reading a ton of thrillers this year. And the occasional YA . And I’m loving it! I have to say I read a lot more widely now since I started blogging- and I’ve noticed I’m very picky about the fantasy I DO read. Like there are some popular series out there that I just have no interest in, so that’s also part of my problem lol. I totally get it though. I think it’s a great idea and I hope you find some awesome new reads!

    • This is exactly the way I want to feel! Excited about reading different genres so that I can get more invested in all the fantasy novels that I want to read. Because I *do* still want to read them, but in kind of a distant way where I can’t imagine myself doing it anytime soon…if that makes sense.

      I used to try to read all the popular fantasy series (especially the big-name YA ones), but I honestly don’t have the time of energy to do that any longer. I’m going to try books from all sorts of genres — I’m thinking mystery, a classic, and maybe some literary Canadian fiction (which I haven’t really read since I finished university). Thanks Greg, I’m looking forward to it! 🙂

  • I love fantasy 😀 The adult ones, the YA too often disappoints :/
    But I have reached out to mystery and sci-fi lately (among all my other genres obvi). Cos those were two I did not read

    • I like both, but lately I’ve been feeling a little tired of them! I’ve really been interested in mysteries lately, and I know I should probably try to read more sci-fi too. Soon we’ll be genre twins! 😀

  • I only read sci-fi/fantasy, but I guess I don’t feel like it’s stale because I read so widely within those genres. Like, there are so many subgenres, crossovers, types of stories/characters, etc. And I really think that reading indie/self-pub helps as well because those are the books more likely to step outside the norm, outside what’s popular at the moment. But I would never tell someone not to try books outside their comfort zone if they want to! I’m glad you’ve found a way to refresh your reading 🙂

    • You definitely have a broad scope when it comes to sub-genres, which I know I’ve always appreciated as a blog reader! 🙂 And good point about indie books and self-pubs, they do seem to break barriers more and stretch the limits of genre, too. Maybe I’ll add an indie book to my list of new things to try in my reading experiment!

  • It’s amazing how reading outside of your norm can recharge your reading life. Blogger and reading challenges have been good for me, in that they force me to read something besides contemporary romances, and I am glad I read outside my zone, because it also exposes me a lot of different things as well.

    • Ooooh, I didn’t even think of reading challenges! That’s a good idea…I should look into joining one that encourages eclectic reading. Maybe int he new year! I’m like you Sam: I love what I love, but I’m not opposed to trying out new things as well. It’s definitely past time for me to try my hand at some off-the-wall (for me, anyway) reading choices!

  • I’m all about SFF normally, and I haven’t read any realistic contemporary fiction since I was a kid. Maybe I should give it a shot again!

    • You know how much I love a challenging RA question! Hahaha. I’ll think this over and see if I can’t rustle up a few contemporary titles for you…something action-packed and epic. Maybe an adventure/thriller combo?

  • From time to time I love reading books from genres I usually don’t look at. A mystery here and there, some non-fiction books and a little bit of SciFi help to keep me interested in new books and prevent me feeling bored.

    • After my reading experiment has concluded, I think I’m going to try doing something similar. I think regularly switching things up will help keep my favourite genres feeling fresh…and it’s a good way to challenge myself, too. 🙂

  • Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

    I think it’s important to read a book outside of your comfort zone every once in a while! Like you, I usually read fantasy. Sometimes though, I get a little bit bored with the stories that all seem to blend together or I just don’t feel like reading a heavy book. So I pick up a different genre. In the past year, I’ve ventured out into historical fiction, contemporary romance, non fiction and classics and discovered some new favorites. Good luck! 😀

    • Yes, exactly! The stories I’ve been reading lately have definitely started to blend together a bit too much for comfort. I’m feeling the edges of a genre-burnout creeping up on me, so I want to try to head that off at the pass. I do love my romance novels, too — especially the funny ones. I’m very excited about the possibility of trying out some non-fiction and classics though, since it’s been ages since I’ve read either.

      Thanks, Jolien! 🙂

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    To move beyond my preferred genre(s) I would need a book capable of exerting an extraordinary pull, one that called out to me in a very loud voice. Moreover, I choose to gravitate toward sf/fantasy and (in a lesser measure) horror after decades in which I read many other genres: the ones I settled on, in my opinion, are the ones most likely to offer the wider variety of stories and characters.

    • Oh yes, we’re in agreement on that: I’ve settled into my preferred genre (at least for the foreseeable future) and I don’t see myself moving away from fantasy — and other speculative fiction — permanently. But I have come across a number of books lately that’ve piqued my interest much more than I would’ve expected from non-fantasy novels, and I’m eager to explore them! I particularly relish the idea of “meeting” characters in new genres who remind me of my favourite fantasy MCs, like Toby Daye. 🙂

  • Karen

    *nods in agreement*

    I read so many of the same type of books that it feels like there isn’t anything new out there.

    Now that I’m caught up on review books, I’m trying to read outside my comfort zone a bit more. Thrillers are one genre that I’m giving a try and I plan on buying Stillhouse and I’ve been dabbling in manga.

    It’s always mixed results when I do that though. *My* genre is my genre for a reason. It’s what I like lol but it’s good to stretch your reading wings a bit especially to get out of a reading slump.

    For What It’s Worth

    • That’s exactly how I’m starting to feel, Karen. And I don’t *want* to feel that way about fantasy novels, dang it! So branching out is starting to feel inevitable, to ensure that I don’t become completely burned out.

      I’ve still got my review books to wade through, but I’m excited to try more genres: mystery, non-fiction, literary books, the sky’s the limit! I can’t wait to hear your take on Stillhouse Lake, I thought it was a wild ride. As you said, it’s always tougher picking out the winners in a genre you’re not as familiar with, but if all thrillers are like that one then I’ve found another favourite genre for sure. 🙂

  • This is a great topic and one I contemplate a lot as well though with a slightly different twist I think. I find in recent years that while I read books from multiple genres, I rarely read books that deal with difficult topics, that might make me think and/or make me uncomfortable. I attribute this to the fact that I only have so much mental/emotional energy available and 99% of it is sucked up by my job and personal goals and needs, so when I sit down to read a book I just want to be swept away. That’s all well and good but it has translated into the last couple years of reading being pretty ho hum, because it’s those challenging books that often end up being the most moving reading experience.

    Anyway, that’s my conundrum and I’m not sure how committed I want to be to figuring it out. 🙂

    As for some book recs outside of fantasy that I think would appeal to you, I have a few but none of them is too radical a departure. I think you’d enjoy the Veronica Speedwell Series by Deanna Raybourn (Historical Mystery), The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett (Historical Fiction), The Cormoran Strike Series by Robert Galbraith (Contemporary Mystery), Kopp Sisters Series by Amy Stewart (Historical Crime), Laura Elliston Series by Melissa Lenhardt (Historical Fiction), The Roundhouse by Louisa Erdrich (Contemprorary Fiction).

    Have fun exploring! I look forward to seeing all the great new books you discover that I can in turn pounce on:)!

  • I totally get what you’re saying. Reading something different can sort of refresh you for reading. I mean, half my problem is I get stuck in a genre and get fatigued after a while and don’t fancy reading so then I have to try and move to a different genre, but by that point a slump has taken grip. I always try and keep mixing my reading and read different stuff so I don’t get bored. It sort of works.

    Hopefully, reading outside the comfort zone will work for you. I mean, reading something different always gets you excited for reading because it is different. Sometimes it can do the opposite. You definitely need to be ready to admit defeat when a book isn’t working for you. I’m not always good at doing that one either and then read some out of my comfort zone book for two weeks and don’t want to look at another book again.

  • I’ve almost entirely given up on YA fantasy, which used to be my favorite. I’m still enjoying adult fantasy, at least, but I’ve also expanded my reading a ton. I don’t think it should ever be forced (if you enjoy fantasy and aren’t bored, keep reading that), but personally I’ve really enjoying reading more sci-fi, mystery/thrillers, and even horror.

    As for the question of whether I have any recommendations, the answer is ALWAYS. 😛 I’ll try to limit myself to just a few here, but let me know if you need more. I have ton! My boyfriend reads almost exclusively mystery/thrillers, so he’s been a big help in introducing me to the best of the genre.

    I’m not sure if it’s on your tbr, but you absolutely need to read Failure to Communicate by Kaia Sønderby. It’s sci-fi with a bisexual, autistic protagonist.

    My favorite mystery/thriller of the year so far is The Fourth Monkey, which I’d definitely recommend. I also love the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith.

  • This is such an interesting post. I’m such a sucker for fantasy (especially YA fantasy) but they do start to sound the same over and over after a while. Every now and then, one will surprise me. I tend to mix things up a lot, in terms of age level and genre. It definitely keeps me interested in *reading*, in general. 😀

    Great post, Danya! Have a wonderful weekend. =)

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

  • Bookworm Brandee

    This is an awesome post, Danya!! Reading outside my comfort zone is something I do on occasion but I don’t know if it’s really a conscious thing or not. The first two years I blogged, I read A LOT of New Adult. It was the bright and shiny genre everyone was reading. But I got SOOOO burned out. So I make sure I switch it up now. I read a little of everything and that *is* a conscious effort. 🙂
    One thing I read that was outside my comfort zone – I can’t remember if it was in 2013 or 2014, but I read the I Am Just Junco series by JA Huss. It’s a fantastic series, IMO…lots of world building, mythology, great characters…oh, and it’s space opera. 😉 I didn’t even know that was a genre! Haha But I loved it anyway. Also something I’d recommend is the Touched Girl series by Robyn Jones. It’s vampires but it’s a totally different take on them and the main character, Anna, is autistic.
    I can’t wait to see how this experiment works for you! Good luck and happy reading!!
    p.s. Sorry I’ve been MIA for so long. I’m back now and settling into a routine. 🙂

  • I totally get this…. I’m a definite fantasy freak and I LOVE that all my reads come with a side that’s nowhere near the same as our reality. I doubt I’ll move too far away from my true love, but I’ve been trying to add a bit more urban fantasy and paranormal in as well as a few fantasy romances.

    I’m keen to see how your experiment turns out!

    I’ve been loving Geybie’s Recommend Me series because I feel like there’s a great amount of recommendations over there in whatever I might want to look at if I feel like a change. 🙂