Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s top ten list is “Top Ten Books I Read That Were Outside Of My Comfort Zone“.
My comfort zone has changed and expanded over the years. With that said, my list is designed around different genres–sometimes I read a book in a genre I feel completely comfortable with only to be bombarded with a book of the genre that freaks me out; other times, I simply have read a book that belongs to a genre that I don’t feel comfortable with and sometimes have very positive results, forcing me to expand my comfort zone. Then, there are those few occasions where the book itself just feels wrong to me–it’s not that it doesn’t fit the genre, but it doesn’t fit the established plot line created for the book itself (attention Twi-tards). Here are the genres and the books that challenged my comfort zone.
Horror- Young Adult
1. Monster by Christopher Pike
Talk about out of my comfort zone! At fourteen, with two years of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike reading under my belt, I knew all there was to know about young adult horror. I always knew the protagonist would win in the end, the bad guy wasn’t a paranormal spirit, but a pissed off ex-boyfriend, and every cover would have a tag-line like “She loved him…to death!” Then I read Monster in the summer of 1993. I was horrified! The protagonist was a flesh-eating monster. She was progressively killing all of her friends and eating them! This broke all of the rules I knew and I was appalled! I couldn’t finish it and I had to get rid of it before my little sister read it (she always read my books when I was done with them). What did I do? I ripped up my paperback into little pieces and flushed it down the toilet! Dramatic, I know, but I was entering the age in which I was allowed to be angsty. Lesson learned: Cannibalism is a majorly uncomfortable topic with me. One of my top fears!
Horror/ Paranormal (Vampires)
2. Interview with a Vampire series by Anne Rice
After the Monster fiasco, I began a new, more adult series. I read Interview with a Vampire, and the next four novels in the series, all through high school. I felt out of my comfort zone at the start–the only experience I had with adult novels in the past were my Stephen King novels and those weren’t difficult for me, as they felt like a conversation with a friend. However, the Vampire series felt difficult to me. It wasn’t until I was the ripe old age of 17 that I realized why–there were NO characters in these books for me to relate to. All of the characters are men–and are usually pretty weak. I felt absolutely no connection to these books! Lesson learned: There needs to be a variety of characters in a novel OR the protagonist has to be relatable. Otherwise, I just don’t care.
Modern American Literature Classic
3. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Rape? Incest? Physical and Mental Abuse? Lesbian love? I was a very sheltered 17-year-old, so The Color Purple was an eye-opener for me. I read it for a summer reading assignment before my senior year. Without guidance, this was very uncomfortable for me, and yet I completely got it. I have read this for pleasure since my first experience and I appreciate this novel for being my first introduction to literature that really matters. I learned a lot from Celie and her experiences–both about myself and the human experience. Lesson learned: Read more novels that deal with cultures and experiences that are important, real, and different from my own.
4. The Republic by Plato
I read this for my first (and only) philosophy class in college. I read it, thought I understood it, wrote a paper on it, and got a D on it. I had never received a D on an essay before. Apparently, I didn’t get it. When my professor tried to help me understand The Republic I still didn’t get it. Lesson learned: I don’t do philosophy, but I keep trying.
5. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
“What do you think, young lady?”
“Maybe you should pay more attention to the discussion instead of staring out the window.”
Doesn’t sound like much, but this dialogue between my 20-year-old self and an old professor with a Greek accent as thick as his bushy eyebrows changed my life! I was a Civil Engineering major who needed to satisfy a general ed. requirement, and so I signed up for an Introduction to Shakespeare class. I spent most of the time spacing out, probably thinking about the night before or something, when I got called out in front of the whole class. After blushing furiously, I paid close attention to the class discussion of Hamlet, read the entire play that night to get caught up, and found that it spoke to me personally. I got more out of it than my physics or calculus classes. It mattered to me, and as I read more of Shakespeare’s plays, I found this to always be the case. Shakespeare seemed to be writing my soul–very sentimental, I know, but that’s how it felt at the time. I got a B in the class and the following semester I added English as my minor, and a year later, I was a full blown English major. Lesson learned: The Canon might have been written by a bunch of dead white guys, but they knew their stuff. A lot of the classics are as relevant today as they were in their own time. That’s why they’re “Canonical”–they are timeless and necessary.
6. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
I read this in a Modern American lit class and it truly changed my life. I had never read a “period piece”, a piece of writing that showcased the manners and errors of a certain time period. The exquisite details provided in this book blew me away. These types of books always seemed untouchable to me, and after reading this, I was hooked! From here, I went to The Age of Innocence and then on to Austen. I was never the same again. Lesson learned: Nothing is untouchable or too hard (except, maybe, philosophy). At least try everything once.
Guilty Pleasures from the Drugstore
7. The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
I don’t know. Maybe I read this one because I fell totally in love with Ryan Gosling when I watched the movie and wanted more. But, I read it, and I have yet to live it down with my husband. It made me cry and I enjoyed it. I admit it. There is a purpose for every book and at the time I was just a gushy romantic lovey-dovey and wanted to be surrounded by love. So, it served its purpose. Lesson learned: Don’t be embarassed by what you read. It serves a purpose and as long as it meets your needs, it is good. So, read that Harlequin paperback girl!
8. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
So, I didn’t have the problem in this case. Stephenie Meyer had the problem. I had read the first three books in the Twilight series, enjoyed them, thought the plot was good and working evenly towards its end. And then this happened. Meyer screwed up her own plot line! Now, I realize that authors are the gods of their own plots and can do what they want. But, when you set up foreshadowing, when you set up a potential theme, a lesson, over the span of three novels, each over 500 pages, you’re pretty much stuck with the ending you have designed. Bella wasn’t supposed to get married in the first chapter of this book. Meyer set up this perfect storyline where Bella starts out not knowing what to do, is rather weak, depends heavily upon this gorgeous guy/vampire who abandons her, she finds strength without him, he comes back and now she’s not sure who she is because she has to find a place for both her burgeoning strength and her neediness when the vampboy’s around. She needs to make a choice. Clearly, she will learn that she is strong enough on her own, she needs to continue to develop her strength, and then she can choose from the two boys. Instead, Meyer jumps the shark and marries her off in the first chapter! What?!? It’s all a dream after that. So, I was out of my comfort zone with this book because, for the first time, I read a book with a major glaring error in plot. It was very disconcerting and upsetting. Lesson learned: Just because an author gets published doesn’t mean they know a damn thing about plot.
9. Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose
I rarely read history, but I enjoyed the mini-series of this so much that I wanted to know more. It was a fascinating and engaging read! I was so into it that I also plan on reading D-Day by Ambrose as well. Lesson learned: Not all history books are bores!
Autobiographies and Biographies
10. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
I know, I know. This isn’t an autobiography in the truest sense. It’s a fantasy novel. Yet, as I am reading it right now, I am feeling very much out of my comfort zone as it seems to be mostly a man telling his life story. Sure, there’s magic involved in his autobiography, but still. I really don’t like autobiographies or biographies. I’m not sure why. I think it has to do with someone literally telling me what happened in the past. But, it’s history. Not as exciting as present tense action. I know that I will love this book, but I wish he’d hurry up and finish his story! I want to know what happens next! Lesson learned: As curious as I am about the new Steve Jobs biography, I won’t pick it up. I know I’ll be bored. I’d rather read the snippets on the internet!