I do love it when a book illustrates the habits that we have, and some of them are unconscious, when it comes to reading. Some of the responses to reading Neil Bartlett’s ‘Skin Lane’ over the weekend made me think about comfort reading, and I don’t meant the books that we read when we need a read we can trust, are having a bad time or need a gentle reading break. Not do I mean our ‘guilty pleasure reads’ on the sofa with a cup of tea and endless supply of chocolate hobnobs (or is it just me that does that?) I mean those books that take us out of our comfort zone and make us look at things we might not be prepared for.
I will use ‘Skin Lane’ as an example. It interested me that when we announced the NTTVBG earlier in the year I had some comments and some emails apologising that people wouldn’t be reading my choice because ‘it just isn’t my cup of tea’ or ‘I wouldn’t like it’ and I thought ‘fair enough, each to their own’ as I don’t judge anyone’s reading habits as reading is pleasure and can be a personal thing but in my head it begged the question ‘how do you know you wont like it if you don’t try it?’
I can understand where people were coming from in respect to ‘Skin Lane’ as it has a subject and plot many won’t be quite at ease with. It’s the tale of a man in his mid forties who is a bit of a loner; works in the fur trade (interestingly a part of the book that people found most shocking in some cases) and has fallen into an obsessive love with a boy of sixteen he dreams of torturing and killing. It’s not an easy subject or everyone’s cup of tea but interestingly people who didn’t think they would like it but still went for it and read it thought it was a good and in some cases great book. Some didn’t like it but they still tried it. Interesting how those who did read it and liked it were very hesitant to say they ‘enjoyed it’ because of the subject matter. Is there something wrong with you if you like a good murder?
‘Blacklands’ by Belinda Bauer, which I read earlier in the year, is another good example. Many people slated it for being a book about a paedophile in prison and a young boy on the outside world. It was pretty much what the subject was about but the book was about so much more. It did look in a fictional way at some of the murder cases of the 80’s, it was also an interesting and sometimes moving look at how a family survives the murder of a child weeks, months, years and decades on, the way that it changes a family and personalities within that family forever. People would miss out on that because of the paedophile aspect, would they miss out on any book about slavery or war as they aren’t comfortable subjects in reality and yet they seem to have been deemed okay subject matter now. It is all fiction though.
I used to be in a face-to-face book group I have discussed before where we used to choose five books and vote. Now I am not sure if one of the members did this just to sway the votes or genuinely but if a book had murder, abuse, rape, killing (knocks out all war books not just crime books as you might initially think) or violence in it. Now try and whittle that down to a book a month for a few years, it’s just a bit of a nightmare. It also brings up another subject of ‘don’t join a book group if you don’t want to open up your reading’. I also wonder if some people only read ‘happy books’ and I wonder what the point of that is?
I am very aware I have been mentioning others and their comfort zones yet this is my blog of my bookish thoughts so I should really talk about my habits. I like a read that challenges me and takes me to places and experiences that I might never have been or ever go to be they the light and good or the dark and bad. I will admit I can be a hypocrite, come on we all are sometimes. Some book genre’s make me think ‘oh no I wouldn’t read that’ fantasy is one; I just don’t think it’s for me. I do try it now and again though. I am not really on about genres though more subject matter with this post.
The book group I am currently in brings up some good examples, though I will only use the one for now. ‘Flowers for Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes was a book chosen that when I heard the blurb I thought ‘oh no’ I just didn’t think a book that was firstly a science fiction classic (genres do have comfort boundaries for me sometimes) it was also about a mouse that became supremely intelligent and then a mentally disabled young man that did the same. It just sounded really out of my comfort zone, and yet I loved it, was incredibly moved by it and have been raving about it ever since. Isn’t that what readings about?
I decided after Sunday to make a pact with myself that I would read some of the books over the next year, this is not a challenge but a little guide line to follow now and again, that I don’t think would be my cup of tea such as;
- More 18th century books (I find the style a little off putting)
- Read some of the Russian greats (I imagine they are boring and I know in my head I am wrong)
- Read more sci-fi and try some fantasy
I am sure there are more books I turn away from because of comfort so I might add to that list. If you have any titles that fit the above criteria and are rollicking good reads do let me know as I like a challenge, in fact dare me… throw a gauntlet down.
Do you only stick to books within your comfort zone? Do you only read happy books and if so why? Which books do you just simply think you won’t enjoy? Do you think books are about reading what you know and like and sticking with it or do you prefer to challenge yourself with every other read? Which books have taken you completely out of your comfort zone and yet have been amazing reads? Do let me know.