I know I’m not the only reader who tends to reach for the same kind of books (in my case, character-driven realistic, contemporary fiction), and I’m pretty sure I’m also not the only one who sometimes worries that such a narrow literary outlook means I’m missing out on some really good books.
So a while back I decided to dedicate my upcoming Mixed-Up blog post to this issue. I would brainstorm creative ways to break out of old reading habits. How could I move beyond my comfort zone?
I decided I’d go to the library and either
- ask the children’s librarians to load me up with their all-time favorites OR
- close my eyes and take whichever books I touched first OR
- keep my eyes open and only choose books with red spines OR
- stalk some young readers and ask for their recommendations.
None of the ideas seemed especially creative, but I guessed any one of those approaches would expand my reading horizons.
Except, life got in the way, and I never made it to the library. One day last week I realized the deadline for this post was fast approaching and I asked my husband, who was headed out to run errands, if he’d dash into the children’s section and grab five books from the shelves.
“What if I choose the wrong books?” he asked.
“There is no wrong book in this exercise,” I said. “That’s the point.”
He shook his head. “I can’t do it. I’ll mess up somehow.”
(Okay, his response probably had something to do with that time he bought me brown flannel pajamas and I couldn’t refrain from remarking one or five times about him choosing brown when he’d never seen me wear brown. Never, ever.)
Still. It seemed unbelievable he wouldn’t help me, and I turned away to mutter a few lines from our Long-Time-Married-Folk script. That’s when I noticed something across the room: a bulging bookcase. Just one of many bulging bookcases in my house.
I had books in my house I hadn’t yet read!
(Shocking, I know. I’m sure none of you continue to buy books when you still have unread books at home. None of you have a book addiction. Your safety isn’t threatened by a teetering stack of to-be-read books next to your bed.)
My husband left on his errands and within minutes, I held five books in my hands. Books I’d bought for my sons but never read myself. Books I probably would never have read if I wasn’t making a concerted effort to move outside my literary comfort zone.
THE BIG FIELD by Mike Lupica
Playing shortstop is a way of life for Hutch – not only is his hero, Derek Jeter, a shortstop, but so was his father, a former local legend turned pro. Which is why having to play second base feels like demotion to second team. Yet that’s where Hutch ends up after Darryl “D-Will” Williams, the best shortstop prospect since A-Rod, joins the team. But Hutch is nothing if not a team player, and he’s cool with playing in D-Will’s shadow – until, that is, the two shortstops in Hutch’s life betray him in a way he never could have imagined. With the league championship on the line, just how far is Hutch willing to bend to be a good teammate? (All descriptions from Indiebound)
I read this book first, probably because it’s realistic, contemporary fiction. But I mostly saw it as a “sports” book, and wasn’t sure how much I’d care. Well, I’m here to tell you that sandwiched between all the stuff about batting strategies and the complexities of playing shortstop, is some gut-wrenching conflict between father and son, and the son and his teammate.
ARTEMIS FOWL by Eoin Colfer
Twelve-year-old Artemis is a millionaire, a genius-and above all, a criminal mastermind. But Artemis doesn’t know what he’s taken on when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit. These aren’t the fairies of the bedtime stories-they’re dangerous!
Okay, I never read stuff like this. Fairies? Elves? No way. But both my sons loved this series, and read the books multiple times, so I gave this first one a whirl. And guess what? I very much enjoyed it. It’s intelligent and funny. I know, I know. I’m way behind the curve on this; everyone already knows about Artemis Fowl. Those fairies are great fun! Not to mention kleptomaniac dwarf, Mulch Diggums.
RED KAYAK by Priscilla Cummings
As developers and rich families move into the Chesapeake Bay area, Brady befriends some of them, while his parents and friends are bitter about the changes. When tragedy strikes, Brady discovers the truth behind the “accident,” which will change the lives of those he loves forever.
You might be wondering how it was a stretch for me to read this book. After all, it’s realistic fiction. But it’s also packaged as a suspense with a kind of spooky cover, and I don’t much like spooky. So I finally read this book that’s been on my shelf for years, and ended up appreciating the emotional pain of the families involved. The lesson here? Just because something’s spooky doesn’t mean it won’t also resonate with readers like me who look for the emotional connections.
BOOTS AND THE SEVEN LEAGUERS A Rock-and-Troll Novel by Jane Yolen
Gog is just your average teenager. Sure, he’s a troll, but he’s got typical teen problems: an irritating little brother, a best friend who’s nothing but trouble, and no tickets to his favorite band’s sold-out concert.
There just might be a way to get into that concert, though.
Magic. Now that’s a sure way to get into trouble. . . .
Trolls? Greenmen? A pookah? I figured this would be the hardest book of all for me to get into. I was wrong. Jane Yolen’s writing is lyrical, even when the story involves characters called Gog, Magog, and Booger. I loved this book and happily went along for the ride.
I’m glad I experimented. In fact, I’m working on the fifth book pulled from my shelves, KEYS TO THE KINGDOM: MISTER MONDAY by Garth Nix.
My kids also loved this series and it undoubtedly would’ve made more sense for me to read the books along with them. Ah, well. My boys might still consider me woefully unhip, but after this literary experiment they know better than to say I’m afraid to branch out. Those fairies taught me a thing or two about revenge.
Tracy Abell has some other habits she should probably break but is currently focused on writing character-driven realistic, contemporary middle-grade fiction.