We tend to get on thematic kicks here at Book Riot. Lately, we’re having a conversation about snobbery and the line between being a discerning reader and a too-limited one. The fact that we can’t read everything is an inconvenient truth of literary life. I get it. We have to pick and choose, and because we have lazy human brains, we like to stick with what we know, and we construct rules to help us determine what to read and what to skip.
First, Jeff suggested that we shouldn’t read for pleasure alone, stating that, “a diversity of reading experiences will likely result in a richer reading life.” Then Brenna–in a post that was prettay, prettay, pretty good–encouraged us not to be Larry David readers: “Our reading lives should open us to experiences, not shield us from them.” In between throwing my hands in the air and shouting “Amen!” I started thinking about my own journey out of total snobbery and into more diverse reading.
When I came to the bookish internet four years ago, I had spent the majority of my reading years praying to the gods of literary fiction. It’s what I was naturally drawn to, and it has continued to be my reading sweet spot. But it’s not the only thing I read anymore. That’s not to say I’ve become the model of a perfectly eclectic reader (insert joke about writers and works-in-progress here), but I have grown. If, like I was, you’re beginning to suspect that your self-imposed reading boundaries are hurting you more than they’re helping, here are some ways to bust beyond them. This is what worked for me. I’d love to hear your own tips in the comments.
Befriend a bookseller (or ten).
Being well- and widely-read is basically in the job description. What booksellers don’t read themselves, they need to know about for sales purposes, and this makes them invaluable resources. While booksellers do love putting their favorite books into customers’ hands, they know it’s ultimately in their best interest to find the book that’s going to become *your* favorite, regardless of how they feel about it. Find a bookseller you click with–one who understands what you like and will know how to help you out of your comfort zone–and you’ll be golden. If you don’t have a bookstore nearby, I humbly refer you to Book Riot’s own Liberty Hardy, who will send you customized recommendations through her awesome (and awesomely-named) Paperback to the Future program.
Choose your recommendation sources wisely.
There’s great advice in Greg’s post about how to be a discerning reader, and you’d do well to practice what he preaches. I’m here to suggest, however, that you’ll get even more out of being selective about your book-recommending friends than you will from being choosy about your books. There are a zillion people talking about books online, and you can’t listen to all of them (nor should you). If you take the time to form an inner circle (I hear thousands of people talk about books, but I LISTEN to maybe a couple dozen) and surround yourself with readers you know well and whose opinions you trust, picking up a book in a style or genre that’s totally foreign to you won’t feel quite as scary. Your friends have already jumped off that bridge, and they’ve come back bearing news that the water is fine. (Mixed metaphors, what?)
Get over yourself.
I say this with love. I’m sure you are awesome, and I hope you regularly enjoy the feeling that you have good taste in books. I hope the road rises up to meet you and that the wind is always at your back and that you are constantly entertained or enlightened (or both) by the books you choose. But DUDE. There’s a whole wide world of books out there, and you can’t possibly know about them all. If you’ve ever used, “Oh, I’ve never heard of it” as a dismissal, decide right now that you never will again. So you haven’t heard of a book. Okay. That’s one more new book for you to investigate.
Play book-buying roulette.
Ooh, this one’s my favorite! Resolve that on your next bookstore visit, you’ll ask one bookseller, “What’s the book you’re most excited about selling right now?” and buy it. Whatever it is, buy it. Oh, and read it. Lather, rinse, repeat whenever you need to spice up your reading life. I do this when I travel and visit new bookstores, and the results are never disappointing. I can point to a handful of favorites I’d probably never have encountered if not for this game.
Cave to peer pressure.
Admit it–you’ve been curious about The Book Everyone Is Talking About, but you’ve been hesitant to pick it up. Maybe you’re afraid it’ll damage your street cred, or (gasp!) you might actually like it. Maybe you’re invested in your image as a too-cool-for-the-trend reader. Whatever the reason, toss it, and give in to your curiosity. I know I just told you to be selective about whom you listen to, but, hey, exceptions to every rule.
In the best-case scenario, you find a new book, writer, or genre to love. (Ask me sometime about how much I didn’t think I wanted to read Lev Grossman’s books and how happy I am that I did.) Worst-case, you hate it, but you get to be in on the gossip and you’ve earned the right to your rant about it. Books are like politics in this way–if you haven’t read it, you don’t get to bitch about it. (And that, kids, is why I read all four Twilight novels.)
Your turn, readers. What are your tips and tricks for expanding your literary horizons?