Sep 4 2008 5:12pm

Moving Beyond Your Comfort Zone

I can’t be the only one. I love reading about adventures in space, epic quests, stories where people go inside the head of another person, superheroes, and of course you know my affinity for genre-oriented, short-story collections and anthologies. It’s my default. It’s my comfort zone. If I go into a bookstore (which only happens if I drive past one; when we’re on vacation my wife is resigned to the fact that I will go into any bookstore we get near) I instantly go to the science fiction and fantasy section and scour the shelves. I read every title in the section, looking for that book I’m missing, that book I didn’t know was out, that book I didn’t know I needed until I saw it.

But sometimes, yes I admit it, sometimes I read non-genre books. And it’s not just nonfiction; I recently read and enjoyed Lauren Groff’s The Monsters of Templeton, and Chip Kidd’s The Learners. I started the year reading a bunch of books on design and typography, and even found a few amazing blogs like I Love Typography (about typography, duh) and The Dieline (about product design) that I continue to read religiously.

And if I expand my list to anything not science fiction and fantasy, well, I’ve been reading a ton of mysteries this year. Ton being relative as I average a little less than a book a week. But I’ve read books this year from Chelsea Cain, Charlie Huston, Jack O’Connell (Oh. My. God. He is FREAKING amazing), David Wellington (his vampire novels), and Ed Gorman.

I might hit streaks when I find a new author, but mostly, I turn to science fiction and fantasy when I need something new to read.

What do you read that’s not science fiction and fantasy?

[Image from Flickr user decor8; CC-licensed for commercial use.]

1. Skip
The most common thing I'll read when not reading SF&F is old school detective novels. You know, the Mickey Spillane, etc., pulp stuff. Hard Case Crime has been doing some excellent work in this area lately.
Jeffrey Richard
2. neutronjockey
Well, having just started school and taking on a very heavy literature concentration I'm currently reading a lot of early English and middle English lit. However, it's the southern gothic writing style that has me hooked (in a different lit class). Flannery O'Connor is off the hook, yo.

I'm looking at expanding the current TBR (to be read) pile to include more contemporary literature. It's not that I'm crawling up my own bum and leaving SFF behind --- every one of these stories/novels/novellas that I read I sit back and wonder how this could be done in an SFnal way.
3. VTB
Oddly enough, romantica.
Jess Nevins
4. jessnevins
Lots of stuff. The most recent book I'm urging on people is Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games, a sprawling, superb crime/biography set in India.
Pablo Defendini
5. pablodefendini
I read a lot of nonfiction, when not reading SF/F. Biographies are favorites, also general history and science.
Debbie Moorhouse
6. GUDsqrl
Patrick O'Brian! Also, non-fiction of the military/naval/polar exploration varieties.
Liza .
7. aedifica
Mysteries! Laurie R. King is a favorite, but I read others too. So for me, going outside my comfort zone is finding something that's not SF, F, or mystery. I found Barbara Kingsolver that way, though, and she's now firmly planted on my list of Authors I Look For And Read.
8. Dr Hoo
I've been reading a lot of historical fiction lately; Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series, Patrick O'Brien's Napoleonic War books (the Aubrey and Maturin novels), and Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Chronicles, although these last are closer to fantasy than I think to history.
Andrew Ty
9. eldritch00
Spy fiction, especially those written in and/or set during the Cold War. The great thing is coming across titles that cross this with SF/F/H, such as Tim Powers's Declare and Charles Stross's "Laundry novels."
Kerry Kuhn
10. Kerry
When my nose isn't in an SF/F book, it can usually be found in a mystery. Sometimes I poke it into a thriller. Lately, though, I've been on a kick of going back and reading things from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. So far I've read Candide, more mysteries (2 Chandler books), and SF (2 Wells and a PKD). I've been trying to read 2 of these 'other books' a month and my TBR pile is huge.
Joe Sherry
11. jsherry
I like American history books, biographies (still in American history here). Some science books when I can understand.

Other Fiction: Louise Erdrich, Don DeLillo, Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Alison McGhee. And such.

I want to read more Native literature.
12. JesterJoker
Whatever I find? Okay, especially...

Espionage. If there's secret agents and doublecrosses, I read it. The Ludlum pulp side is my primary love, but some gritty Le Carre or Queen and Country is fun.

Gothics. Even the really cheesy ones. Especially old haunted castles.

And nonfiction. Any nonfiction. "The Guns of August" twisted my mind as no other nonfiction book has ever twisted it, and I need more of it. Making Light's pointed such a list it's insane. :)
Cathy Mullican
13. nolly
Mysteries, sometimes.

Some of the better-written chicklit, when I want popcorn reading.

To my chagrin, I've found that most of the "Oprah's book club" selections are quite good, though I don't use it as a checklist.

I like good YA, too.

And some non-fiction, though not always quickly -- I've been trying to make up for a terrible history education in my school days, but some of the books that were recommended to me as readable are pretty slow going for me.
14. vcmw
Paranormal romance, regency romance, social history, comic mysteries, poetry, young adult lit for work or pleasure, graphic novels, some biography.
15. SamiHolloway
I'm a fan of travel lit-- either real-life or fictionalized (though I prefer weird stuff when it's fictionalized, and that usually puts it back in SF/F-- and I can devour Bill Bryson like nobody's business.

I read old National Geographics for the same fix.

Other things:
I love import-lit, even when it's not that good; people from other countries think differently then I do
Classics, of course, like all the things I claimed to have read during my English Major and only now have time to actually finish
Those silly spirituality books pretending they aren't self-help
Pretty much anything on tea

Debbie Moorhouse
16. GUDsqrl
Try Fran Sandham's "Traversa" for a travel fix :).
Steve Nagy
17. SteveNagy
Jonathan Kellerman, Nelson DeMille.

Depending on the bookstores I frequent, sometimes their shelved in the mainstream sections, sometimes their specific genres. Kellerman's good to read for his characterization. I've been a fan of DeMille ever since I read Cathedral ages ago; I read/reread one of his books every year.
Alex Bledsoe
18. alexbledsoe
I'm a huge fan of Faulkner, and try to re-read Go Down, Moses with some regularity. I've been working my way through the works of Southern novelist Jesse Hill Ford, and Scottish writer Kevin MacNeil's The Stornoway Way, which has some of the most quotable lines since Douglas Adams. And I always fall back on my personal trinity of Chandler, Hammett and Parker (Robert B.).
Eric Gregory
19. egregory
Recently my non-fiction reading has taken a turn for the SFnal: Wade Davis' "The Serpent and the Rainbow" (much better zombie story than most on the fiction shelves), Michio Kaku's "Parallel Worlds," and "A History of Hell" by Alice Turner.

On the less fantastical side, soon plan to start "Blood Done Sign My Name," which deals with racial conflict in 1960's North Carolina. I've got a number of non-SF novels lying around half-finished, too: "Tree of Smoke," "Thirteen Moons," some Cormac McCarthy.
Joshua Starr
20. JStarr
Well, I read at least some stuff in the mystery/thriller genres, the classics, various types of nonfiction, and the "mainstream," even though speculative fiction is definitely my favorite and comprises the majority of what I read.

There's only one mystery/thriller author I truly love, though, and I'll use this opportunity to mention: Dennis Lehane. Read his books! The Patrick Kenzie novels and Mystic River particularly - Shutter Island was good, but the other stuff is superb. He has a historical novel coming out at the end of September which is getting amazing reviews, and which I intend to buy in hardcover, something I rarely do.
Trey Palmer
21. Pilgrim
Tim Severin.
Popular books on neuro-biology and neuro-psych.
History - medieval Mediterranean for sure, otherwise, whatever catches my fancy.
Judge Dee by Robert Van Gulik.
Probably more that I can't think of right now.
Fred Coppersmith
22. FCoppersmith
Quite a lot, actually. This year, the non-genre stuff I've read so far includes: The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems by Billy Collins, You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, The Wild Palms by William Faulkner, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, On Beauty by Zadie Smith, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, and The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.

I'm not sure if The Man on the Ceiling by Steve Rasnic and Melanie Tem counts. Right now, I'm reading The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving.

If I have a comfort zone in reading, it's probably fiction in the wider sense, but not genre-specific.
Bruce Cohen
23. SpeakerToManagers
I'm currently reading (unless a book grabs me hard and I have to finish it in one sitting I tend to timeshare my reading):

1. Seven Types of Ambiguity - a nongenre novel about obsessive love. My wife recommended it to me; she's usually right when she says something like, "Read this, it's terrific." She was the one who told me about House of Sand and Fog (the book, not the movie) which was one of the best books of any kind I've ever read.

2. Theory of Continuous Groups. I have a passion for math, even though I don't use it much at work, and and a lifetime love affair with geometry in particular. Strange how we love.

3. At least two sf books.

I like to read mysteries occasionally, but have slowed down on that since Peter Dickinson stopped writing them; he wrote at least 3 (more like 8, now I think of it) of the best mysteries I've ever read. If you think mysteries are just fluffy entertainment, read either Tefuga or Some Deaths Before Dying and you will be disabused of that opinion.
Paul Eisenberg
24. HelmHammerhand
I've spent this past summer traveling vicariously with Tony Horwitz. Started with "A Journey Long and Strange," about the first European explorers of the New World. His best, however, is "Confederates in the Attic," an exploration of the ongoing American Civil War. I just finished his book detailing his travels in the wake of Captain James Cook.
Horwitz is an amazing writer whom I highly recommend!
Also, "Salt," "Cod" and "the Basques" by Mark Kurlansky. Fantastic stuff.
Also, "1491" by Charles Mann.
I could go on and on and on....
Larry Scroggins
25. LeisureSuitLarry
I try not to stray too far outside of my comfort zone. I like sf/fan and I have for as long as I can remember almost to the exclusion of everything else. However, I have been handed a few young adult or chick-lit books that I really liked. And I do somehow manage to snag the first read of any new Princess Diaries books that come out. On the rare occasion that I do actually purchase something that is not sf/fan, it's usually written by Elmore Leonard. I love his stuff.
Aerol Bibat
26. aerolb
I read a lot. A sample of my very haphazard bookshelf I have Dan Simmons' Carrion Comfort lying under C.S. Forester's Mr. Midshipman Hornblower which is under Rand's The Romantic Manifesto with Hammett's Maltese Falcon on top. And beside that stack is the Koran, Zaide's Life of Rizal, and Peter O'Donnell's Pieces of Modesty. I just like to read stuff.
27. Sumana Harihareswara
I tend to read SF/F, YA, academic nonfiction, and memoir/HOWTO. Somewhat recently read & recommended:

YA: Anything by Gordon Korman.

Academic nonfiction: Robin Einhorn's "American Taxation, American Slavery."

Memoir/HOWTO: William Ball's "A Sense of Direction" (on directing plays), Karl Fogel's "Producing Open Source Software."
Mary Aileen Buss
28. maryaileen
Mysteries, suspense, romantic suspense, romance, especially Regency-era, are all inside my comfort zone along with sf/fantasy. I read a fair amount of young adult, but that's not a separate genre, particularly since most of the YA I read is fantasy.

When I want something different it's usually nonfiction. I can be interested in just about anything if it's presented right, but I tend to gravitate toward science/technology, history, and intelligence/education.
Declan Ryan
29. decco999
Because of the scale that many SF books can reach in terms of story line and/or concept (pan-galactic, alternative reality, multi-universe), I find it quite difficult to switch to reading other genres that are "narrower" in scope. But then, maybe I just don't look hard enough in the bookshops.
Arachne Jericho
30. arachnejericho
Technical books (currently grooving on Ruby, and oh happy day for electronic versions you can *search*).

Anything one friend of mine will recommend to me, mainstream-fiction-wise, although these days I need to double-check: is it Russian and/or about terrible natural catastrophes? Then, no. And even so, I still trip up over The Kite Runner, and yes, it was a beautiful book, but I still like moderately happy endings.

Non-fiction, with a preference for narrative non-fiction. Currently being amused by The Geography of Bliss.

Sometimes I can get fixated on a particular theme, although up until now it tended to be in genre (whether SF/F or Mystery); right now it's very Wodehouse.
31. Steve Vernon
I love Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series as well as the writing of Conn Igullden. Nothing finer than a good Stephen Hunter novel and Robert Parker still occasionally pops one out of the field. The westerns of Loren Estleman also work as well.
Abigail Sutherland
32. evilrooster
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
any of a set of about ten Georgette Heyer Regency romances
The Lord Peter Wimsey books by Dorothy L Satyers
Anything by Jane Austen except Emma

Bookbinding books (currently A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique by Bernard Middleton)
Typography books (currently Anatomy of a Typeface by Alexander Lawson)
Dutch textbooks, since I'm learning the language

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