Discussion: Diversifying Reading vs Being a Diverse Reader

discussion

There’s been a lot of talk everywhere about diversity + the book/reading/book blogging communities… This post isn’t so much about diversity in the market so much as my personal reading tastes and how they’ve evolved to become more diverse than they used to be and the tricky business of stepping outside of my comfort zones.

My reading tastes used to be very narrow. First, I read Harry Potter. Then I re-read Harry Potter many, many, many times until my sister started recommending the books she was reading. Then I accepted a recommendation from my friend Alison and started reading Twilight which lead to reading those books and then re-reading those books. I read a bit of adult contemporary (almost all recommendations) and then I started picking up cozy mysteries and read mysteries almost exclusively. Then my friend Lisa recommended The Hunger Games and after falling in love with that series (and binge reading it), I finally started to seek out books on my own, which is how I found all of the amazing young adult fiction that I read today!

I feel like I’ve branched out with my reading a lot in just a few years and yet even still, I find myself falling back into my old comfort zones. I found a series and then stuck to it (Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games). Then an author and stuck to them (Meg Cabot, Sophie Kinsella). Then genres and stuck to them (adult contemporary, mysteries, dystopians). And now I think I’m the most diverse in my reading that I’ve been so far with all of the different genres I enjoy, but I’m still mainly stuck in YA and rarely branch out to adult or middle grade now (though I’ve made progress with that as well, lately). Although… I wouldn’t really say that’s an issue…

If you’re coming from a diversity aspect, sure. I’m not the most diverse reader out there. I could really dip into a lot more issues or perspectives or backgrounds, but I’ve always been a reader who has stuck to what I love and what I know I love. I’ve slowly branched out from only reading fantasy when it was Harry Potter to thoroughly enjoying fantasy and now it’s one of my favorite genres to read… But even when I first started reading fantasy, I thought I hated it.  I didn’t know where to start as far as fantasy was concerned so I was just trying things other people liked with no clue as to what I would enjoy. Sometimes it worked out amazingly (Graceling) and other times, I just couldn’t get into it (Lord of the Rings). It took a long time of picking books and trying them before I finally started to realize what kinds of things I appreciated in fantasy and what things I really didn’t have interest in, and really that’s the same with every genre.

As far as this post goes, I’m not talking about diversity meaning race or religion or sexual preference. I don’t really choose books based on any of those (unless it’s something like Christian fiction because I already know that’s something I don’t personally connect with). I’m talking about diversity in my reading meaning picking up different genres, male vs female POVs, trying to pick books based on what sounds interesting and not caring whether that means YA or Adult or MG. When I look at where I started as a reader and where I am now, I never could have predicted all of the different genres and subject matters and types of characters that I read — and yes, race and religion and sexual preference fall in with that too. I never really chose books with the express purpose of avoiding one thing or the other but I always fell back into my reading comfort zone. I do dip out of it from time to time, but I also like staying within that comfort zone because that’s when I find the books that I expect to love and in fact do fall in love with — because I know those are the books I will identify with the most. I don’t always have to identify with a book to fall in love with it, but that’s usually a really good way for me to get hooked so often times those are the books I seek out.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m making progress! I feel like I’ve come a long way already in the books that I pick out and the books I end up enjoying. Even within a genre or a topic that I expect to love, I find books that just don’t live up to my expectations. Other times I’ve picked up books I think I’d enjoy and find out that I really just don’t enjoy books set in a certain time period or a certain setting or characters who have certain personality traits. Some things vary from book to book and some things, I find out, really do end up falling under a generalization of things I do or don’t enjoy, but I’m able to make that generalization because I’ve tried so many books with those elements and truly don’t enjoy them.

While I’m trying to step out of my comfort zone, I think it’s important for me to edge out slowly… test the waters… pick something in between something I love and something that’s totally different. When I tried diving into fantasy, for example, I tried FULL OUT FANTASY with worlds and creatures and terminology and I was utterly overwhelmed, and I think that can be true with any reader. If you step too far outside of your comfort zone, it can easily be scary and overwhelming. So far, I’m enjoying expanding my reading tastes little by little and pulling those new and exciting topics or genres into my bubble of familiarity. Some people can make big leaps like that but that usually doesn’t work for me. I’m really enjoying growing as a reader at my own pace because that’s really what’s working so well. When I try to force things because other people are reading them or because they’re all the rage or because they’re a hot topic, sometimes I’m just not ready for that yet.

I think it’s important for readers to try new things and expand their reading horizons because it’s true — you don’t know what you’re missing out on if you don’t try — but also remember that you’re reading because you love to read. You’re doing what you love and it’s something that makes you feel passionate. It’s always okay to stick within your comfort zone when you want to/need to because those are the things that make you love what you love!

How do YOU define being a diverse reader? Do you think that pertains to stepping out of your comfort zone little by little as well having a variety of genres and topics to choose from?

Do you think you’ve developed your reading repertoire over the years and have expanded your reading horizons? Do you tend to just read what you love or take the plunge and dive into something totally different than what you usually read?

 

21 thoughts on “Discussion: Diversifying Reading vs Being a Diverse Reader

  1. Mia Hayson

    It’s great to step outside your comfort zone when you can with reading! I totally understand going back to books you love, though, no shame in that.

    I used to reread Harry Potter a lot too (okay okay in my spare time inbetween other things I still do) but I now love experimenting with books too. It’s really freeing to kind of just GO OUT into the world and disregard genre or style and just find something that looks interesting and read it. It can lead to a lot of weird books and dead ends but also so so so much awesome. I think we expand our horizons by pushing ourselves.

    <3

  2. Amanda @ Book Badger

    I’d say I’ve definitely much more diverse than I was when I started reading again. I was very fantasy orientated, but like simple fantasy, and my bookshelves showed that and I have a large amount of fantasy/paranormal books to read, but contemporary started to creep in, as did Dystopian, and in some case, even some horror and new adult and now I think, while contemporary and fantasy are the ones I feel most at home with, I’m much more willing to try a different genres if recommendations are good, or if I’vm being drawn to it. I will usually go all in – Anna Dressed in Blood was my first ever ‘horror’ and I jumped right in, loved it – it just depends on how I’m feeling really. But this is important Brittany, great post! 😀

  3. Lauren

    I don’t see myself as a very diverse reader. I just had lunch yesterday with a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while and he asked me “do you still read those girl books?” – meaning young adult books such as the Private series, Pretty Little Liars, books by Meg Cabot, etc. I just laughed because he’s right.. for the most part I stay within that same genre (and have ever since middle school). I think, based on what you discussed in this post, I have very similar reading tastes to you. I enjoy the dystopia/paranormal books from time to time, young adult/contemporary, some adult, etc. — but I do tend to stick within these genres. I also get into certain moods for book genres or authors. Lately, I’ve been into books about the afterlife and ones with paranormal aspects. Before that, I was really into contemporary young adult books with summery themes. I wish I could be a more diverse reader, but I see no problem in liking what you like and sticking to it! The book I decide to read next once I finish one normally depends on whatever topics I’m into at the moment. When I try to break out a little, I am often disappointed. I was fascinated by the plot summary for The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, which is an adult fiction book, but I couldn’t get into it. I think I just connect better with younger characters for some reason. Books about high school or college or younger people just makes me nostalgic for those days. Maybe when I’m 60 I’ll read books about people in their 40’s and wish for those days…. but as of now, I’ll keep reading books about 16 year olds when I’m 22 🙂
    Great post. Sorry for rambling!

  4. Cassi @ My Thoughts Literally

    This is a really interesting topic. I consider myself a diverse reader because I try to read a lot of different things. Both in terms of genre and target audience. I try to read young adult, adult, and classics regularly. But I absolutely have a safe zone that I fall back into and most of what I read fits into a few favorite genres (Fantasy and Historical Fiction).

    I also used to do the same thing and read nothing but a certain author or genre. I went through cozy mystery, chick lit, and Historical Mystery phases and I read so many books in those genres that they became formulaic. I think that’s why I like diversifying my reading, because if I read too many books of one type they don’t feel original and that’s not fair to me or the books.

    I like doing themed months because it helps me explore a genre but it also helps me diversify. This month I’m reading mostly contemporary but next month is Historical Fantasy. It’s a good happy medium between wanting to stay in my comfort zone but diversifying enough so I don’t get bored.

  5. Stormy

    I love this post!
    I think I’m a pretty diverse reader now, but that wasn’t always the case. There are very few genres or books I just write off completely. Right now I’m down to adult romance & westerns but hey, I know Erin Bowman was writing a YA western story so maybe I’ll try that one too.
    For me, I think it’s important for me to expand outside my reading comfort zone because I know how easy it is for me to get stuck in this rut(not that it’s really a RUT because it doesn’t seem bad at the time) to just read really narrowly, like reading the same books over & over again. I can narrow my reading so quickly that I don’t even notice it. I’ll always have my favorite genres–fantasy & science fiction!–but I think of all the books I love that years ago I would have written off because of their genre or age classification. I think I’ve gotten to the point where I’m able to look past that MOST of the time and just read stories that sound good.

  6. Finley Jayne

    I’m a very ecclectic reader, but I definitley go through phases where I only focus on one genre/sub-genre. A couple years ago I read mostly YA (like over 200 YA books in one year). Now I only read maybe 1-2 YA books a month now, and I’m on an adult fantasy phase right now 🙂

  7. Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook

    I love this post, Brittany. I think a lot about how I ended up the reader I am today, and my journey discovering what books I really love.

    When I started really getting back into reading in high school, I started reading either classics (because I felt like that was what I should read) and mysteries because that is what I mother read. I read all those Sue Grafton books, the Stephanie Plum books, Tess Gerittson, and tons of cozy mysteries. And, of course, Harry Potter (which I have also re-read many times). But in college, I decided to try out some romance, because I realized that I really loved the mysteries that also had the romantic interest, and man I fell head over heels for that genre. Now I almost never read mysteries. But after a few years reading primarily romance, I needed something different to read, and I started reading children’s books (I’m a children’s librarian, so I’m surround by these books). But then that got a little of the same old and I branched to YA primarily.

    But now, I do read widely in the sense of genre and age category. I’ll read adult romance, YA fantasy, Middle grade and children’s books. I love non-fiction and fiction alike. I’ll read science fiction which is huge, really, because I never liked it before. But because of so many rave reviews for Cinder (and my love of fairytale retellings) I’ve read a few science fiction-ish novels that I really love.

    I really do think that it takes a long time to figure out what it is you like in the books you read. Sometimes people are very specific, and they love the mystery or suspense. But a lot of the times, I like people like a certain feel to a book, and that feel can be experienced in many different genres and age categories.

  8. Dana @ The Nerdy Journalist

    When I was in elementary/early middle school, I mostly read MG fantasy (my favorite series was The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker). I can’t really point out an exact time when I started reading different genres, but I think it was sometime in eight grade because I remember ordering contemporary books from those Scholastic book orders and reading the Hunger Games.

    Freshman year, I read a variety of genres, but I was reading books with similar premises. When I joined Goodreads — and later when I started blogging — I started branching out more. I started reading paranormal romance, which I previously dismissed. I still steer clear of vampires/werewolves/certain premised because I know that I usually don’t click with those books. At some point, I also started reading a bit of NA. I’ve explored the many nooks and crannies of contemporary fiction, the angsty and the fluffy. I also have a new appreciation of historical fiction (thanks to Prisoner of Night and Fog).

    I’ve expanded my reading a lot, but I’m still not sure if I’ve become a diverse reader. My reading selection is definitely ecclectic. I know what I like and I stick to those books. Honestly, the only thing that matters is that I’m reading books that I enjoy.

  9. Nicole Hewitt

    My reading habits have definitely become more diverse since I’ve been blogging. I used to pretty much ONLY read paranormal and fantasy, but I started reading about all these great contemporaries and decided to give them a try. Sure enough, I found that I really enjoyed them! I’m still not completely diverse – I’ve branched out into YA and NA contemporary, but I still really enjoy paranormal and fantasy (though I could NOT get through LotR either – you’re not the only one!). Then, I occasionally read something outside of my comfort zone – a mystery, an adult contemporary, a thriller, a historical romance, a Christian contemporary … Sometimes I enjoy these forays into new genres and sometimes I’m not thrilled – but I still like to try to read new things now and again. Like you say, I think it’s okay to branch out slowly and stick with things that are similar to things we already like. Reading is something you do for you – not for anyone else – so read what you enjoy!

    As far as actual diversity goes, I do find myself reading more diverse characters now, but I haven’t made a specific effort to do it (with the possible exception of during LGBT month back in April when I specifically set out to read some books that were featured and looked great). I do appreciate diversity, though, and might give a book a chance specifically because it has an ethnic character on the cover – just because I do want to encourage more non-white characters. But diversity is just one of many factors that affect whether or not I’ll pick up a book!

  10. Alexa S.

    I definitely share your sentiments, B! I too started out exclusively reading certain kinds of books (fantasies and classics and award-winners and fairy tales), and that’s always what I gravitated towards in the bookstores for a long, long time. Prior to book blogging, I’d stick to what I knew, and I was totally okay with that.

    Now, however, my reading tastes have certainly expanded! I read a variety of adult, young adult and middle grade, and all sorts of genres (even ones I don’t normally gravitate towards, like paranormal or dystopian). It’s becoming an interesting eclectic mix, and I love that. It always boils down to what I FEEL like reading or WANT to read. I don’t consciously choose to mix up my reads most of the time, but it pleases me that I have a variety of options that I can tackle when choosing.

  11. Pam@YA Escape from Reality

    I definitely go through reading phases. I used to read a lot of mysteries. Before I went to law school, I was reading tons of legal thrillers. I went through my historical romance phase in high school. I also went through my pseudo literary phase (typical book club books). Now I’m reading mostly YA, but within YA I’m reading pretty much everything, paranormal, fantasy, dystopian, contemporary. So is that diverse since it’s different genres or not since it’s mostly all YA? Oh well, I just read what I feel like reading!

  12. Julie S.

    I’m with you in that I have comfort zones and I tend to stick to them. I want to read for enjoyment, so I read what I am pretty sure I will enjoy. Sometimes I branch out, and that is usually via book club selection. Sometimes those books surprise me and I really like them, broadening my comfort zone a bit, but not always.

  13. Tabitha (Not Yet Read)

    So yeah I think being a diverse reader you’d be willing to give any book a chance that someone randomly recommended to you. I know for sure I am not a genre diverse reader but I consider myself VERY diverse within the two main genres that I read Fantasy and Science Fiction. I will read any subgenre under the sun if it touches some way on those two big genres. And there are a LOT of types of books within those two big genres and in no way do I like them all. But I’m willing to give them all a chance.

    I have definitely strayed into other genres throughout my life and feel like I’ve given each their fair shake.
    I tried: Thrillers, mysteries, horror, Crime, Romance, Contemporary, chick lit, etc etc – and read a few in each and found I could even enjoy them but ultimately I didn’t PREFER them. What I love is SFF and will always go back to that.

    I haven’t even read all the types of books within the main genres that I like because there are of course like I said so many sub genres.

    So I’d say the willingness to try books is important but really just read what you want, its meant to be enjoyed.

  14. Nicole @ The Quiet Concert

    I am like you, I tend to stick to my comfort zone and dip my toes in the water of other genres/subjects on occasion. And sometimes it doesn’t always work out but sometimes it really does. I agree that you don’t know what you are missing if you don’t try it. But at the same time, my reading time feels really precious (more so now that school takes up a lot of my free time) so I want to read what I know I will love. I have definitely discovered a lot of books since I started blogging thanks to greater exposure and I feel like I am reading a greater variety than I used to. But at the same time, I don’t consider myself that diverse of a reader because I do stick mainly to YA and Fantasy and Contemporary make up the majority of my reads probably. But to each their own 🙂

  15. Melissa W.

    I think as I grow older, I tend to stick to what I find comfort in (literary fiction), but do go and test other genres from time to time. I realize that diversity in fiction (reading authors from different backgrounds, different genders, etc.) is a huge topic of debate, but I think that what some bloggers fail to realize that some readers will be comfortable in whatever genre they like to read.

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