Let me spin you a yarn: I was nine or ten, stuck at home during the summer away from the glorious school library, and unable to make it to the public library. My personal library was extremely small, but I was desperate to read something. My parents had a modest bookshelf in the living room with World Encyclopedias for the entire twentieth century and a set of the brown, leather Time Life series. The titles on the spines were simple: The Pioneers, The Cowboys, The Great Chiefs, etc. With no other options, I cracked open a book titled The Indians and read half of it in one day! I loved the pictures of the mud houses and teepees they built, and the descriptions of their daily lives and rituals. I would have never gone to the library and chosen a book on Indians, but I spent that entire day curled up on the couch in complete awe of a world I’d never known about before.
Nowadays, in this same predicament, I would download the Kindle app on my phone or iPad (or pull out my ancient, first edition Kindle) and buy a book in the genre of my choice—probably something YA or supernatural. If I didn’t have any money, I could even resort to reading uploaded PDFs on the web (though I’d like to clarify that I’ve never done this nor do I ever intend to). The point is that technology allows for every form of entertainment to be at our fingertips, and, while this has its benefits, it also has its downsides. Namely, that people aren’t forced to read broadly. Instead, we can stay within the safety of our chosen genres and expected plot devices without ever having to branch out.
Why should you bother branching out?
You are closing yourself off to the wide, wonderful world of reading
It’s like if you were given a delicious slice of warm apple pie (or whatever dessert you enjoy best). You enjoy it so much that you refuse to eat anything other than apple pie ever again. You eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Does that sound like a crazy thing to do? Well, that’s what readers hear when people tell them they don’t read anything other than Westerns or Romance novels or Dystopian fiction. They are all great genres in their own right, but why wouldn’t you want to see what else books have to offer?
You’ll look smarter
A lot of people don’t read much, but that doesn’t stop them from being impressed by people who do. Trust me on this one, you seem WAY smarter when you can hold a conversation about books that aren’t on the New York Times bestseller list. Maybe this is a shallow reason for reading more broadly, but everyone is somewhat concerned about how they appear to other people, so this is one easy way to help with that.
You’ll learn and it won’t be painful
How often can you say learning something new is easy? Well, reading non-fiction is one instance where that’s true. Regardless of your assumptions (namely that non-fiction books are boring how-to’s or history books with countless timelines and dates), non-fiction books are written to be enjoyable and consumable. You can pick one up and in a matter of hours learn about an era of human history, real life crimes that shocked the country, or how our bodies are preserved for the grave. Learning new things shouldn’t be reserved for school children, and with non-fiction books the classroom is brought to you.
If you’re a writer, it will make you a BETTER WRITER
The bottom line is that you have to read broadly to find your own writing style. If you’re a writer, but you only read J.R.R. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling, then you are going to sound like Tolkien or Rowling. Finding your own voice requires reading everything you can, and there is no short cut.
I’m not just going to demand you read more books and then leave you hanging! Here are some of my favorite books from all different genres:
-The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards (Fiction)
About a man in 1964 who delivers his own twins, and, upon realizing one of them has Down Syndrome, asks the nurse to take the child to an institution without ever telling his wife. The nurse, unable to abandon the child, takes her in and raises her as her own. The story spans a quarter of a century and follows both families, who are unknowingly bound together by the husband’s split second decision.
-Buried by The Times by Laurel Leff (Non-fiction)
A critical account of The New York Times’s coverage (or lack thereof) of Nazi atrocities against Jews that culminated in the Holocaust.
-Haints Stay by Colin Winnette (Western)
I’ve talked about this book before, so I’ll just leave the link to my full review here.
-Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (Science Fiction)
“When unattended environmental and economic crises lead to social chaos, not even gated communities are safe. In a night of fire and death, Lauren Olamina, a minister’s young daughter, loses her family and home and ventured out into the unprotected American landscape. But what begins as a flight for survival soon leads to something much more: a startling vision of human destiny…and the birth of a new faith.”
-To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (YA romance)
A super light, super sweet romance about a teenage girl who keeps a hat box full of unmailed love letters to her previous crushes, until one day, those letters are sent out. Lara Jean has to deal with the consequences of the boys she once loved reading the letters they were never meant to receive. The story is lighthearted and touching. Perfect for a lazy Sunday or a day in the park.
-Duma Key by Stephen King (Horror/Thriller)
(I realize this may not be one of King’s most famous works, but it is one of the few that wasn’t too scary for me to get all the way through.) Six months after Edgar Freemantle lost his arm in a work accident, he can still feel the ghostly scratches and movements of his no longer there limb. So, when his marriage falls apart, he moves to the Florida coast and takes up painting. His talent for the art form seems to come from someplace outside his body, and the paintings have a power that cannot be controlled.
-God Grew Tires of Us by John Bul Dau (memoir)
“Lost Boy” John Bul Dau’s harrowing experiences surviving the brutal horrors of Sudanese civil war and his adjustment to life in modern America is chronicled in this inspiring memoir. The book traces Dau’s journey through hunger, exhaustion, terror, and violence, as he fled his homeland, dodging ambushes, massacres, and attacks by wild animals. His 14-year journey began when he was only 13, and took him on a 1,000 mile walk, barefoot to Ethiopia, back to Sudan, then to a refugee camp in Kenya, where he lived with thousands of other Lost Boys before finally being relocated to America in 2001. He recounts the shock of his tribal culture colliding with life in America. He shares the joy of reconnecting with his family and the challenges of making a new life for himself while never forgetting the Lost Boys he left behind.
-Columbine by Dave Cullen (true-crime/history)
Again, I’ve written a review for this book already, so feel free to read it here. This was one of my favorite books of 2015, so I highly recommend it.
-Emma by Jane Austen (Classic/Romance)
“Beautiful, clever, rich – and single – Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protégée Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen’s most flawless work.”
-City of Bones – Book 1 from The Mortal Instruments series (Ya Supernatural)
*BONUS- this series is now being adapted into a TV show called Shadowhunters on Freeform*
“When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to eh Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three teenagers with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. And she’s more than a little startled when the body disappears into thin air. Soon Clary is introduced to the world of the Shadowhunters, a secret cadre of warriors dedicated to driving demons out of our world and back to their own. And Clary is introduced to vengeance when her mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a grotesque monster. How could a mere human survive such an attack and kill a demon? The Shadowhunters would like to know…”
Hopefully this list will help you begin to read more broadly, thereby experiencing the full spectrum of joy literature can offer! Let me know what you think of my list and add any of your own reasons/books in the comments!