Reading is my comfort zone. Literally. I can – oh heaven divine! – zone out completely while reading a book. Give me a story and a place to sit down, be it during a train journey or at home, and I’m lost. It has always been like that. I can still remember my lunch breaks at primary school, when the class room was a jungle of noise and I was curled up in the reading corner or at my table with a book.
I had lost books as my save haven for a few years when I went to uni, but the love for reading is back (thanks to blogging, bookstagram, Goodreads and BookTube!). You might know that, other than my ‘strange’ fascination for children’s literature, I’m very much a classics girl. English classics from the 19th century (I blame my mum for this), modern classics … However, I am reading mostly English novels. I barely read Dutch literature and I’ve never read any French (or German) since secondary school. Not in the original language, nor in translation. And then there is the vast amount of literature from beyond my Western European scope which, to be frank, scares me to death sometimes. So. Many. Books.
There’s nothing wrong with one’s personal preference (because hey, it’s called a comfort zone for a reason!) but I think reading diversely is very important nonetheless. Important and fun. Fun because I know I like reading English classics, but isn’t it way more satisfactory to discover something new? And important because I think that staying in my comfort zone means learning nothing or barely anything new or different. To speak with Murakami (which I’ve yet to read …): ‘If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.’
That’s true, isn’t it? Let’s look at it from an academic point of view. I believe that literature is one of the many (many) ways to express sentiment. It is, therefore, a personal text but also an historical document. As an historian I’ve always learned to be as thorough as possible. Although it is impossible to read everything, one can read something or a good deal of everything. When writing an academic essay or paper, I will always have to choose my sources as diversely as possible because I have to eliminate so much: I can’t read everything on the subject concerned. But there’s no research without contesting opinions, and no history without different voices. Writing a paper on something and including only advocates for A isn’t a paper at all. We need B, C, and preferably A1 till A23 to make it interesting, and, in fact, worthwhile.
It works like that for me as well. I like to think that reading is something I enjoy but also something I learn from. Books let you feel the emotions you have and do not have. They let you see the things you see and do not get to see. And they let you listen to people you do and don’t know. Literature is a source, books are our evidence. If a good paper is written with every letter of the alphabet, then I think I should at least try to read out of my comfort zone once in a while.
‘O brave new world!’
Reading diversely is not only reading books by non-English authors, it is also reading different genres, reading more books by women, reading not only the hyped and bestsellers. It shouldn’t be forced, but encouraged and it shouldn’t feel restricting, but liberating.
So, although my reading list of 2015 isn’t exactly the most diverse list (still predominantly white, male authors from the West), I have tried to read some books out of my comfort zone. For example, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys: female, from Creole descent and a novella in stead of a book of 400 pages. Great read, especially when having read (or intending to read) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Also very out of my comfort zone was A Portable Shelter by Kirsty Logan: modern short stories with a magical element. And finally The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter, which became an instant favorite.
I know, apart from Rhys, they’re still white women, but I’m getting there. And I noticed I quite like trying new genres. I tried young adult for example (not my favorite genre, but Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours definitely stayed with me), but also dystopian (Brave New World, yes, a classic and by a male author, but different for me because of its genre) and more fantasy.
Reading is my comfort and that is and will be the most important aspect of the act of reading. I will continue to read English (classical) literature because that was my first love and there is so much more to read. However, as I’ve already experienced, other genres, authors and languages are potential comfort zones as well. I’m looking forward to reading more and more diversely in the hope that those books will become my comfort as well. ‘I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!’
Remaining yours faithfully,