REBLOGGED - Intelligent commentary on the deeply personal nature of reading

Reblogged from Chris' Fish Place:

Let me tell you a story. Once, there was a girl who loved to read fantasy. One day, she discovered a short story collection, she read it, and she loved it. The editors of said collection published many other collections, and in these collections listed books they thought people might enjoy. The young girl asked for one of these books, Possession, for a present. It sounded interesting; it had a story about fairy turning into a snake. When she got the book, the girl was disappointed. It was really about poets, but she read it anyway. She loved it. It made her love literature. She reads it every year.

That girl was me. Even today, I can remember that feeling of reading something that you fall in love with, even if it isn’t normally your thing.

This year, it seems that there is a huge explosive of authors and fans that get angry, very angry when a reader doesn’t like their book. What I find disturbing about many of these attacks, including comments left on one of my reviews, is the amount of people, both authors and fans, who express either a hatred of people who read outside their “comfort zone” or say a reader shouldn’t read outside of that comfort zone. Furthermore, some authors have expressed dislike of reviews of their books that start with something like “I don’t usually read this type of book”.

Authors and fans, this dislike of yours is stupid and dangerous.

First, what exactly is a comfort zone? Many readers have more than one genre that they like to read. How can you pigeon hole them into just one “comfort zone”?

Second, anytime a reader writes “this normally isn’t what I read”, the reader is doing the author a favor in the review – especially if it is a negative review. The reader is saying my lack of familiarity with this type of book mostly liked influenced how I saw it. It lets the reader of the review, a potential reader of the work in question, to determine how much weight to give the review. It also is more honest than some of the professional reviews that get published – You know the ones that start with “Fantasy is nothing but more Morris men which is why Harry Potter”. At least the reviewer is owning his ignorance and bias from the start.

More importantly, however, is the idea that readers should be encouraged to read outside of their comfort zones. It is how we grow as readers. Most readers have read outside of their comfort zones, and added new comfort zones in the process. This desire to read something different comes from the encouragement of friends, teachers, reviewers, and authors. Reading outside a comfort broadens horizons and understanding. Think of how many young adults don’t read outside of their comfort zone because they are not encouraged to do so. It’s great that they like Twilight and Harry Potter or the Vampire Diaries, but shouldn’t they also be encouraged to read history, Austen, Shakespeare, and poetry. Don’t you want them to? You don’t get people to read by telling them that their response to a book is “stupid”, that they shouldn’t be reading it. All that does is encourage people not to read. That is dangerous. Just as saying that reading Twilight is stupid.

It’s only stupid if it is the only thing a person reads. Then such a person will think that Jack and Rose on the Titanic are real, that Hitler’s son freed slaves via the Underground Railroad, that Japan is in China (which is in South America), and so on.

It is not just young adults that are encouraged to read outside comfort zones, it is all readers (and it is never too late to become a reader) that should be encouraged to do so. This is important because reading is important and constantly challenging yourself with what you read is important too. It is how people develop and keep critical thinking skills, skills that are needed in life. These skills translate more into just the reading area – work, politics, and news.

We see this keep to your comfort zone in today’s politics, and perhaps it comes from this idea of only reading in the comfort zone. Look at how bi-partisan and spilt the country in terms of politics. Look at how many people get power from it. Wouldn’t it be better if people actually thought before they voted blindly for whom they were told is in their comfort zone?

That’s way reading is important. That’s way reading outside of a well loved genre is important. True readers progress beyond comfort zones; they read outside them all the time. They learn things, and they give chances to works that they wouldn’t normally. ARCs and free books do this too. I have discovered authors via Netgalley, Goodreads promotions, and free eBooks that I most likely would not have brought because of their genre. I buy them now because I took a risk on a free book (and it is a risk, you are paying for the book in time). If I stayed in my comfort zone, I won’t have even tried the author’s let alone contributed to their bank accounts by buying work after reading the freebie.

It’s dangerous to say “stay in our comfort zone” because that affects sells. Think of how little money J. K. Rowling would’ve made if those readers of hers had simply stayed in their comfort zones. No reader should ever be condemned by anyone – author, fan, or another reader – for moving outside of the comfort zone.

A true reader wouldn’t even think of committing such condemnation