Hey, y’all! Hopefully everyone in the US enjoyed their long weekend for Labor Day, and hopefully everyone else enjoyed their normal weekend and subsequent Monday. Today’s post is another Top Ten Tuesday, a themed weekly post run by That Artsy Reader Girl, and the topic du jour is, as you probably gathered from this post’s title, “Top 10 Books I Enjoyed That Are Outside of My Comfort Zone.” A few of these titles are ones I read for school, but a fair number are also ones I tried out just because, so I included a little explanation with each one. As usual, the titles are in no particular order. Enjoy!
1. Red, White, & Royal Blue
I used to always insist that I didn’t like romance. At all. I didn’t want sappy stories, and I didn’t get the point of a book that was exclusively about two people being in love with each other. Even now, I’m okay with romance, but I don’t like it to be the focus of a book. But when I saw the rave reviews this one was getting, along with the facts that a) it took place in a world with a female US president, b) the relationship was between ruling families of two separate countries, meaning political intrigue was a factor, and c) the main couple was a gay couple (!!!), I couldn’t resist. Oh man, did this book deliver. Heart and humor in abundance, and a truly adorable couple at the center of it all. It was all the nice mushy feelings, but with an actual plot and social relevance, too. Maybe I shouldn’t write off all romances going forward…
2. A Gentleman in Moscow
I don’t read a lot of historical fiction. It isn’t that I don’t like it, but it’s a genre that I often associated with “school reading” as a kid. As I got older, I tended to only like historical things if they were nonfiction; fictional stories were more fun when they weren’t set in the past. But I received this book as a gift last year, so naturally I gave it a shot–and it was nothing short of delightful to read. Artfully written, with a smart and quirky protagonist you couldn’t help rooting for. It has actually made me want to start branching out into historical fiction a bit more!
“But wait!” you’ll say, “This book is a fantasy story with a sarcastic, kickass female lead! That’s not out of your comfort zone at all, Kathryn!” And you would be right…but also wrong. See, Nevernight had sex scenes in it. Several of them. Fairly explicit ones. I’m not a huge fan of most sexual content–not because I’m a prude or anything, it just isn’t very interesting or enticing for me. (To put it in the words of one of my favorite Facebook tag groups, “I’m too ace for this shit.”) But in this book, I actually didn’t dislike the sex scenes. They were all for very specific character development purposes, and that made them a lot more palatable to me. So in the sense that it included scenes that normally I would avoid at all costs, I would say this definitely counts as a book that was out of my comfort zone.
4. Waiting for Godot
We read this absurdist play in AP English my junior year of high school. It is an entire play about two guys sitting under a tree, waiting for someone (or something). They don’t know who/what it is or when it is coming, just that they need to wait. That’s it. Yet I found it refreshingly entertaining. Funny and cynical and–depending on how you read it–weirdly insightful and philosophically significant. You know, in a “the world is meaningless and nothing matters” sort of way.
5. Snow Crash
This one was just a wild ride all the way. I read it for a class on New Media that also included a day spent playing in our university’s VR lab and a homework assignment to download and play Pokemon Go. Our professor was spectacular and if I could go back and take more classes with her, I totally would. Anyway, point is, the class was crazy (in the best way), but the book was even crazier. Cyberpunk satire that opens with a high-speed pizza delivery/police car chase, about a virus that can crash both your computer and your real-life brain, featuring elements of linguistics, history, and skateboarding, and a main character named Hiro Protagonist.
Yep. Wild ride. Super fun and well worth it, but the whole book was kind of like one long “wtf” moment.
Let’s be real, this book is outside EVERYONE’S comfort zone. Chapter formats include scattered newspaper headlines, a play script, a Q&A dialogue, and a literal stream of consciousness without punctuation. Read it in college for a course on James Joyce, though I will confess I skipped a few chapters because I got really sick during the semester. Still, I read most of it, and it is one of those books that, regardless of whether you LIKE it (I did, but I know some people don’t), you can’t deny that it is a brilliant piece of writing.
Everyone remembers their first Shakespeare. At least, I think they do? Shakespeare is weird the first time you give him a try. The iambic pentameter, the old language, the convoluted plots, the lack of normal descriptors because it’s a play…it isn’t easy. But when my 8th grade English class read this bad boy, our teacher (Ms. LaBianca, you were amazing and we all owe you big time for teaching us how to read and write well) brought it to life, helping us through tricky passages and even having us read/act out scenes as we went along. The big end scene where everyone dies was particularly fun, including the use of mugs in place of wine goblets, tiny plastic beads representing poison in the cup, and people getting stabbed with rulers instead of swords. Since then, I’ve read 10 or so plays by the Bard, but if I hadn’t gone out on a limb for that first one, I probably wouldn’t have.
8. There, There
Going into this book, I didn’t know much about what to expect. I knew people said it was good, and I knew it was about the modern urban Native American experience. Until I picked it up, I hadn’t even realized that I’ve really only read one other book about somewhat contemporary Native Americans: Ceremomy, by Leslie Marmon Silko, which I read for a senior year AP English class in high school and frankly didn’t enjoy much. This story was so much better–at once broader in scope and more intimate with its characters, and written with a voice that is entirely new yet not unfamiliar.
9. Red Rising
This is another one you might look at and wonder why the heck I would call it outside of my comfort zone, because the whole dystopian world and classic vicious-fighting-between-precocious-teens-to-win-favor-from-the-government thing is totally my speed. True. But it is also the first full audiobook I listened to (at least that I can recall). After trying a couple other ones with sub-par narrators that quickly made me want to give up, this one was brought fully to life by the talented Tim Gerard Reynolds, whose performance actually made the book hold my interest.
10. The Shadow Hero
While we are on the subject of “firsts,” might as well include my first graphic novel, too. This was assigned in a different college course with that same crazy/cool/brilliant professor from New Media. Technically I did read the W.I.T.C.H. series as a kid, which had some graphic novel elements, but this was my first one since then, and can I just say, Gene Luen Yang is so talented? His most famous graphic novel, American-Born Chinese, is now on my TBR.
So, what did you guys think? Anyone else do this week’s TTT? Have you read (and enjoyed) any of these? Leave a comment and let me know!