The Bookish Comfort Zone

Posted February 9, 2013 by Renae // 28 Comments

The Comfort Zone: thoughts from the guru

So far, 2013 hasn’t been a good year in the way of reading. 26 books into the year, and all I had to show for it was a stack of unremarkable, decent-but-not-great reads. 26 books is a long time to go without a book you really love—at least for me it is. I was stuck in a rut of bad books, and I thought to myself: what am I doing wrong?

The answer, really, was quite simple: I’d crossed the border into 2013, but my comfort zone didn’t make the trip with me. For 26 books I was busy trying new things, following the hype, reading books I wanted to read but not ones that necessarily wanted me to read them. I didn’t take the time to regroup, head back to base camp and get my head on straight before I ran off to try the next crazy/weird thing on my to-read list.

See, I have a comfort zone: contemporary/realistic YA fiction and classic lit, and for the last four weeks, I’ve ignored its existence. I’m all for trying new things, branching out, broadening horizons, etc., but there’s something reassuring about going back to a place you know you’re good. Nobody really likes reading bad book after terrible book after oh-gawd-it-burns-us book. So while there’s really no such thing as a sure thing, chances are that if you head back inside your comfort zone, you’ll enjoy what you read.

Sometimes readers just don’t want to branch out. Aliens don’t interest them, Classic literature is so boring and long-winded, girly books are pool trash and an embarrassment to own. That’s definitely a bit silly. Like your mom always said at the dinner table: how do you know you won’t like it if you haven’t tried it? I mean, if you’ve genuinely attempted to get through Dickens and he’s really just not for you, totally fine! But if you’ve cocooned yourself so deep inside your comfort zone that you aren’t open to new experiences, fine.

Yet maybe at the same time, it’s possible to be too open. I think some of my reading ruts happened when I was attempting to read things I either didn’t have a true interest in or just couldn’t click with, over and over and over again. I got burned out. There’s a safety inside that comfort zone. You know that maybe you won’t adore this book, the probability is higher than with anything else.

For me, it’s definitely a fine line that I have to walk. I can read some paranormal fiction every once in a while, but too much drains me and ruins my reading mojo. I need to remember to throw in some contemporary titles, or take a break from quick reads and crack open Dickens (who, incidentally, I do enjoy). Reading too much of anything—even books from within your comfort zone—can mess with you. Balance is key. Don’t be too shy of trying new genres, but don’t be afraid to retreat to your old fallback if things don’t work out.

this has been a message from Zen Guru Sensei Master Renae. Her upcoming self-help manual, Discovering Your Reading Mojo: Reading What You Love, will be available by owl post to select customers in the Year of Chocolate Cake and Skinny-dipping. Stay tuned!

…joke. Obviously.

So…any thoughts? What’s your reading comfort zone? Do you sometimes stray away from books you love and find yourself in need of a comfort book? Have you had any disastrous attempts to read outside the zone? When you get in a reading rut, what helps you get out?


Renae has written book reviews and other miscellany for Respiring Thoughts since 2012. She loves dogs, Mexican food, mountains, Shakespeare, and procrastinating. She's currently working on an undergrad degree in English/Spanish lit in the Midwest. Connect with Renae on Twitter, Goodreads, and Tumblr.

Categories: Book Talks


28 responses to “The Bookish Comfort Zone

  1. I don’t know that I can define my comfort zone so easily…I find that I can enjoy almost any genre, if I enjoy the plot/writing. What happens to me, is I get caught up in accepting review requests/requesting ARCs. instead of reading the books I really WANT to.

    For example, I just finished a review request book today, and it was decent – probably going to give it three stars. But the whole time I was reading, I was thinking – I just have to get through this, and like three others, and then I can read Boundless and Shades of Earth! The finales to two trilogies I’ve been waiting for!

    So I guess my comfort zone is more-so the books I have chosen to read, versus the books I have been asked to read? If that makes any sense! Lol
    Kelly recently posted…ARCs, Blog Hauls and JealousyMy Profile

    • I totally know where you’re coming from! I think for the first…6 months or so of me accepting review copies, I didn’t rate a single book more than 3 stars. I don’t know what was up, but because I’d gotten so trigger happy on NetGalley and agreed to everything that came into my email inbox, I went through a huge depressed state.

      (This is why I’ll never become a “big blogger”—reading too many ARCs in a row gets tedious for me, and I’d hate to have to do a schedule like most of them have.)

  2. This is definitely something that happens to me. My confort zone is contemporary, and I’ve noticed especially lately I’ll read a lot of non-contemporary books and I can’t enjoy them as much as I normally would because I’m burnt out. Whenever I’m in a rut, I go straight to something I know I’ll love: contemporary. I might even read a few contemporary novels just to get myself back into my groove. But you’re right, it’s definitely all about balance. If I read too much contemporary, I get burnt out on that as well. To prevent that from happening, I try to mix up as much as possible.
    Rachel recently posted…Review: Everneath by Brodi AshtonMy Profile

    • It’s funny how we bloggers tend to have to balance things to keep reading from being a chore. That constant juggling act is probably one of the few downsides I can think of, actually, but in my opinion, it’s SO necessary. Otherwise we WILL get burnt out and reading will become un-fun and just…bad things.

  3. I either don’t have a reading comfort zone or it’s just very broad. Seriously, I’ll read just about anything and love books in most genres. Of course, I do have my favorites that I tend to go to and usually get higher ratings. But my reading is generally all over the place, although I have been on a YA kick so far this month.

    I did read one book from a genre I don’t usually read recently, because I wanted to give it a try, and it was basically a failure. Will I be avoiding that genre from now on? No, especially since I did get a recommendation that sounds good. I won’t be going out of my way to read similar books though. On the other hand, I also discovered a new genre and I am going out of my way to squeeze in more books from it!
    Angie F. recently posted…Review: Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #2) by Laini TaylorMy Profile

    • I think that’s really cool, Angie, that you can so easily switch genres without feeling that you’re taking a risk. I feel like that sometime, but then others I’ll be reading a book and be all “whoa, this is a really unusual book for me to be reading; I’m surprised I like it so much!”

      And I really love what you say about not avoiding genres just because you’ve had bad experiences in the past. The really great thing is that no two books or authors are truly the same, so just because a novel is similar to the other doesn’t mean you won’t like the one if you hated the other.

  4. I tend to get burnt out on dystopians. I guess it’s because I get easily frustrated if I can’t buy into the world. Then I’ll ask myself why I read them in the first place if I’m so picky, but if I quit reading them all together, I worry about missing out on ones I would have liked. And I have really enjoyed some dystopian titles, like The Hunger Games and Delirium. So this year, I’m trying to keep the dystopian reads fewer and further between to avoid burnout. My comfort zone is paranormal, and that’s what I definitely go running to after a disappointing read in another genre.
    Lee @ Rally the Readers recently posted…Stacking the Shelves (27)My Profile

    • I am the same way with dystopians. Because they were such a popular thing, I tried a ton at the beginning of last year, but so few of them met up to my standards, and I felt weird for reading a string of REALLY popular books and giving them all low ratings. So now, like you, I keep my dystopian novels spread out so a) I enjoy more books and b) I don’t have to write so many negative and/or ultra-picky reviews (which may or may not be a success in 2013 so far).

  5. I am older so I know what I like and how far out into the wading pool I should go to avoid being bitten by a bad book. I think you always need to try different genres. In the twenty’s I tried contemporary adult and omg..yuck we hated each other. now in my forties I am loving New Adult and Adult Contemps..go figure. I try to throw in a book once or twice a month that is a little different, plus I never read the same genre back to back or any series in a row. I change it up and cleanse my palette. Great post!
    kimbacaffeinate recently posted…Coffee Pot Reviews: The Coincidence of Callie & Kayden and Someone to LoveMy Profile

  6. LOVE! I think of comfort zones like comfort food. I love trying new food, but if all I’m doing is trying new foods, eventually I’m going to start craving my comfort foods–the foods that just make me FEEL GOOD without fail. I think you have to try new things to avoid letting the “old” things get TOO old, but you also can’t neglect the comfort stuff. So yes. Like you said, balance.

    My comfort zones change depending on my mood and reading tastes. Right now I’m staying within paranormal genres. (But it used to be adult contemp romance. So there you go.)
    Amanda @ On a Book Bender recently posted…Doin’ It Dirty 2.0: Wrap UpMy Profile

    • Ah yes food! I love that comparison. Balance really is important, especially for bloggers (or, I don’t notice a lot of non-bloggers complaining on getting burnt out unless they’re reading a lot for school).

  7. Until the end of 2012, I would say things like “You know, sci-fi doesn’t really interest me,” “I hate romance books” “Not sure contemporary is my thing”, and you know, I’ve read at least one book in each of those genres since last November that I’ve absolutely LOVED. I definitely still have my bookish comfort zones, and I think that’s OK, but I’m learning to explore them.

    I think part of my problem is that I had the same preferred genres since I started high school–fantasy and suspense, mainly, and even though *I’ve* changed so much in the last seven or eight years, I just assumed my reading taste wouldn’t. Now I’m learning that they have. My once-comfort zone of high fantasy doesn’t really interest me too much anymore. I still love it, of course, but it’s not the first genre I go to. Likewise, even though fourteen-year-old me hated contemporary doesn’t mean 22-year-old me has to, and until recently I never really gave myself permission to figure that out.
    Stormy recently posted…Book Review: The Maze Runner by James DashnerMy Profile

    • I totally understand this. Throughout middle school and a lot of high school, I was pretty adamant that YA was trash and I hated it. But then I started blogging and realized, oh hey, this is actually not bad.

    • That makes sense! I’m a character-driven reader as well, and I’m a huge sucker for prose poetry. I don’t necessarily think of those things as being in my “comfort zone”, though—just as things I really enjoy and would like to read more often.

  8. I go through phases really. My comfort zone is pretty wide, like others who have commented it’s about character driven stories and a writing style I gel with. There are weeks where I want nothing more than to curl up with an urban fantasy series though, and I’ll do that, review books be damned! I’m not under contract to review, it’s not a job and my review policy states I don’t read to deadlines, so the review copy thing doesn’t impact me so much. I know others get guilty but you do have to read to please yourself. If that is pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone, then great, but comfort reading is just as important. Like you said it’s about balance.
    Ellie recently posted…Incoming!My Profile

    • There are times when I would really like to be a blogger who gets 10-20 ARCs every week, but then I remember the pressure associated with all those review copies and I’m glad I’m a library/purchase reader. I do get to read what I want when I want, and the few review copies I do have don’t come with a lot of pressure, thankfully. I imagine that it would be easier to get burnt out on just ARCs even if they do fall within your “comfort zone”.

  9. I have a pretty wide comfort zone, actually. There are a lot of things I like, but Paranormal, Fantasy, Historical fiction and Dystopians always do the trick for me. Books I always run back to are fairytales and retellings. This genre is by far my favorite. I don’t have reading slumps, but they would be the answer.

    I haven’t come across a Contemporary book I really love so far, but I try them once in a while 🙂 One I read last year was Anna and the French Kiss (and I didn’t really like it..) It’s fun to read something else now and then, but like you said: you should aways return to the books you know you will love. That’s what reading is all about after all; enjoying yourself!
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Showcase Sunday (23) Bargain.My Profile

    • It’s really great that you’re so comfortable with branching out and have success in almost every genre. I guess I’m just not that diverse of a reader, though, as someone who does enjoy contemporary, I must confess that I’m not a huge fan of Stephanie Perkins, either.

  10. Great post, Renae! I think all of us have comfort zones, and a lot of people aren’t willing to stray outside them… and yet, if you think about it, anything that is in your comfort zone now was outside it at some point in my life. Maybe you were too young, maybe you had never tried that genre before, but once upon a time, you didn’t read mystery, or fantasy, or chick lit, or classic literature… you get the idea. Then one day, you tried something outside your comfort zone — your first chapter book, your first adult novel, your first Jane Austen — and you loved it. Or maybe hated it. But if you loved it, suddenly you were exploring a whole new batch of books, and you had expanded the boundaries of your comfort zone.

    I’ve had this happen to me more than once. Discovering Nancy Drew as a child led me to love mysteries. Finding out that women I looked up to read historical romances (which I had always looked down on) led to discovering that there were some really good authors writing in that genre. But I’m like you — I can’t push the envelope too far, too fast unless I find something I really love. And I can’t move out of my zone at all if I’m stressed or sad. That’s when I *need* to read something from my comfort zone. If things are really stressful, it will probably be something familiar.
    Lark @ The Bookwyrm’s Hoard recently posted…The Sunday Post (Sunday Salon) — 2/10/13My Profile

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Lark!

      I totally understand what you’re saying—that certain things can lead you discovering other things. (Especially when you find out that people you admire read X genre, or, in my case, your best friend listens to X kind of music, lol.) And I loved Nancy Drew! Her books were probably the first mysteries I read as a kid, and they’re so much fun. And then there are the PC games which are equally awesome. Gah, I love Nancy!

  11. I like to stray out of my bookish comfort zone, but you need to balance it with familiar reads. If you read too many bad or meh books in a row, it can really turn you off reading, at least temporarily.

    Honestly, I love to see bloggers branch out, but there’s also something to be said for knowing what you like and sticking to it. My ratings will always be lower than the average blogger’s, just because I do so much genre- and age group-hopping in my reading. I’ll read a classic, a nonfiction audio, a children’s book, a middle grade fantasy, a depressing YA contempory, a dystopia, and adult literary fiction all back to back. Most people don’t do that. You can totally see that on my GR too. I’m all over the place.

    I wouldn’t give up my experiments, because, if I hadn’t branched out, I wouldn’t know how good YA contemporaries are now or that I actually like books that make you feel like your heart is dying.

    Balance is important. Maybe challenge yourself on every fifth book or every third, but leave the bulk of your reading to books you know are your style.
    Christina (A Reader of Fictions) recently posted…Review: The Neverending StoryMy Profile

    • It’s always fun to read reviews from a reader who wouldn’t normally have read that book, especially if it’s a book you personally enjoy. That way you can get a really unique opinion in the mix and see what’s going on from there perspective.

      Personally, I do consider myself to be eclectic enough that I’m never truly “experimenting” so much as reading from a genre I don’t tend to be quite as successful in on a regular basis. Obviously, though, contemporary and classic lit have a higher success rate than anything else.

      • True. Lately I’ve been having the best success with contemporary novels and historicals, although historicals tend to either be very good or abysmal. Dystopias I love and can’t wait to get my hands on, but I actually have a VERY low success rate with them. Post-apocalyptics tend to be the slightest bit better, but still fail frequently. Paranormal I don’t do much anymore, and fantasy, which used to be my standby, have been betraying me lately.
        Christina (A Reader of Fictions) recently posted…Top Ten Favorite Bookish RomancesMy Profile

    • I think the only type of books I know for sure I don’t like are mangas and erotica, and I’m about 100% sure that any “tests” I would do for those genres would be massive failures like yours, lol.

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