“You must have read every book in this library!”. I frequently hear this comment while I’m working at the desk in the library. Most people look a bit disappointed when I tell them I haven’t read every book in the whole library. Not even close. Librarians try to be well-versed in different kinds of literature but we are just like most people with different preferences. I have to admit, as much as I’d like to pretend I have broad literary taste, I am a niche reader. I have my groove, my comfort zone, my sweet spot when it comes to books and I really have to make an effort broaden my reading horizons. Since 2017 is almost here, it’s a great time to break out of a rut and try new things.
Personally, I love Young Adult books (or YA as we say in the biz) and have a particular fondness for YA fantasy books with strong female protagonists. I’ve read so many of these kinds of books I can easily spot something that will strike my fancy by the cover art or even by the first couple of sentences in the book! Sarah J. Maas is my current favorite Young Adult fantasy author and any new edition in either her Throne of Glass and Court of Thorn and Roses series are at the top of my “to read” list.
If you know you like reading a certain kind of book, what’s the point trying to find new things? One glance in the bookstore or on Amazon shows us that every genre gains hundreds of additional titles daily. Publishing has exploded over the past twenty years and the industry excels at beating a dead horse by promulgating every derivative plot that comes along. If you weren’t inclined to seek out other types of books beyond your current interest, there probably wouldn’t be a need. You’d certainly never run out of things to read in your favorite literary genre!
But variety is the spice of life! Most of us will never get to all those things on our bucket list. The world is wide and we may never get to see or hear or smell or do it all. But we can read about it. As George R. R. Martin said in A Dance with Dragons, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads lives only one.” Reading is a way to travel beyond ourselves and our present circumstances. As much as we all like the comfort and familiarity of same-ness, there are a few reasons you might consider branching out.
First, constantly reading the same type of books is boring. You might find yourself skipping pages in a familiar plot or reading the ending of a book or even wondering if you’ve read this particular title before! All three are signs that it’s time to try something different. I’ve read many dystopian young adult novels. Only a few have really challenged my thinking or left an impression. I know I need to change gears when I start accurately predicting the ending of a book before I get to the middle of the plot!
Plus, reading something new and different gives you an interesting topic of discussion at your next stop at the office watercooler or holiday cocktail party. And if you hate the new book you’re reading? Feel free to bellyache! Sometimes, it’s easier to find common ground with other people when we complain about the things we can’t stand rather than gushing over the things we love.
Finally, you will notice a drop in quality as you dig deeper into a genre. As a librarian who orders a wide variety of genres for the library’s collection, I’ve seen the same types of stories over and over. Successful, memorable books are ones that take a fresh look at familiar tropes in a genre. For example, many people found the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson so refreshing because the Lisbeth Salander character challenged both the traditional roles played by detective and victim in a detective story.
When I look back at my own reading journey, I can see definite patterns emerging as I’ve grown older. In my teens and 20s, I was exclusively a mystery reader. Then I moved on to young adult books once I reached my 30s. I think I’m at a reading crossroads again as I’m noticing my general impatience with authors and genres I previously devoured. So how do I move on? How do I shake it up?
A few strategies come to mind but they are all based on reading as a social activity. Most people think of reading as a solitary pursuit but my time in the library world has shown me how books bring us together. The best way to find new books is through other people. You can definitely browse the shelves to see if anything jumps out at you but books take on a new life when another human is speaking (or writing) passionately about them. The first place I generally look for new and upcoming titles is BookPage, a monthly bulletin featuring book reviews, interviews with authors, book lists, genre roundups and other special features. The library gives out this publication free of charge to the public at the Circulation and Reference Desks.
Another great way to get out of a reading rut is to join a book club. Book club leaders usually decide which book the group will read which forces participants to try things outside their comfort zone. Some book groups are a bit more democratic and have members vote on each month’s title. The library even runs two wonderful book groups for patrons to join. Our ”First Thursday Book Discussion” has been facilitated for 30 years by veteran reference librarian Margot Sullivan. The library’s other book group for 20- and 30-somethings, Titles on Tap, takes book clubs beyond the library and meets at Napper Tandy’s on the fourth Tuesday of the month.
If in-person groups aren’t your thing, you could always try joining an online book challenge to discover new titles. GoodReads, an online social media platform for readers, includes online book challenges and online book groups. Groups are tagged by the genre they represent. Discussion are held on online message boards and encourage readers from all over the world to virtually connect.
Ultimately, like all things in life, the best way to find new things to read is to keep an open mind. Even if you hear about a book and you aren’t sure if you’ll like it, give it a shot. And don’t forget! Librarians are your greatest book recommendation resource! We may look like a tame bunch but our staff boasts a crew of diverse readers and an insatiable drive to find the right book for every person. We may not have read every book in the library but we certainly can FIND every book in the library.
Kate Tigue is the Assistant Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read Kate’s column in the December 22nd issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.