Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How Often Do You Read What You Think You Won't Like?

Earlier this year I read this piece on Salon from Laura Miller about challenging yourself to read a book you think you'll hate in 2010. I've been meaning to blog about it since, unfortunately time got away from me, but naturally, I love this idea.

I thought about it again when Ana mentioned that she doesn't often have to write negative reviews because as she says, "But it's true that these negative reviews are largely outnumbered by ones of books I did like, simply because as someone who reads for pleasure and has limited time in which to do so, I naturally gravitate towards literature I'm likely to enjoy - and over the years I've come to know my own reading taste well enough that the hits are far more common than the misses."

Well fair enough, I think a lot of us feel the same way, but it made me think about challenging yourself consciously to read something you think you won't like.

I can see you raising an eyebrow at me now. "Why, Amy?" you're asking. "Why would I purposefully look to read a book I think I won't like? Seems like a huge waste of time." I cannot say it better than Laura Miller said it,

Champions of the book like to think that reading broadens the mind and expands the sensibility. It can't do that, though, if the reading lists we choose from are too narrow.

Exactly. Reading narrowly doesn't expand our minds, because we've purposefully set out to limit ourselves already. If we read only within our own idealogy, political persuasion, religion, preferred time periods, or genres, or people we know will agree with us we're not going to learn as much as if we set out to read something totally outside of our normal experience. If we avoid a genre, a time period, a plot device, or setting, we are effectively shutting ourselves out of that part of the human experience and determining it has nothing to say to us.

I'm not suggesting we all go fill up our TBR piles with something we think we'll hate, but I am asking how willing we are to try to read a book we think we'll hate and open ourselves up to experience life and humanity in a different way. To boldly assert that books speak...and that there's value in reading all kinds of books.

One book. One book you shy away from, not because you're scared but because you think you won't like it. It might be chick lit. It might be translated work. It might be a western, a romance, a sci-fi novel, or YA. It might be a children's book, or Christian fiction. It might be a political thriller or a classic. It might be a nonfiction work or even poetry or a graphic novel. It might be a prize winner or a best-selling book. Or maybe this just means seeking out a book that is written by someone who has a different world view than you.

Will you join me in reading a book you think you'll hate in 2010? Will you take the chance?


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