Every avid reader has been there. You think about the books you’ve read most recently, you glance over your to-read list. A pattern emerges, the same authors, the same genre, similar themes, similar stories. You’re in a reading rut.
I found myself in such a rut a little over a year ago. The genre: Young Adult (side note: I could write an entire treatise in defense of this genre. Granted, it has already been tackled on both sides in The Guardian, Slate, the New York Times, and countless other places. I may still write my own piece one day, but in sum: No, it does not begin and end with Twilight. No, it is not about people wanting relive their youth. It is about deep and meaningful stories, which allow the reader to relate much more than many other genres because the themes of finding yourself and discovering your place in the world are things we continue to grapple with throughout our lives).
Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with having certain genres that you love. Ones that you come back to over and over again. Even within the most well trodden of genres, you can find someone who is subverting old themes or doing something new altogether. But I also think it is important to broaden your horizons a bit every now and then and read something outside of your comfort zone. To get exposure to new ideas and different writing styles, but also to keep your reading skills in tip top shape. So what can be done once you’ve realized you’re in a reading rut? I set some reading goals for myself.
Goal One: read more modern, literary fiction. The reason behind this is twofold. By reading works that are more modern I can be part of the discussions which always surround new books. Book clubs, book reviews, online communities, the forums for discussing books are plentiful, and everyone seems to want to discuss the ‘hot new book’. Second, by focusing on the literary end of the spectrum, I can give myself a bit more of a challenge, and who doesn’t need that?
Goal Two: read more graphic novels. Graphic novels are EVERYWHERE. They are infiltrating every aspect of pop culture. And with topics ranging from World War II told through mice, to a young girl’s experience in post revolution Iran, to (of course) Superheroes, there seems to be something for everyone.
Goal Three: revisit my love of the ‘classics’. I found Jane Austen in high school, and thus began my love affair with the classics. Dickens, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, the Bronte sisters, I devoured many of the authors whose works are typically deemed classics. But there are still many more sitting on my to-read list. Plus much of what I have read is very euro-centric, and it is far past time that was corrected.
The realization of my reading rut was over a year ago, so how have I done on these goals? Goal One has been a minor success. Marisha Pessl, Gillian Flynn, and Sarah Waters have all been added to my read pile and my list of to-read in this category is ever growing. Goal Two has been a bit slower. I did finally find a graphic novel series that really clicked with me and which proved to me that there are stories which are best told as graphic novels (The Sandman Series by Neil Gaiman, in case you were wondering). Plus, through the help of some friends and the Internet, I have many more which I am eager to read. Now Goal Three, honestly I have not been successful with this one, but I did start re-reading an old Austen favorite the other night, just to get a taste of the old favorites. All in all, two out of three isn’t bad.
Setting a few reading goals was good for me. I discovered new authors and genres, and read things I may not have picked up before. I now find myself adding new goals in my head (read some Science Fiction and adult Fantasy, try short stories, crack open that copy of selected poems by Lord Byron). Will I accomplish all of these? Probably not, but having them has made me a better, more rounded reader (and hopefully it will ultimately lead to me becoming a better writer). So c’mon, let’s all set some goals. Happy reading!