Stepping Out of My Zone: A Biography of My Reading History

I wouldn’t exactly call it my comfort zone, but I am definitely stepping out of my most commonly occupied zone.

When I began reading wayyyyy back in fifth grade (1990ish), I quickly became a Sweet Valley High junkie. Next was The Babysitter’s Club. I literally read hundreds of those teeny bopper books and loved every bit of them. Now that I think about it, it would actually be interesting and probably a bit horrifying to read one now.

Later during high school, I read every single Danielle Steele novel she’d ever written. Eventually, I got to the point where I could no longer tell them apart. Later, I would realize the reasoning behind that was basically the same reason she’d managed to be so prolific. Most of her novels were pretty much recycled plot lines where the characters had different names but the same voice and they were facing a somewhat different conflict in a different setting…. but when you’ve read them all and you look back, you realize they’re all essentially the same book.

So I decided to take a leap, and I had a spin with Nora Roberts and Karen Robards. Admittedly, they are both very similar to Danielle Steele, but there was more action and more to the stories… more variety, the characters had distinct voices and personalities, the authors had different writing styles.

Eventually though, I grew tired of the entire romance genre. I was sick of the happily-ever-afters, the cliche sexual tension, and the stubborn characters who denied their feelings for stupid reasons. I made a vow; the next book I chose to read would definitely not feature some cheesy cursive script on the cover with two impossibly attractive people embracing in the background.

So I went back to my roots. The first real book I’d ever read was Pet Sematary by Stephen King. This was when I was eight years old. My dad is a big reader, and all the books I had were “kid’s books”. So I chose one from his collection and dug in, not realizing it probably wasn’t very age appropriate. I was so proud of myself when I finished that book. My first novel.

I might have been too young to get a lot of it at the time, but I was definitely old enough to be scared shitless for weeks afterwards. I dreamed about Pascal and Rachel’s sister, Zelda. But I still thought I was cool because I’d read one of the hardcover books from my dad’s bookshelf (my King obsession is genetic).

When I reapproched Stephen King years later, I was excited… with good reason. He’s an amazing author. By now, I’ve read all but two or three of his books, and I’ve never felt like he’s recycled a plot line. He’s actually the only author to write a number of novels I enjoyed enough to reread besides Twain.

If you’re wondering, my favorites are (in no certain order) 11/22/63, Under the Dome, IT, Pet Sematary, Insomnia, Different Seasons, The Shining, The Stand, Dr. Sleep, Salem’s Lot, Hearts in Atlantis, and my number one favorite is the entire Dark Tower Series (8 novels total). It’s worth noting that each of these are referring to the book version, not the movies. Also, if you’re starting out, don’t begin with the DT Series. It ties in with a ton of his other novels. You’ll enjoy it much more if you have the context to draw from. However 11/22/63, Under the Dome, and IT are all wonderful starting points as are many others.

Next, I moved on to Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son. Let me tell you, he’s definitely his father’s son. If they marketed a Joe Hill novel with Stephen King’s name, even the most die-hard fan would likely be fooled. The only thing he lacks that his father has mastered is the Literary (with a big L) form of writing. King is a master of metaphor and brilliant turns of phrase. That’s not to say Hill’s writing is lacking. It may not be up to par with his dad’s, but he does provide supurb writing and wonderfully twisted story lines… great stuff.

Later, when I started getting into my upper level Literature classes in college, I discovered my love for classics. Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Gaskell, Jane Austen, the Brontes, Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, etc…

After a contemporary literature course, I stumbled into the world of award winning, critically acclaimed, contemporary literature and fell in love again. These books may never be found on the best seller lists, but they didn’t win Pulitzers and other fiction awards for nothing.

It is my opinion that a true lover of literature will eventually seek more than what can be found in mainstream novels.

That being said, during the semester I never have time for leisure reading. I’m often enrolled in at least two lit courses at a time, and my Southern Lit syllabus for the upcoming semester has us reading 14 novels in 14 weeks, if that’s any indicator of the reading load.
But during summer and winter break, my reading time is all mine. So far this winter, I’ve read Conversations With a Fat Girl by Liza Palmer, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Yes Please by Amy Poehler, The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb, and Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King.

With two weeks left of my break, I’m impatiently awaiting my first novel for Southern Lit to arrive so I can get a headstart (Sanctuary by William Faulkner). But it’s taking FOREVER to get here.

Soooo… I decided to, yet again, approach a different type of book than what I’m accustomed to. A friend of mine suggested the Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks. Aside from Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series and Eye of the Dragon, it’s the first Sci-fi/fantasy book I’ve read.

I’m digging it so far. I periodically have to ask my husband what certain things are…. apparently I’m not down with the fantasy lingo, but I’m definitely into it.

What about you? What genres have you explored? Hated? Loved? Are you a dedicated single-genre reader, or do you switch it up? Let me know in the comments!


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