It’s all about perspective. As writers, we don’t want to limit ourselves to our own unique perspective, one single way of looking at the world. We want to tell stories rich with diverse viewpoints and varied understandings of life.
So we read. We read everything—tales from our own culture, from other cultures, stories of death and life and belonging and alienation. We read poetry and prose and the backs of cereal boxes.
We read different things, things that broaden our understanding of the world. Because if we confine ourselves to our own story, we deprive our readers.
If you’re looking to read outside your comfort zone, here are some places to start.
I’ll start off simple. Do you read nothing but literary fiction? Pick up a fantasy novel. Are you into YA? Try some horror. Venture to that dark section of the bookstore, the one you’ve never seen up close, and see what mysteries its bookshelves hold. Take a flashlight if you need to. Or a nightlight.
I had never heard of hyperfiction until it was mentioned in a discussion of Robert Coover. It goes well past the choose-your-own-ending stories we all read when we were younger (Goosebumps, anyone?). This form really changes the game. By placing hyperlinks in fiction, the story becomes pliable and interactive. The author can direct the reader or can leave it open, allowing them to choose their own way. Plus, there can be links to things like maps, audio, or other media.
You can also try your hand at writing a hyperfiction piece. It’s a lot of fun and very challenging. My hyperfiction, Her Only Friends, appeared in NonBinary Review, issue #8 Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.
3. Translated Works
Reading translated work creates a whole new facet to the reading experience. It’s not just a conversation between the author and the reader. The translator's choices have a profound effect on your reading experience. As you're reading, you have to consider that fact. Even if the author is the one who translated the work, it is still different from the original. There are connotations and nuances of words’ meanings that simply cannot be replicated in another language. All in all, it’s definitely an experience worth having.
To get going, try the lists of works in translation here and here.
You might also try something written originally in Old English for the same effect. Or something entirely in Middle English for more of a challenge. Chaucer, anyone?
4. Different Culture
The Milliarium Aureum was a monument in Ancient Rome, from which all roads were said to begin. It was Mile 0, and Rome was the center of the world. Americans, especially, have adopted this attitude, priding ourselves on being the center of the universe.
Egocentrism is not cool. There’s a big bad world out there, and only a tiny portion of it is composed of our personal cultures and beliefs. If you are happy living under a cardboard box in your basement and writing stories for your immediate family who pat you on the back, then by all means, continue reading only work written by, for, and about people with your own background and belief system.
Otherwise, branch out. Read about call centers in India, an English bargeman in an Australian colony, or oppression of women and girls in the developing world. Read something not set in your own backyard—or something that is set there, from an outsider’s perspective.
Stop blushing! Tell me you haven’t struggled with writing a steamy sex scene. Maybe you shied away from the details. Maybe you described what went where like a manual. You could have saved yourself some grief. Here are some Goodreads lists to get you started. Also, here’s a post from sheknows with excerpts.
A lot of us shy away from nonfiction. We immediately think of the dry, boring stuff we read in school. But no! What about memoirs like Angela’s Ashes? Joyce Carol Oates’s look at boxing? And of course, books like Stephen King’s On Writing. And then there’s philosophy.
Here’s a list of creative nonfiction from Goodreads.
7. Self-Published Novel
Many readers have never read a self-published work. There is a whole slew of books just waiting to be read. Plus, many of them are available as ebooks, which definitely changes the reading experience. Read all your books in print? Try reading one on your tablet or smartphone.
8. Short Stories
Most writers likely read short stories on a regular basis, but I know a lot of readers don’t. Which is a shame, especially since there is so much fine short fiction available for free on the internet. Reading short fiction is a great experience. A good piece will hit you hard. You get attached to the characters in the first few sentences, and from there on it’s an emotional zipline. Try longer short stories and flash fiction. If your attention span is short, try Twitter fiction (140 character limit), like that over at Nanoism.
Here is a list from Buzzfeed of literary magazines you should be reading.
Charles Baudelaire said, “Always be a poet, even in prose.” Yes, the forms are different, but they are related. They feed off each other. A poet needs to tell a story, and a prose writer needs artistry of language. Why confine yourself to one form?
10. Graphic Novels
Graphic novels can be just as thoughtful and complex as traditional novels. Plus they’re damn fun to read. If you haven’t read Watchmen, it’s a great place to start.
My challenge to you: read something different today. Read something that challenges you, something that makes you uncomfortable. Read something that helps you find a new piece of yourself.
Author & Editor
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