Check Your Reading

Readers are smart people. We know that. Reading almost anything makes you learn things, even if they're not massively important things. Non-fiction is the most reliable source for learning, although you have to be careful whose nonfiction it is. Recent studies showed that reading fiction can make a person more empathetic, presumably because you put yourself in the place of others and see life from viewpoints other than your own.

Over time we develop reading habits, and that's both good and bad. If you always read one genre and even one sub-genre, you're going to end up in a rut. Publishers encourage this, hoping and expecting that readers will buy the next book in a series by their favorite author, even if it's pretty much the same as the book before it and the one before that. Sadly, they can get sloppy if they think buyers are locked-in to the series. The last book I read by one of my favorite authors was poorly edited and so much like the rest that there wasn't much joy in reading it.

I read mostly mystery, but events of the last few years forced me to branch out, which made me more aware of my reading choices. I read to someone who could no longer read for herself, and that meant scientific stuff I'd never have chosen, Hollywood biographies (again, not my style), and sci-fi/fantasy like The Hunger Games and Twilight (waaaaay down my list of worthwhile reading).

I can't say the time was wasted. I learned a lot about astrophysics, brain research, Tina Fey, and what most of America is reading. I also learned that I don't always have to pick up another mystery. I doubt I'll go back to YA adventure anytime soon, but I do regularly buy something on the scientific spectrum now, because it's interesting to learn what's out there that I know little about. And I've done some reading in other genres, mostly by asking local bookstore people, "What would I like to read?" They're very patient about searching out books for me, and though sometimes it isn't to my taste, other times I'm very interested.

A few days ago a former student recommended the Gentleman Bastards series, so I bought the first one. So far it's kind of fun, though I'm not much into the world-building part of fantasy novels. It's got interesting characters and lots of action, so I'm enjoying the temporary shift from the likes of Lee Child and Michael Connelly.

I recommend shaking up your reading every once in a while. Ask yourself:
Am I in a reading rut?
Have I read outside my favorite sub-genre lately?
Do I explore other genres?

If you haven't, it's like living on chocolate cake. It's really sweet, but it probably isn't the best thing for you in the long run.


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