Reading Outside My Comfort Zone

For me, reading outside my comfort zone means following wisps of ideas and half-understood references in one topic to others.  It means listening to or reading about opinions and perspectives that are not mine … I might have literally no common experience or understanding to connect me to them.  Many times, this means discovering authors, movements and perspectives long after “the world” discovered them.  Sometimes it means discovering them in time to recommend and discuss them with family and friends before they make the best seller list or reach Oprah’s Book Club.

Recently, this means listening to Joan Didion.  I have not read her novels.  I listened to THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING and then to BLUE NIGHTS.  I followed that with SOUTH AND WEST (which is playing even now).  Oddly enough, the path here wandered through memoirs, biographies and autobiographies about celebrities, political figures and average people having both common and extraordinary experiences.

Some days, I want only what I call “potato chip books.”  By this I mean fair to excellent writing with relatable characters that don’t require a lot of thought or questioning.  On the upper end of this mode is Nora Roberts and nearer the bottom are the beach reads about sisters in Nantucket or firefighters finding romance in Colorado.  These used to mean romance series issues by Harlequin and Silhouette Books, but I don’t tolerate these well anymore.  I did retain several authors who also got their start there (see Nora Roberts above or Elizabeth Lowell or Kay Hooper).

Perhaps inevitably, I also fall into a genre or topic and read/listen feverishly until I’ve exhausted myself.  For example:  I went from Arthurian tales and Celtic mythology to Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey to Jung to synchronicity to Wicca to paganism to Native American mythology to AIM (the American Indian Movement) and indigenous history to the historical Old West.

I believe in justice and equality and equal treatment under the law … the separation of church and state … the right for self-determination which means throwing off gender roles and my absolute right to hold opinions and discuss them with civility.  I’ve aspired to the pure logic of Spock from STAR TREK only to realize that emotion and connection make daily life worth living.  I’ve accepted that my experience is not necessarily the “normal” experience and learned to appreciate my advantages while despising what that means for other people.

And through all this, reading has been a catalyst and a refuge.  So, my wish for everyone is that they appreciate other voices and experiences and read or listen to something that leads them in a new direction even if they return to the main path.