A black and white image of a bookcase

I am an avid reader.

In 2020, I have read 40 books of various genres so far. I am currently reading “Wuthering Heights” for the first time! I have a completely full bookshelf in my room with random stacks of books on the floor due to lack of space, but that has never deterred me from popping into my local bookstore (support local bookshops!) to get more reading material. However, I wasn’t always this way. 

Growing up, I was the kid who hated reading. It did not come easily to me. My mom practically bribed me to finish a single Little House on the Prairie book. My older brother was the reader of the family, finishing both the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson series before graduating elementary school, two series that many readers would consider their intro into a love of reading. Two series I, a devout reader, have never read. 

It was not until the middle of eighth grade that I became a reader. For me, eighth grade signifies one of the most pivotal years of my life. It was amidst the awkward middle school years—a time when I was trying to find friends (ah, middle school)—that I fell in love with books. The first one I ever devoured was “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. Most days in eighth grade, I sat at the lunch table by myself and entered the world of Panam. Reading quickly became a solace for me. That year my parents went from forcing me to read my school required reading to taking away my books as a punishment. 

My parents went from forcing me to read my school required reading to taking away my books as a punishment. 

The solace I found in reading during lonely moments in eighth grade has continued with me throughout my life (although it is no longer “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” that I find comfort in). One of the best things for me to do when I am feeling overly anxious is to read. It takes all of my focus away from whatever I am stressed about and channels it into reading and comprehending the words on my pages. Although reading is my greatest comfort and favorite pastime, I still face insecurities about the books I choose to read and nerves about my ability to comprehend that turned me away from reading as a child. 

It has taken me a long time to feel confident enough to read classics. Even novels such as “Little Women,” which is characterized as a children’s book, I avoided until I was 19 years old due to the fear that I would not finish and be shunned from the reading community for not loving the beloved work.

I felt the same with “Emma” by Jane Austen and currently “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte. Those books are highly esteemed, especially among women, and I was worried about the judgment I would face if I was not able to understand them. Yet, once I started them, I loved each one and wished I could read them for the first time again. 

Once I started them, I loved each one and wished I could read them for the first time again. 

For most of my life, I stuck to sweet, contemporary romances and was insecure about branching out. I was a reader, but I didn’t think I was “smart enough” to read more challenging books outside of that genre. I think that this is what turns a lot of people away from reading—the idea that maybe they are not smart enough or don’t fit the stereotype of being a “reader.” To those who wish to be a reader but are struggling to fit the mold, I encourage you to find the genre that you love and not be ashamed of it. If you prefer non-fiction, then great. More of a romance type? That’s awesome too! 

Being a reader does not mean reading Shakespeare, philosophy or classics all of the time, but it can if that’s what you like! Once you have exhausted your favorite genre, begin to branch out and try others, but do it at whatever pace you want. Do not be afraid to look up words in Old English. We’ve all been there! 

2020 is the year that I started reading poetry and a collection of essay books. If you would have told me even two years ago that some of my favorite books would be collections of non-fictional essays, then I would have laughed at you. Yet, that is the beauty of being a reader. There are always new genres that are waiting to be read and new books being released in your favorite genre. 

In honor of Book Lover’s Day on August 9, here are 10 books outside of my genre comfort zone that I ended up loving: 

  1. “Emma” by Jane Austen 
  2. “Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion” by Jia Tolentino 
  3. “Blue Horses: Poems” by Mary Oliver
  4. “White Teeth: A Novel” by Zadie Smith
  5. “On Cats” by Charles Bukowski 
  6. “Just Kids” by Patti Smith 
  7. “Notes to Self: Essays” by Emilie Pine
  8. “The Girls: A Novel” by Emma Cline 
  9. “The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton” by Anne Sexton 
  10.  “I Miss You When I Blink: Essays” by Mary Laura Philpott

Are there are books you’ve read that you were surprised that you really liked? Leave them in the comments below.

Image via Michaela Winstone, Darling Issue No. 22

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