Outside Your Comfort Zone
One of the great things about reading is that it gives you an opportunity to explore and push the boundaries of your "comfort zone". This week's session is about that: it's about taking a look at what you normally read - do you read pretty much the same types of books? - and pushing yourself to try something new. If you've followed the Bookclub, you'll see that I tend to read non-fiction, history/bio, and mysteries. But I know it's important to "think outside the box" and expand my horizons, so I try to read works outside my normal circle to try something new and different. This week is about that: challenging yourself to pick up a book from a genre you "think" you don't like - for me it's Sci Fi, Fantasy, Poetry, Popular Fiction - and realizing that when you do, you often find some amazing books. Here are some gems I've encountered when exploring outside my comfort zone.
I love poetry. BUT, I'lll be the first to admit that I sometimes struggle with it and get bogged down in the language or the structure. But I do love it. And I love it as an amateur: I don't care about rhyming or iambic pentameter and I don't have a preference for haiku or sonnet. The beauty of poetry to me - and why I love it - is that it is one form of writing that can really connect on an emotional level. It's that visceral feeling when a poem makes you stop and just feel. Amanda Gorman’s recitation of her poem at President Biden’s inauguration did that for me - her poem displayed the power and beauty of language and how poetry can make a person feel, think, dream . . . it's one example of the power of words and why I continue to challenge myself to keep a book of poetry in the stack of books on my nightstand.
The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; Caroline Kennedy
Publication Date: 2001-09-01
Poetry can be intimidating. What poets are good? What kind of poetry might you like? Are there important poets you should read? Anthologies are a great way to ”get your feet wet” and dive into poetry to get some idea of the types of poetry and poets you might like. Anthologies come in a variety of forms - some by publishers, others compiled by individuals who have a great appreciation for poetry, some focusing on the classics, others introducing you to more modern poets. This slim volume, compiled by Caroline Kennedy, is a selection of poems the former first lady enjoyed. A beautiful little volume with a marvelous selection of poems from a variety of classic and contemporary poets. One personal favorite included is Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Flowers” (see the link) - it's such a sweet, simple piece that makes me smile and evokes images of spring.
Collected Poems by C. Kelly
Publication Date: 2016-09-03
One of the reasons I love poetry is how personal it is; how often it feels as though a piece was written for you - or about someone you know. The latter is literarily true with this collection of poems: C. F. Kelly is my Uncle and much of his work has personal meaning for me - especially “Florian Placzek”, a poem he wrote as an elegy for my father. His "The Deaf Couple" is available through the link.
Collected Poems by Adrienne Rich
Publication Date: 2016-06-21
I discovered Adrienne Rich in college, and she has been a constant written companion to this day. Her poetry is deep and evocative, composed carefully with an economy of words that almost make you feel as though she is tapping into your thoughts. Her "Song" is one of my all time favorite poems. It resonates with me every time I read it. There's such a beautiful, underlying cadence to it, and lines from it linger with me in the way the fragrance of blooming flowers lingers on a spring breeze.
The People Who Didn't Say Goodbye by Merrit Malloy
Publication Date: 1985-07-16
I love Merritt Malloy's poetry - and she focuses primarily on relationships: partners, children, friends. One of my favorites is “Epitaph" (see the link), a powerful reflection on how she would like to be remembered after she dies.
When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne; Ernest H. Shepard (Illustrator)
Publication Date: 1988-10-31
Most of us are familiar with A.A. Milne’s beloved Christopher Robin and his “friends”. But in addition to writing the adventures of Christopher Robin, Pooh, Piglet and the other denizens of the 100 Acre Wood, Milne penned two volumes of delightful verses: When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. Humorous, rhythmic, and oh so fun, the poems are a treat for both children and adults - and remain two cherished volumes in my personal library. The cover illustration is for the poem “Rice Pudding” (see link).
Growing up, I never got Science Fiction/Fantasy. Sure, I read a handful of Star Trek books and got caught up the Star Wars craze . . . but just never seemed to find that groove with this genre. I think, for me, that it had do with patience and the ability to find an literal point of reference: taking the time to build the worlds or visualize the characters was difficult for me, so I tended to avoid the genre. Recently (thanks in large part to my husband's love of SciFi), I've begun exploring the genre - and have been delighted with some of the finds.
Behind the Throne by K. B. Wagers
Publication Date: 2016-08-02
An AWESOME trilogy! Strong female protagonist, fabulous cast of supporting characters, on the edge of your seat conflict conveyed by an author who writes in an engaging style and you have an exhilarating ride. Princess Hail Bristol runs away from her family, traditions, country and becomes a galactical gunrunner. Fast forward 20 years and she's called home: as the only remaining heir to her mother's throne, she's forced to rule and deal with both internal and external forces threatening the throne and the very existence of her country.
The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M. H. Boroson
Publication Date: 2015-11-03
Chinatown. San Francisco. End of the 19th century. Spiritual and supernatural forces. Martial arts. A little magic. A whole lot of wonderful reading. Widowed Li-lin, daughter of a Daoshi exorist, has the ability to see the spiritual world. A powerful sorcerer cripples her father and sets terrible plans in motion - and Li-lin must work to save her father and thwart the sorcerer's plans. A truly engaging read, richly powerful with underlying themes of familial relationships and the challenges of being a woman during that time - with an imaginative cast of characters, my favorite being Mr. Yanqui, a human eyeball.
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
Publication Date: 2019-03-26
Okay, so . . . wow! An imaginative adventure with poetry (?) playing an important part. This story has it all: richly developed characters, alien cultures, palace intrigue, a deeply layered plot, and some of the most AWESOMELY named characters (Three Seagrass; Twelve Azalea) I’ve ever encountered. It starts out a little slow as Martine introduces you to the culture and characters, but the story picks up quickly and you’ll find yourself so engrossed that it will be a challenge to put the book down. The sequel, “A Desolation Called Peace”, was published approximately a month ago and continues the saga.
Old Man's War by John Scalzi
Publication Date: 2017-10-17
Looking for adventure? Characters you can grow to like and root for? Engaging dialogue? This might be the series for you. In a world where the military values the wisdom gained by age and wants mature recruits, 75-year old John Perry joins the Colonial Defense Force to fight aliens in the defense of humanity. This series follows his adventures as a member of the Colonial Defense Force. Thanks to Stefanie Pearlman for the recommendation.
Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish
Publication Date: 2015-01-13
Funky. Strange. Weird. Engaging. Laugh-out-loud funny. One of the most "out there" series I've ever read, it chronicles the adventures of Alix "Owl", an ex-archaeology grad student turned antiquity finder. Not so strange, right? Okay, here's the twist: the antiquities Owl searches for are imbued with supernatural aspects - and the "characters" she runs into as she hunts down those antiquities? Vampires, dragons, a succubus or two, demons . . . just to name few. Engaging characters, great dialogue, awesome adventure - a really fun series to lose yourself in. And if nothing else, how can you resist a series that has both "Japanese Circus" and "Electric Samurai" in two of the titles?
Recommendations and “Novels”
For some reasons, popular fiction and/or best sellers tend not to be on my reading list - it might be that the topics in the works are too intense or that I don't there won't be a "happy ending" or maybe it's the fact that everyone is reading it and I'm contrary - for whatever the reason I usually don't read books that fit into this category. And there is always so much to read, that it's sometimes hard for me pick up recommendations from others BUT . . . when I finally do pick up the book and begin reading, I'm usually blown away. Here are a few books that fall into this catchall category.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Publication Date: 2017-06-06
World War II and War War I meet in this engrossing novel of strong women faced with life and death situations - in so many different ways. It's shortly after WWII and well-to-do American College student Charlie St. Clair, American college finds herself faced with dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. Packed off to Europe to deal with the "problem", Charlie breaks away and heads to London to try to find a beloved cousin, Rose, who disappeared in Nazi occupied France. Her quest takes her down unexpected venues, opening up heartbreaks from both World Wars. An amazing book.
The Eight by Katherine Neville
Publication Date: 1997-06-23
A gift from the awesome Stefanie Pearlman, this book pulled me in from the first page. It's 1972 and computer expert and chess player Catherine Velis embarks upon an unbelievable adventure. Chess, twists that keep you on the edge of your seat, and a main character who mirrored Indy Jones before there was an Indy Jones, this book is difficult to put down. Years later, Neville published a sequel, The Fire
The Liar's Dictionary by Eley Williams
Publication Date: 2021-01-05
Dual stories revolving around the publisher of a dictionary, this novel is a bit of a mystery, a bit of a dictionary, and definitely an interesting read.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Publication Date: 2014-02-11
Does it count if you read it when it first comes out before everyone else realizes what a great book it is and Hollywood makes it into a great movie? Although it could easily go into the Science Fiction/Fantasy category above, it fits better here. What's to say? If you enjoyed the movie, READ the book - a fabulous, well written story!
PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon
Publication Date: 1991-10-23
My Mom has as varied a reading palette as I, with a bent toward nature in various forms; this is a recommendation from her. Equal parts geology, history, on foot travelogue, love story to the Great Plains - this fascinating book takes you on an almost lyric exploration of a small area of the Flint Hills of central Kansas. A book to savor.
True Believers by Kurt Andersen
Publication Date: 2012-07-10
I picked this book up because it got an interesting review in the Library Journal - and it didn't disappoint. Alternating between the 1960s and the present day, Attorney Karen Hollander removes herself from consideration for the U.S. Supreme Court and the book focuses on the reasons she makes that decision. Thoughtful, the book forces readers to realize how life events make us the people we are and ultimately color the decisions we make.