What to read next if you want to branch out from your usual genres.

What to read next if you want to branch out from your usual genres.

For the 2015 Reading Challenge, I’m blogging through one category per month, in order. (Don’t worry—you don’t have to read them in order.)

So far we’ve covered:

  1. a book you’ve been meaning to read
  2. a book published this year

This month we’re tackling category #3: “a book in a genre you don’t typically read.”

Some readers read more widely than others, but most of us fall into grooves—often without even realizing it. I like this as a reading challenge category because it asks you to first notice which genres you typically read, and then choose something out of the ordinary.

If you’ve been meaning to try something new but haven’t quite gotten around to it yet, here’s your chance.

Since we all have different reading habits, I can’t provide a list of books you should read for this category. Instead, I’m sharing a list of favorites culled from various popular genres, from my own reading list, and from the titles you’ve shared on facebook and the Reading Challenge pinterest boardWhat to read next if you want to branch out from your usual genres. These 15 favorites (3 each, in 5 lesser-read genres) will get you out of your reading rut.

PRODUCTIVITY

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Author:
Tharp's life revolves around an arsenal of routines because, as she says, "a dancer's life is all about repetition." This conversational book is all about setting the bones—the day-to-day structure—of a creative life. (I only just found out she wrote a follow-up: The Collaborative Habit is on my to-read stack right now.) More info →
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Author:
Habits can be built, and they can be changed. Duhigg explores the science that explains how in this readable book, and explains how to put these methods into practice in your own life. His methods and insights give you the know-how to put this information to use. More info →
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

Author:
Vanderkam's no-nonsense, no-excuses approach to time management just might convince you that you actually have time to accomplish anything you really want to do, when you focus on your core competencies and stop frittering away your time. To get the most out of this book you must do the time diary exercise. More info →

NARRATIVE NONFICTION

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

Author:
Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew were stranded on the Antarctic ice for 20 months beginning in January 1915. Alexander's story (which is named for Shackleton's ship) is compiled largely from the journals of Shackleton's 27-man crew and contains jawdropping photos by the expedition's photographer. Spellbinding. More info →
Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day

Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day

K2 is slightly shorter than Mt. Everest, but it's far more deadly: for every four climbers who have summited, one has died trying. In August 2008, a series of disasters—avalanches, ice falls, broken safety ropes—contributed to the deaths of a record 11. Miraculously, two Sherpas survived. This book chronicles the disaster from the Sherpas' perspective, and brings their fascinating history to life. A must-read for anyone who loved Into Thin Air. Riveting. More info →
Seabiscuit: An American Legend

Seabiscuit: An American Legend

I didn't think I was interested in the story of a racehorse, but after devouring Unbroken, I trusted Hillenbrand to take me on a remarkable ride, no matter the topic. She masterfully weaves together the stories of a knock-kneed racehorse and the three men who made him a champion: a bookish half-blind jockey, an eccentric trainer, and a limelight-loving owner. An incredible tale. More info →

MEMOIR

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

In this real-life medical drama, New York Post reporter Cahalan is hospitalized when she literally loses her mind. $1 million dollars worth of tests later, her doctors have no idea what's wrong with her—until her personal Dr. House joins the team and makes the diagnosis. Cahalan recovers, remembering nothing: she uncovered the material for this memoir by interviewing friends, family, and her medical team, reviewing her medical records, and watching hospital security videotapes of herself. More info →
Bossypants

Bossypants

Author:
This easy reading memoir is part comedy, part auto-biography. Fey covers a lot of ground here: from her Pennsylvania childhood to her awkward college years, her crappy job at the YMCA to the big leagues of SNL. Filled with funny and fascinating anecdotes, like what a photo shoot is really like, and how she finally nailed Sarah Palin’s precise lip color shade. Fast and fun. More info →
The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle

Author:
Walls, a former New York gossip columnist, reveals the hardscrabble past she carefully hid for years in this family memoir, which centers on her charasmatic but highly dysfunctional parents: a father with "a little bit of a drinking situation" and a mother who was an "excitement addict," who moved their family all over the country, seeking the next big adventure. Walls spins a good story out of her bad memories. More info →

FANTASY

The Hobbit

The Hobbit

Author:
My 6th grade son is currently reading this book in his English literature class. He wasn't excited about reading "that boring book." His 9-year-old sister said, "I'm glad I don't have to read it." One week later, they're fighting over it. That's all I have to say about that—except you don't have to be a grade schooler to enjoy this one. It's a classic for a reason. More info →
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Author:
What you need to know: The New York Times called this modern classic "Hogwarts for grown-ups" and it's a hefty 1024 pages. Reading it is an investment, but you won't be sorry. (Or so I hear: it's on my TBR list.) More info →
Watership Down

Watership Down

Author:
A larger-than-life story about a brave band of rabbits in the English countryside and their quest for survival. A story of courage, loyalty, and bravery. More info →

SHORT STORIES

Family Furnishings

Family Furnishings

Author:
Munro is the best—or perhaps the best-known—short story writer of our time. This collection, released last December, gathers two dozen of Munro's stories written between 1995 and 2014. Munro is unquestionably good at her craft: her realistic stories are poignant and piercing, which is why I find them difficult to read. More info →
The Thing Around Your Neck

The Thing Around Your Neck

This short story collection by the author of Americanah was first published in 2009. In these 12 stories, the Nigerian author writes about America, exploring, as she says, "the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States." More info →
The Great Short Works

The Great Short Works

Author:
If you want to get started with Tolstoy without reading War and Peace (1296 pages) or even Anna Karenina (864 pages), look no further. This compilation includes 8 of Tolstoy's finest short works (some longer than short stories), including The Death of Ivan Ilych, which many consider to be his best work. More info →

What genres do you typically read, and what are you reading (or thinking about reading) for this category of the reading challenge?

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39 comments

  1. Sarah says:

    I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but if I do, I guess it’s the narrative nonfiction that I like! I am trying to push through some memoirs because I do enjoy them, once I get started – I just have to break out of my default fiction/classic fiction novels!

    • Hi, Sarah! I read an Ernest Shackleton book you might like. It’s called Shackleton’s Stowaway. It’s written from the POV of Percy Blackborow, a young man who stowed away on the Endurance, so it’s more of a narrative story than a journal compilation. Though it’s technically meant for middle grade readers, I reread it as an adult and still thoroughly enjoyed it. Since it’s structured less like a memoir and more like a story, it might be a good transition book into nonfiction for you. 🙂

  2. Kelty says:

    Great suggestions! When I was 18 (and had loads of time and mental space,) on a grand literary whim, I decided to read Anna Karenina and it absolutely moved me. It’s the book notch in my belt that I come back to often and think,”See, I CAN read great literary works of fiction!” The first 100 pages were a lot of work as I sorted out all the Russian who’s who. But, once I sorted it out, I absolutely loved it. Tolstoy’s writing was beautiful and the story was lovely and romantic and tragic and true all at once. The story still sits with me today, at 35. The thought of reading it now feels about like signing up for a marathon, but I’m pretty sure that I could do his short stories! Thank you for that suggestion and for the highlighting of the classics with whisper-sync! I may just get back to reading great classic works yet! 🙂

  3. Sarah says:

    I think I’ve tried most genres except sci-if and westerns. I’d like to read Cinder after hearing the raves-does that count as sci-fi? And can anyone recommend their favorite western?

  4. Thora says:

    I love Jonathon Strange & Mr Norell – of course, I love fantasy done well, and I love Jane Austin, so it’s not exactly a surprise. It is, however, a long book, and one that unfolds like the regency books it emulates in style and tone. The plot develops gradually, and it is as much a character driven novel (this is a plus to me) as a plot driven one (although the plot is very complex and well done as well!). It did take me two tries to read it the first time though.

    Some other fantasy books I love that are thought provoking are ones by Brandon Sanderson. He likes to ask big questions and not just have fluffy plots. Patrick Rothfuss’s trilogy, that is two books done, is also well crafted, with a lot of time in editing and rewriting, and this shows in a good way throughout his novels.

    I haven’t actually committed to doing the reading challenge (although these articles keep tempting to change my mind!), but I am trying to push my boundaries of reading a bit. Right now I am starting the Silmarillion by Tolkien, which defies categorization into a genre. It is fiction – it’s the fictional history of Middle Earth and its creators, but it is told like a collection of myths or legends. So it reads like scripture or something Snorri Sturluson would have written, but it is still all made up. So I can never figure out when to read it – when I want to read fiction it is too slow going. When I want to read easy non fiction it is too difficult to follow. When I am feeling up to complex thoughts and challenging stories or challenging literature, then I usually want to feel like I am accomplishing something in life by reading a classic, or some other book I can check off of my mental and physical list of “Books to Read in Life,” like Tolstoy or something.

    I almost never read Science Fiction (which I would argue can be very different of a genre than Fantasy, despite the fact they are both speculative), but yesterday I read Lock In, by John Scalzi. It was fairly thought provoking. My husband read his novel, Redshirts, that won a Hugo (Best science fiction of fantasy award) and really recommended it. Fair warning – he does use a fair amount of swearing. Another very thought provoking book is The Sparrow, by Maria Doria Russell. It looks like science fiction but is really more of an exploration into meetings of different cultures and the dilemma of those who do good, but then cause harm by their actions – it also delves into religion (the main character is a Jesuit priest), and why people who mean well often have so many difficulties. I don’t always agree with her conclusions, but I have to say that it is one of those novels that has stayed with me for years. I still reference it and think over the questions it raised.

    Whew, this is long, and it sounds like all I read is Science Fiction and Fantasy – although I love fantasy, if it is not done really well then I don’t even want to bother, so I read very little adult fantasy (Somehow YA doesn’t come under this edict?). I actually usually read easy classics (Jane Austin or Elizabeth Gaskell, not Dostoevsky, for example), and I would like to try more of straight classics (so, greek playwrights?). It’s not actually a different genre than the generic term “classic”, but I want to try Bleak House by Dickens. I find I too often associate him with my high school english class, and Tale of Two Cities, and not enough of a writer with merit in himself that people read not just because they had to.

    • Lee Ann says:

      IMO it helps to read The Silmarillion in bits, rather than starting at the beginning and plowing your way through it. Just pick a story and read that one, then another when you have time.

    • Kate says:

      Agree. I don’t think I would compare Strange & Norrell to Harry Potter. It’s more like a Dickens novel with magic.

  5. Sarah R says:

    I read a ton of historical fiction and memoirs. The Glass Castle is one of my favorite books ever.

    For Narrative Non-Fiction, I just read an ARC called No Better Friend. It comes out in June and tells the story of a Pointer dog born in China and adopted by the British Royal Navy just before WWII started. Her ship was bombed and she survived multiple shipwrecks, being stranded on an island in Indonesia, a 3 week trek through the Sumatran jungle, and being held as a POW by the Japanese for several years. It’s amazing.

    I’m going to read Station Eleven for this category. It’s downloaded on my Kindle and just waiting to be read!

  6. Heather says:

    This is a really great post — especially for someone like me who likes to stay in her reading comfort zone. 🙂 My favorite genre is historical fiction, but I was inspired by your challenge and have branched out more ever since. For the challenge, I read a high-fantasy novel: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. I actually quite enjoyed it! Still on my list is The Martian by Andy Weir – I haven’t read a science fiction book in over a decade!

  7. Keri says:

    I am doing the 2015 reading challenge. I wanted to read a book that was a best seller the year I was born since I’m turning 50 this year. I combined that goal with a genre I never read – science fiction – and decide to read Dune by Frank Herbert. My son loves sci-fi & has read Enders Game series, Game of Thrones, HG Wells, etc. He was shocked that I was reading about the only sci-fi book he has never read. He wants it when I’m done. 40 pages left & I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I have enjoyed it.

  8. Miriam B. says:

    I love classic fiction, self-improvement books, and mysteries. I typically don’t delve into fantasy or science fiction. However, I am currently reading Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and am enjoying it more than I thought I would.

  9. liz n. says:

    “Endurance” and “Buried in the Sky” are both fascinating reads, and, of course, I cannot ever say enough good things about “Watership Down!” I’ve been curious about “Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell,” so maybe I’ll pick up that one next.

    I don’t so much have a comfort zone (I think), but there are categories that I just don’t consider because I’m never curious enough about them, and the broad “self-help” category is one of them…although I did like “The Creative Habit.” (Would that one be considered a self-help book?) I adore Alice Munro, but her stories do often cut painfully, so I have to mentally gear up before reading her!

  10. A says:

    I committed to this challenge simply for the purpose of reading more, and your list seemed like a creative way to do it. I can (rather proudly) admit that I’ve already knocked out three of the categories, which is impressive to me, being a mentally overloaded college student. 🙂

    “A book in a genre you don’t typically read” was the second category tackled. Dystopian fiction is absolutely not my cup of tea, but someone had recommended Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and it seemed like the perfect solution for this category. Definitely not my normal style (I just don’t go for darker-themed books), but I found myself devouring the entire Giver quartet in a matter of a few weeks.

    Thanks for the push. I believe Watership Down will be my next attempt. Seems like a good candidate for “a book you should have read in high school.”

  11. Jeannie says:

    I’ve read at least one of the books in all of your categories except the Productivity one — maybe that’s where I should go next.. Sci-Fi or Mystery would also be a big departure for me.

  12. Ariel says:

    I’ve got a pretty broad reading comfort zone, as I’ve found by trying to do this challenge. I mostly go for sci fi and fantasy, with a smattering of romance (particularly YA) and horse books (which I’m pretty sure counts as a genre in itself. But I’ve also read loads of mysteries. I would have said nonfiction is my least-read genre, but I’ve already got 4 on my tbr list for this year. The farthest-out thing I can think of to read for this prompt is a western, so that’s my plan. Hoping I can find one by an author with my initials (AF) so I can count it for my other reading challenge, too.

  13. Dana says:

    Loved “The Creative Habit”by Tharp. Read it when it first came out and then again last year.
    2 other good books in this vein that are short enough to re-read often are” Steal Like an Artist”
    and “Show your Work” by Austin Kleon.

    If you need sci-fi C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet trilogy is a good choice. I read it years ago and would like to re-read it.

    For fantasy you can’t beat “The Hobbit”. I have also really enjoyed Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles so far. “Watership Down” is one of the classics and one of the few book that my husband and I both loved…our reading tastes are very dissimilar .
    I tried several times to read “Strange and Norrell” but could not get into it. May try again sometime.

    “Boys Life” by Robert McCammon is a sort of a horror/fasntasy story but actually really good
    I cannot recommend enough Stephen King’ s 11/22/63 as well.

    For westerns I agree that the best one is Lonesome Dove. It is a masterpiece and won the Pulitzer prize . It is another one I would like to re-read sometime.

  14. Jennifer H says:

    I don’t normally read non-fiction, but I am thinking about reading Tuesdays with Morrie for this (which could maybe also classify as a book everyone has read but me, but I chose The Book Thief for that one). So far I have read #7, 9, and 11, and I am reading #4 to Samuel (the first book in the Trixie Belden series – which we are counting for him as “a book your mom loves”).

  15. Amy E Patton says:

    Tons of great choices here in categories I never even considered. I am going to read Team of Rivals because I’ve heard so many good reviews of the book and have tons of family and friends who read historical non-fiction. I would love to be able to talk with them about the books they love as much as I wish they could talk to me about the books I love. I figure I can lead by example and go first. 🙂

  16. Jocelyn says:

    I am reading romance for this category. I could have read short stories or poetry. All these suggestions are brilliant. This website is great. Thank-you everyone ^_~

  17. Sara K says:

    I’ve been really working to stretch my reading life the last couple of years. So far this year I’ve read several books outside my normal zone.

    The Kitchen Counter Cooking School (thanks, Anne, for recommending it on the podcast!). I hardly ever reach for nonfiction, but I did enjoy this one! It gave me a little motivation to pull out of my cooking slump.

    Bossypants by Tina Fey – I rarely read celebrity books (though this is one of three I checked off this year), and comedians are really not to my taste. I’m definitely in the minority here, but I really just didn’t enjoy this.

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