Reading Outside My Comfort Zone

Recently I’ve been doing some thinking about authors that I’ve been required to read, mostly when I was in school, that I really didn’t like and/or was outside of my comfort zone.  Why have I been thinking about authors out of my comfort zone this week?  It’s because I’ve been debating whether or not to give those authors a second chance, in particular, with my reading for this year.

Mostly, those authors have come from my experiences in high school.  Authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, in particular, The Scarlet Letter.  I read The Scarlet Letter during my junior year of high school shortly after we moved from Oklahoma to northern Virginia.  I read it as we were driving out to Salisbury, MD to visit my mother’s aunt.  I remember how boring I found Hawthorne’s writing and how much I truly disliked the story.

Mainly, I discovered Hawthorne’s writing to be very dry and felt the book moved quite slowly.  As a result of this first experience with Nathaniel Hawthorne, I haven’t given him a second chance.  I’ve been wondering since I haven’t given him a second chance if I’m doing a disservice to myself for not expanding my comfort zone, or to Hawthorne given that I know he’s one of America’s classic authors.

The second book that came to mind was yet another one I read during high school and that is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  I also read this book during my junior year of high school and found I really didn’t enjoy it very much.  I’m not quite sure where my mind was while reading this book, but it seemed to move slowly, and that I really didn’t quite get Jay’s character in this book.  As with Hawthorne, I haven’t read Fitzgerald since high school and I’ve had similar thoughts about him, especially within the last few years with the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button having been made.  I still haven’t seen it yet because of my preference to read the books before seeing the movie, and because of my first impression of Fitzgerald, I haven’t tackled it yet.

The final author that I feel is really outside of my comfort zone is Herman Melville.  The book in particular is Moby Dick.  I picked this book up a few years ago at Borders thinking that I would enjoy the story.  What I discovered was dry writing that was like hearing fingernails scratching on a chalkboard.  I managed to make it through a couple of hundred pages of the book, and then I had to put it down, I simply couldn’t take it anymore.  However, I fully accept the fact that I tried tackling Moby Dick before I really started seriously reading the classics a few years ago.  I’ve been wondering if I should go ahead and attempt reading it again, and give it a second chance.

I think it’s important to read authors outside of your comfort zone because if you don’t, you can miss out on other fascinating authors and works.  These authors I’ve read before, but is it worthwhile to give author’s you didn’t get a good first impression of a second chance?  Are there any author’s that have given you a bad first impression and wish to try again?  What are you reading during this first week of 2012?


About Jeremy

Husband, book lover, Civil War Buff. If I could read for a living I would, but unfortunately, it doesn't pay the bills!

19 Responses to “Reading Outside My Comfort Zone”

  1. I do believe in reading outside my comfort zone. I’ve signed up for a challenge this year (The Eclectic Challenge) that will offer opportunities to do just that.

    We’ll see how it goes.

    Thanks for sharing….


  2. I didn’t like Hawthorne either when I read The Scarlett Letter. Nor did I like The House of Secen Gables. But I loved his Blithdale Romance and some short stories, young goodman brown and the birthmark in particular. Maybe try one of his short stories prior to tackling the Scarlett letter, to warm up to his style?
    Fitzgerald I love but his male characters frustrate the hell out of me. I haven’t read the Great Gatsby yet but plan to soon!
    Moby Dick is a strange one! I liked it at first because it was funny. Then I became puzzled and bored because it got SO off the plot. I had to adjust my expectation and stop waiting for the story to ‘happen’ When I did that I began to really enjoy it.
    I hope you do read some of these soon because I’d love to read your thoughts on them,

    • Thanks for the suggestions on Hawthorne Shannon! I very well might have to take a look at some of his other short stories before giving The Scarlet Letter another shot. I’ll definitely be posting my thoughts on those books as I go along. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I’m reading Moby-Dick right now. I DEFINITELY think you should pick it up again. It’s really good. I haven’t read The Great Gatsby yet, but I just finished A Scarlett Letter and LOVED it.

    • My brother has been hinting that Moby Dick might very well be a book he’ll be picking for one of our sibling discussions, so I’ll most likely be giving it another shot much sooner than I think! Thanks for dropping by!

  4. Um. Forgive the typos and misspelling…

  5. For some reason, I really liked The House of the Seven Gables. I don’t know why, but I did. As for Fitzgerald and Melville, I really enjoyed them both. So I don’t understand what you’re saying, in other words. 😛 Personally, I think if you don’t like an author, don’t try too hard to like them. You just might not like them. Last year I abandoned about eight books and I don’t feel guilty about it. I never plan on returning to them and that’s all right. I can live with it.

    • Very valid points! Maybe it was because I was younger and didn’t have as much patience for these authors, and that’s why I have such a bad first impression with their works. I don’t think it’s guilt that I feel, but maybe perhaps that I’ve not given them enough of a shot, now that I’m a more mature reader than I was when I first tackled those works.

  6. As a high school English teacher who has taught two of the three books you mentioned to high-school age students, I have to confess I think sometimes we teach books before students re ready for them. I don’t see why a high schooler would necessarily relate to the struggles of Hester Prynne or Jay Gatsby, but I have had students who were ready for those books and enjoyed them. I myself didn’t read either of them until my late 20’s, and they were perfect for me then. I loved both of them. I also read Moby Dick in my 30’s, and I have to say I loved it, but I also read it via DailyLit, which if you haven’t heard of it, is a great way to read classics. You receive a bite-sized chunk of the novel in your email or RSS reader every day (or however often you set it). It took me nine months to read Moby Dick like that, but I read it all the way through, and the end is spectacular! I would say go ahead and give them another go. You might find they are more suited to the place where you are now than when you were a teenager.

    • Hi Dana,

      I haven’t heard of Daily Lit, thanks for the tip! I’ll definitely have to check it out. Looking back, I definitely agree that some books some high school students may not be ready for, and that very well could’ve been the case for me. I think I might go ahead and give those works another shot. Thanks for dropping by!

  7. I read Gatsby a couple of years ago and it felt like I was reading it for the first time. Yet I know I read it (and found it ho-hum) back in high school. No possible way that I understood anything about Gatsby when I was sixteen. Who knows anything of longing or ambition or leaving behind one’s past, really, when you are young?

  8. I remember liking The House of the Seven Gables, but I don’te remember why. I do think it’s worth it to give some of the “classic” authors a second look, expecially the ones I first read in high school. I don’t think I’m the same reader I was then.

    • Hi Carol,

      I haven’t read The House of the Seven Gables but I’ve avoided it in the past because it was written by Hawthorne, but it might be something that I should perhaps read at some point. Perhaps it’s time I gave Hawthorne another shot. Thanks for dropping by!

  9. I had the same reaction to Hawthorne in high school. Got a second chance when my son was assigned The Scarlet Letter – I was bowled over by it the second time around. Also read Moby Dick a few years ago and it was awesome, although I know my eyes would have glazed over if I’d read it as a teen. Just read some Fitzgerald short stories and they held up pretty well – as it turns out, there’s a reason that “classics” endure – they really are that good.

    • Classics certainly do seem to endure! I’m actually a bit surprised there hasn’t been a bit of a coming back of the classics, especially with how paper thin books seem to be this year, in terms of character/plot development, and tackling some of the issues of the times. I know not all authors and books aren’t paper thin, but it seems most fiction these days is for the most part. With maybe the exception of the Harry Potter series, I really don’t envision too many books written today enduring the test of time. Thanks for dropping by!

  10. Sometimes I think it’s a disservice to kids to make them read these old classics. I get it–having two degrees in English, I get it! But most kids are going to stray away from things that are difficult and boring. Maybe that’s why many schools are assigning more current books in addition to the classics (my sophomore brother read The Kite Runner and Into the Wild this year).

    I’m not a big fan of Melville but for Hawthorne and Fitzgerald you might try their short stories. Especially Fitzgerald. Though I loved his novel Tender is the Night.

    And maybe try listening to some of these–or read and listen.

    • You’re right, Trish, a lot of the kids I went to high school with pretty much zoned out whenever the classics were assigned. I wasn’t nearly as bad, since I was a bookworm than as well, but it was still difficult for me to read them. Your brother read The Kite Runner and Into the Wild? Now that’s interesting.

      Listening to some of these books may not be all that bad of an idea! I can load them up on my iphone and listen while at work! Thanks for dropping by!

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