Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books That Were Out Of My Comfort Zone

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, which lets me go back and answer a prompt that I’d missed out on.  This is one of the first TTTs I read and it’s an interesting prompt to think about since books can push our boundaries in different ways.  For me, the two main reasons a book was challenging were because of its especially thought-provoking content or unique writing style, sometimes both.

1. “Black Boy” by Richard Wright. (Content) I can’t remember which teacher thought it would be a good idea to cover this book in high school, but it scarred me for life pretty effectively.  The kid strangles a kitten within the first few chapters.  It was only marginally easier to read when we studied it again in college, after we’d had time as human beings to absorb more information about ongoing racial issues.  I don’t think this is an easy book to read at any age, but it’s an important one.  When taught by the right teacher at the right time, it can be truly eye-opening and provoke further investigation.

2. “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner.  (Content, Style) I had to drag myself through this one, but by God, I finished it.  I will probably never read Faulkner again.

3. “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway. (Style) Having been turned off of Hemingway early by a high school reading of “Old Man And The Sea,” I groaned at the idea of having to read more in college.  I did not hate this book, though, and I wasn’t even very bored by it.  It’s on my “go back and read more thoughtfully” list so I can try to get more out of it.

4. “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie. (Style) I saw a theory somewhere that no one has actually read “Midnight’s Children,” and I’m willing to believe it.  The blurb was so promising: all the children born at midnight on the day of India’s independence have superpowers.  I think I made it one hundred pages and there was no sign of any superchildren.  Instead, there were many many boring pages of a man and another man on a boat and the woman the first man wants to marry.  I couldn’t finish it.  At first I felt like a failure of an English major, but when I discovered the above theory, I felt better.

5. “Perdido Street Station” by China Mieville(Style) Reading this book was a little like being mugged by HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Guillermo del Toro, then waking up several months later to discover what they’ve stolen from you is your sanity.  “Perdido Street Station” is enormous, dense, and inventive to the point of hallucinogenic.  It features ordinary people, bug-people, cactus-people, eagle-people, frog-people, and genetically-altered people who all discuss politics, art, ethics, genetics and biology, philosophy, and probably several other issues and subjects that my brain just doesn’t have room to store.  It was really cool – except it was really long and it had a really unfulfilling ending.  I’m willing to try more Mieville, but only after a stiff drink.

6. Sandman by Neil Gaiman. (Style) I’m working my way slowly (very slowly) through this series, and each book is a challenge.  The art is trippy and the story only occasionally follows a main story arc.  Sometimes the main character doesn’t even show up.  The stories, though, are uniquely wonderful.

7. “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. (Content, Style) This might be sort of a cop-out because McCarthy’s books exist out of everyone’s comfort zones.  I can’t think of many people who would be comfortable reading long, grim descriptions of an ashy post-apocalyptic wasteland where the only survivors are a man, his young son, and hordes of cannibalistic bandits.  Still, it was somehow beautiful, if you’re up for feeling terrible for a couple weeks.

8. “The Magicians” by Lev Grossman. (Content) For a book about magic and escapism, it sure makes you hate life a little.  I can’t remember the last time a book made me question so deeply who I am, why I’m here, and what I’m doing with my tiny scrap of useless existance.  (See?  Life-hating.)  Quentin, a magician, suffers a tragic character arc of Shakespearian proportions and emerges jaded, self-centered, and kind of an asshole.  What actually made his character arc tragic is even harder to read.  However, I actually enjoyed the sequel – like, really found pleasure in reading it, rather than just that masochistic joy of fighting through it.  Quentin finally learns to have feelings, namely remorse, and while he’s still pretty self-centered and mopey, he goes through some real soul-searching and finally figures out who he wants to be, which has been the running theme through both books.

9. “Intimacy” by Hanif Kureishi. (Content) This is one of the two books I read in college that I can remember absolutely hating.  Loathing.  Detesting with every fiber of my being.  It took a great deal of self-control to not start shrieking “WHY ARE WE EVEN READING THIS” during class.  Because it was terrible.  I hate this book the way I hate the movie “Crash:” because it concocts a contrived, unrealistic story of people who do not act like real people, in order to tell us how terrible people are, and then offers no solutions for how to not be terrible.  “Intimacy” did not have cutting commentary on loneliness or love or modern relationships. No, it was not a blazing, raw portrait of the collapse of a modern family.  And no, it is not a scathing critique of the modern male, because if I was a male I would be straight-up insulted by the author’s assumption the all men hate domesticity and think being married is like being imprisoned.  This book is just a couple hundred pages of the narrator (a semi-autobiographical extension of the author) acting like a four-year-old because he can’t have sex with more than one woman at a time anymore.

10. “Mumbo Jumbo” by Ishmael Reed. (Content, Style) This is the other book I hated.  Hidden somewhere amid the graphs of WWII bomb tonnage and other unrelated illustrations was probably an interesting and relevant story about the Harlem Renaissance.  There was also something about a conspiracy by a secret society to keep folks from dancing.  Unfortunately, the secret society and the irrelevant graphs and the felony-grade neglect of punctuation made it nearly impossible to learn anything from this book.

Read the other, less angry entries here!


9 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books That Were Out Of My Comfort Zone

  1. Your description of “Intimacy” is exactly how I felt about watching the movie “Melancholia.” Contrived, unrealistic, miserably pesimistic, and with no redemption.

    The only book I can think of at the moment that I genuinely didn’t like and had a visceral reaction to was “The Catcher in the Rye.” I know that takes away some of my cool points, but I can’t stand Holden Caulfield.

    • I was tempted to see “Melancholia,” just because of the visuals, but it sounds like you’ve saved me from a bad decision. “Tree of Life” still tempts me, though, mostly because no one has been able to describe what it’s actually about in less than a paragraph.

      I’ve never actually read “Catcher in the Rye” for exactly that reason – Holden Caulfield sounds like a terrible person, and I don’t like reading books or watching TV (hello, Mad Men) where there are no relatable characters.

  2. Love your idea for this list! I agree with The Magicians – I didn’t “love” this book – but Quentin sure was a depressed, mopey, whiny character that stuck with me. I also read the follow up The Magician King – and even after he becomes King, he’s still not satisfied.

    • He definitely wasn’t a likable dude, but I liked him better by the very end of “Magician King.” At least he’d stopped whining so much. 😉

  3. The Sun Also Rises was out of my comfort zone as well, I read it last year and was surprised by how much I liked it, of course part of it I understood because Jennifer Lancaster explains what is about in one of her books and how she totally missed the point, ha.

    Great list, it’s great to read out of the comfort zone!

  4. A recommendation: if you want to get back into Mieville again, try Un Lun Dun. It’s a YA book, and the going is a little weird and rough in the beginning until the characters sort of snap into place, and then it’s fantastic. And has great illustrations, my favorite of which is of the carnivorous giraffes. I haven’t read any other Mieville so I can’t vouch for them, but Un Lun Dun sounds a bit less head-mess-y than Perdido Street Station.

    Intimacy sounds like it compounds everything I hate about bad-but-lauded lit fic. Ugh.

  5. Great idea for a post. I felt the same way about reading Faulkner, only the book I read was “The Sound and the Fury”. I don’t think I’ll ever go back either! I’ve read “The Sun Also Rises” twice, to see if I might have missed something. It turns out I didn’t. I understood what Hemingway is trying to tell his readers about the Lost Generation but I say “So what!” I did enjoy “Midnight’s Children” though!

    • I feel like I should at least try “Sound and the Fury”…I was an English major and it’s one of those 1000 books to read before you die or something. I’m not really in a hurry to try it, though. 🙂

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