Out Of The Comfort Zone: Reading Challenge
I’ll admit; I have always been one of those obnoxious close-minded eccentrics who feel so strongly about the things they like and dislike that it’s very difficult for them to go out of their comfort zone. However, this year, in the spirit of constantly growing as a person and all that jazz, I’ve been willingly doing a reading challenge that forces me, well, to do exactly the opposite of what my natural instinct is shouting at me; I’ve been reading according to a set of rules a friend of mine came up with.
The Reading Challenge – Must Include:
At least 25 books in total
5 or more genres
5 or more in your first language, at least 2 of which can’t be translations
1 non-fiction book
1 play or a poetry book
1 in your second/third language (i.e. Swedish for Finns)
1 book of which you saw the movie adaptation first
1 written by your namesake
1 that was recommended to you but you never did read it
Being a devoted bookworm whom you can spot hiding behind hardback covers at home, around the campus, on the tram, at work, at a party, pretty much anywhere – I wasn’t too worried about being able to complete this tiny, little, piece-of-cake challenge at all. However, as you can see above, some of the requirements were quite queer and utterly specific; for example, a work created by a namesake and one complete series are included. Now, I mentioned that my sphere of interests is not particularly wide – when it comes to literary genres, the list of likes usually limits itself to historical fiction, poetry, the classics, and a certain kind of detective novels. I like it that way, but this is, admittedly, not the best place to start a reading competition against yourself from; normally, when I grab a book I know for sure that I will enjoy it and not waste my time, but this year, everything was turned upside down.
As of August, I had been taunting myself with this colourful bunch of reading limitations for eight months, and I had officially completed it. Most importantly, I had managed to read books from over ten different genres and over twenty of them all were in my mother tongue, the wonders of which I too often tend to neglect. One I had even flipped through in my third language, French. Only a couple of classics had made the list of finished books, so most of the reading really was exceptionally different from what I’m used to devouring.
And how do I feel at the end of it all? Inspired! It ended up being a very rewarding experience just to force myself to finish stories whose existence I typically wouldn’t even have wanted to be aware of, and find myself getting something out of each of them. Having successfully toned down some of my half-baked snobbery, I would like to encourage you to try the same at home (unsupervised is OK) as well as recommend three pieces of literary potential that positively surprised me. Being something like the worst person you could ever make book suggestions to, I don’t expect you to end up picking these up either, but – maybe, just maybe, you should consider venturing outside of that familiar pile of bulletproof story-lines, too, because, I assure you, it usually always is worth it in some exciting, fresh way. And keep in mind, the challenge I completed and strongly recommend you to undertake as well will stay here, waiting for you, ready to rock your “read” list.
1. Stephen & Owen King: Sleeping Beauties (2017; read the Finnish translation Ruususen uni by Tammi, 2018). 752 pp.
This giant of a novel tells the story of a tiny North American town where women suddenly start falling asleep and seem to be impossible to wake up. A horrifying, unidentified virus separates the women and the men of the whole world in two, and to save the sleeping women, men are forced to face difficult decisions. So many clichés (and pages) and not enough originality, I thought when I started this King, but eventually I gave in to the addictiveness of the plot. The suspense and the characters ended up having a real effect on me, even though I usually avoid reading all mass-produced and anything horror, because, well, I’m an insufferable literature snob, and way too big a coward not to end up spending sleepless nights a month after finishing a scary story. Nevertheless, I noticed that even a horror book does have different sides to it; to quote Friends, “I didn’t know you had another level!” There were deeper messages worthy of thinking about: gender roles, feminism, friendship, loyalty. Even though King is no Shakespeare, he does deal with some universal themes that have all the capability of having a strong effect on their reader, thus falling no short of the best of the best in that aspect.
2. Ernest Hemingway: The Old Man and The Sea (1952; read the Finnish translation Vanhus ja meri by Tammi, 1952). 133 pp.
Now, having just admitted that one of the very few categories that I mainly pick my reading from is the classics, this one might not seem that different from my all-time favourites and the infamous comfort zone. Here you have to know that Hemingway is the author I’m allergic to; the one renowned writer I say I appreciate but secretly scoff at; my literary pet peeve. It’s nothing personal; his writing style just makes my blood boil. Perhaps it merely took some growing up from my part to finally be able to, in all honesty, admit to liking one of this famous American’s works. The iconic story of the relationship between man and nature is such an enjoyably told and deliciously built allegory that no more needs to be said. Read it.
3. Helen Fielding: Bridget Jones’s Baby: The Diaries (2016; read the Swedish translation Bridget Jones Baby: Dagboken by Månpocket, 2017). 204 pp.
In order to really be fair to this article’s theme, I have to include something that is so far from my comfort zone I might as well have been trying to read a brick wall. This was my obligatory Swedish-language read, and my strategy of choosing the individual was: Walk to the nearest book shop. Inspect the Swedish paperbacks section. And buy the cheapest one. This was 9.95 euros at Suomalainen Kirjakauppa (whatever happened to the prices of books?) and let’s just say, in the spirits of bettering one’s mandatory Swedish skills, it was probably almost kind of worth the buy. The reason it made it to this list is that the Swedish translation flowed nicely, it was simple enough to understand, and the dialogue and the plot made the reader giggle. Most importantly – I don’t have the slightest regret having spent a couple of hours in the company of the light, bubbly comedy the author provides her readers; perhaps sometimes funny is quite enough.