Reading Outside of Our Comfort Zone

photo of Comfy ChairAn unexpected perk of going back to school is that I’m reading articles and books that I otherwise would not pick up, not because I’m not interested, but simply because a) I wouldn’t have come across them, and b) I wouldn’t have had the motivation of a deadline to finish. (Sidenote: it’s also an underrated perk of freelance indexing.) I’m finding that this infusion of new ideas and perspectives is having an energizing effect on my non-academic writing.

For example, last week one of our reading assignments was “Intimate Relationships Across the Life Span” (in the edited book, Handbook of Lifespan Development, Wiley, 2010). Because part of my current fiction work deals with an older couple, this section on intimate relationships in late life captured my attention:

“[E]ven when day-to-day interactions between older couples involve periodic conflict and strain, the overall social support and stimulating interpersonal exchange afforded by day-to-day contact with an intimate partner has undoubtedly salubrious effect on older adults’ physical and mental well-being.” (p. 411)

This perspective gives a deeper understanding of bickering grandparents who seem, to the outside world, to make each other miserable in small ways every day, but who also need and sustain each other in real ways that go beyond mere habit. The example the professor used were the characters played by Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond.

As fiction writers, we wouldn’t, of course, refer explicitly to research that shows the benefits of intimacy later in life even when that intimacy is contentious. But simply having that firm base underneath our characters’ actions and words gives them greater cohesiveness and meaning.

One way to get a small taste of this kind of outside reading without committing to a class or even a book is to subscribe to a well-written blog or two that are in non-literary fields. A couple that my son has recommended to me that I enjoy are Marginal Revolution (economics) and The Monkey Cage (political science).

What are examples of reading outside your comfort zone (or just outside your usual reading habits) that energize and inform your writing?

10 thoughts on “Reading Outside of Our Comfort Zone

  1. Cool post, Lisa! I feel energized and inspired just reading it.

    I like the point you make that reading material that’s outside your “norm” may provide you with context for your creative writing. It’s like having a conversation with a person you don’t initially see yourself connecting with and they open a whole world to you you never expected. Love those kind of wonderful connections.

  2. Well, one of my favourite German authors suggests to read something you generally wouldn’t for 15 minutes every day.

    I try and do that by the by … The last book was about how to keep seahorses as pets (quite interesing! But phew, they need a lot of attention and space and water and …). ๐Ÿ˜‰

    On other occasions, I borrow books from friends interested in a particular subject (Taizรฉ, for example) – and I’ve become a quite enthusiastic blog-reader! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I think it is important to read beyond our own noses.

    • Reading something you generally wouldn’t for 15 minutes a day… what a terrific idea! I’m definitely going to keep that in mind. ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. Loved the post. I signed up for a book club and have already been reading stuff that I wouldn’t normally pick up and it has got the wheels turning! I’m thoroughly enjoying it and the new treasures that I encounter.

  4. I just won $200 on Amazon and am going to spend it all on books!! I have a long reading list of amazing recommendations. I can’t wait! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Magazines are such a good source of new ideas for me, too. (one of the few good things about doctors’ waiting rooms ๐Ÿ™‚ )

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