Monday, 16 April 2012

Guest Post | Sarah of Bookworm Blues Considers Her Comfort Zone

Ladies and gentlemen: welcome once again to The Speculative Scotsman!

You may or may not know that I’m in America at the moment – if not, yes, it’s true... in fact I’m as far AFK as I’ve ever been before – but never ye fear! For in my absence, a few good men and women have volunteered to make the site their own, albeit only momentarily. They’re bloggers, by and large, but also friends; fine folks one and all that I’ve met on the internet (and occasionally off) in the course of keeping this shared space set aside for burbling about speculative fiction of all shapes and sizes.

They all have blogs of their own, of course, and I’d urge you to seek them out. I care a lot about what goes on here on The Speculative Scotsman, so let me stress this one thing before I get to giving over the floor: the fact that I’m hosting the work of each of these excellent writers here speaks to my admiration and my respect for every last one among them.

If you enjoy some or all of these terrific reviews and opinion pieces, do the decent thing and click through the links in the intro and outro of each. Follow a few of my favourite internet critics. :)

Now then. In honour of the time-tested blueness of Mondays, I thought the thing to do
this Monday was to host a blueish guest post, and truly, who could be better qualified for the job than Sarah of Bookworm Blues

Like all the other guests we've had on TSS this last little while, and those still to come, Sarah is a fantastic blogger, and a mainstay on my favoured feed-eater. It's a real honour to have her here on the blog, and doubly so considering the post she's got in store for us: a frank, intimate and considered article on how our comfort zones can become, counter-intuitively, too comfortable.

It is, in short, exactly the sort of thing I had hoped Sarah would write for the site, though I'd never have asked. It's what she does best -- though I should say she does everything else very well indeed. I'm going to let her tell the rest of this tale, but if you're not on the Bookworm Blues bandwagon already, by the end of this blog you bloody well will be.


***

First, I want to thank Niall for asking me to guest blog. It’s incredibly flattering to think that Niall thinks I’m good enough to write on his fantastic blog. [Oh, I know so --- Niall] Secondly, I should admit that I wracked my brain for weeks about what to write about. Niall told me to review something I don’t typically review. That leaves comics and movies and I don’t read/watch either and I usually post all the reviews of the book I read directly onto my blog as soon as possible, so I had no reviews of books left to write about. I decided to review something else entirely.

Well, “review” might be quite a stretch.

I need to give you some background. In November of 2010 I was diagnosed with cancer. You can imagine how terrifying it was to hear that I had a potentially terminal disease at the age of 28. I had surgery to remove my tumor two weeks after I was diagnosed. In the beginning of January I went to start my cancer treatment in the hospital and found out I was (surprise!) pregnant. It was the last thing I expected. The pregnancy was very difficult, not only because I was worried about my cancer spreading due to my inability to treat it while pregnant, but I also faced other health problems. My daughter was born via c-section on August 15. A few weeks later I had an ultrasound done and learned that my cancer probably spread while pregnant. Now I’m sitting here waiting to start the next leg of my treatment at a cancer center, probably sometime this summer.

I’m not saying any of this for sympathy. I’m saying it to give you some background. I’ve had a hell of a year (and a bit). It’s been very difficult for my family and me and I can tell you that sometimes the only thing that got me through was taking a vacation from myself and the best way to do that is by reading some damn good books. I’ve devoured more books during this period of my life than at any other.

Now, why on earth am I writing any of this on Niall’s blog?

After I was diagnosed with cancer I read to escape my own skin. I wanted to forget all the issues facing me. Then, when my back went out during my pregnancy and rendered me basically paralyzed for six months, I really started really flipping out. I was fighting cancer, trying to grow a healthy baby and unable to walk. My usual everything didn’t cut it anymore. I needed unusual. I needed to escape everything, even my reading comfort zone. So what did I do? I read the books I wouldn’t have touched with a ten-foot pole a few months earlier. And I liked them. That’s the real crazy part. I liked them.

Avid bookworms like myself tend to have a comfort zone. We like what we like and we tend to disregard everything else. [All too true --- Niall] However, this period in my life taught me how closed I was to myriads of good books I had spent years ignoring. Before I’d only read a book if it was epic fantasy. It had to be bloody and filled with tons of complicated plot elements. Politics were always a plus. Then, this period of my life happened and I ventured out. I read urban fantasy, sci-fi, military sci-fi, fantasy with assassins, thieves, steampunk, new weird, young adult and whatever else. I even read Twilight. I didn’t like it, but I read it.

Not every book was a hit and I didn’t enjoy every author, but I learned that right outside of my comfort zone there were worlds that I had never dreamed about and talented authors that I had closed myself off to simply because my comfort zone was too comfortable. Why try something else when you know exactly what you like?

Well, sometimes life needs a bit of extra spice. Sometimes your usual meal needs to be changed out for something new. What’s amazing to me is how many authors there are who are incredibly talented that I overlooked before simply because I was too comfortable to move over and see what books were on the next shelf. I’m lucky, I get plenty of books sent to me by publishers from myriads of different areas of speculative fiction and while I would have ignored most of them before, now I read all of them. It might take me a while to get to them, but I read them. I read the new authors and the time-tested authors. I read epic fantasy, urban fantasy and young adult, as well as whatever else is thrown my way. I feel rather ashamed of how closed I was to many books before. My tastes are far broader than I had expected and I never would have known that unless all of this health stuff happened to me.

Cancer has changed me forever. Once you hear those fateful words, “you have cancer” there’s no going back. While I am still fighting my battle, and I will win it, there are lessons it has taught me that I would have never learned any other way. One of them is not judging a book by its genre, or it’s cover. Each book has a new world and vision to offer, and each book deserves its chance. Comfort zones are nice. I will always favor epic fantasy, but now I realize that epic fantasy isn’t all that’s worth reading.

I guess you could say that this post is a review of reading styles and the lesson in the end is, maybe the next time you go to the library or the book store, stop at the isle next to the one you prefer and maybe choose a book you’d avoided before because it’s not your typical fare. You might just learn that breaking out of your comfort zone can add some incredible spice and flavor into your usual literary feast.

***

Absolutely fascinating stuff, Sarah -- thank you so much!

So we want to know: what are your comfort zones, folks? And how often do you read outside them? One book in ten, would you say? More, or less?

Now I'm not sure what's coming up tomorrow on The Speculative Scotsman, but... it'll be brilliant. Or else it'll be me, with a belated Letters From America! Meantime, Bookworm Blues is where you'll find Sarah, and I think you and I both know you want to.

5 comments:

  1. Sarah, I've said it before and I'll say it again: you're an inspiration to me. Whenever I feel like whining that I didn't get enough sleep or something silly like that, I think of you.

    As for comfort zones - I recently decided to try and read outside of my usual boundaries more often too. The result was the Fifty Page Fridays feature on my own site, a series of mini-reviews of books I usually wouldn't cover: http://farbeyondreality.com/category/fifty-page-fridays/

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  2. Wow. A lot of wisdom there. My reading has expanded since I started blogging. While at the present time I don't read a lot from genres outside the scopes of my two blogs (fantasy/historical adventure on one, science fiction on the other), I've discovered a number of great books and new authors I wouldn't have otherwise.

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  3. Thanks, Sarah. As Stefan says, you are an inspiration.

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