The first Top Five Wednesday prompt the Goodreads group assigned for July was to pick five books you love that are outside of your comfort zone. For example, if you like fiction try to pick something nonfiction that you enjoyed. I struggled with this one since I enjoy reading a wide variety of genres. I think that’s half the fun of reading! There’s so much to choose from! Obviously, I love comic books and my home book shelves are filled with novels. But I also regularly read memoirs, biographies, theology, philosophy, history, sacred scripture from various traditions, and even have a passion for a small selection of poets. So finding books from a genre I don’t normally read was a bit of a challenge, but here’s what made the list!
5) Rainer Maria Rilkie’s Letters To A Young Poet. Despite being a lover of history I, for some reason, don’t tend to read a lot of books that are comprised of correspondence. Naturally I love books that draw their material from correspondence as it’s an invaluable primary source, but I don’t have many volumes just of letters. This volume contains the letters Rilke, a German lyric poet, wrote to a young aspiring poet. He offered advice and insight on life, love, and living compassionately in the world.
It’s a moving volume and contains one of my all-time favorite quotes. Rilke advises this young man, “I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
How beautiful is that?? I think of this quote often and I think the world can use a more heightened awareness of the truth he’s expressing.
4) Lynn Austin’s Eve’s Daughters – It may come as a surprise, since I’m a theology teacher and have two degrees in this stuff, but I don’t read a lot of Christian fiction. I know a lot of people love it but, for me, it’s never really resonated. This book was given to me as a birthday gift by my friend Kelly. As I read it, I found myself impressed with Austin’s knowledge of history, the emotionally rich characters she created, and how she worked the theological points she was trying to express into the story. The story follows four generation of women through their lives and explores the power and weight of their decisions. It’s a thoughtful and moving book. The use of scripture and theology wasn’t blatant nor contrived but rather interwoven with subtlety, grace, and care, always serving the story naturally.
3) B.J. Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories – I’m not a fan of short stories. Yes, there are a few exceptions for me here and there but they almost always leave me wanting more. I want more character development, more exposition, more time in the plot, etc. etc. etc. Basically, I want them to be novels…which totally defeats the purpose of a short story! Anyway, I keep trying short story collections over the years but there are few that warrant rereads and even fewer that garner my love and admiration. However, that’s not the case with Mr. B.J. Novak! I loved this book. I read it in a day. I’m not kidding – a day. I couldn’t put it down!
In his volume, which was a fantastic Christmas gift from my parents by the way, I found stories that made me think, stories that made me cringe, characters I loved, thoughtful examinations of human relationships, and all the awkwardness life can offer. Oh, yeah, and it’s funny. I laughed a lot. And I mean A LOT. My respect and admiration for B.J. Novak continues to grow with each new venture he explores. Apparently there isn’t anything this man can do that I won’t love. You can read a story in a few moments time, which is great for a busy life, but you’ll also find yourself pulled in and loosing hours or your life in the blink of an eye. It’s just that good.
2) Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing – I don’t read a lot of plays either. I’m not sure why. I enjoy the theatre. I’ve encountered several plays that I really enjoy. And they traditionally don’t take a lot of time to read. Maybe I’m unconsciously thrown by the fact that they’re 99% dialogue? I don’t know but whatever it is, I don’t read plays often. But I love Tom Stoppard. And I LOVE The Real Thing. The play follows two couples, involved in the production of a play about love and infidelity, while in marriages that are crumbling in real life as their spouses have fallen for each other. I’m a sucker for the exploration of love and human relationships and this is INCREDIBLE.
The back of my edition sums it up by saying the play, “combines his characteristically brilliant wordplay and wit with flashes of insight that illuminate the nature – and the mystery – of love, creating a multi-toned play that challenges the mind while searching the innermost secrets of the heart.” Yes, yes, and yes. It does all of those things in a beautiful and moving way. It’s a play I love and a play I’ve returned to often. (You should totally buy this yourself!)
1) Bram Stoker’s Dracula – I know this is a classic (and I ADORED the whole thing) but I don’t really read a lot of Gothic literature. Also (and here’s the bigger issue) I don’t like to be scared. Rather, I didn’t. Then I started dating Kalie and she loooooves horror and now I’ve gotten to embrace the genre too, with someone to hold my hand as I go. But that wasn’t the case for a long time. When I picked up the book I was a horror newbie, looking to explore a classic of literature. And I loved it! I couldn’t put the book down! I mean, it freaked me out and I had trouble falling asleep when I’d read it late into the night but I loved this book! In fact, it lead me to read Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after as well. I’ve enjoyed them all, but NOTHING compares to Dracula.
So there’s a little trip outside my comfort zone. Ahh, it felt good to shake things up! But, to be honest, I still kind of feel like I cheated. I have to say it too! I do love a handful of plays. I also love humor books and, with The Office to his writing credentials, I was sure I would enjoy B.J. Novak’s collection (although I didn’t know I’d love it as much as I did). Plus, Dracula is a classic so it’s not really THAT far outside my comfort zone. But it was a tricky topic for me and I tried. Sigh. I apologize for ending this piece with this sort of agonized confession but I felt I had too. I really try to read a little something from every genre, to keep things interesting, so I had to stretch to handle the post as it was outlined. But I made my choices! And I owned the stretching too :). Alright, now it’s time to read some of Han Solo’s adventure in an old Expanded Universe novel and not agonize over where it falls in relation to my comfort zone!