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11 tips to help you read outside your comfort zone

Is your bedside table stacked with crime thrillers, romantic novels or dystopian literature? Never tend to mix your genres, safe in the knowledge that you like what you read? Perhaps you’re missing out, says the OU’s Dr Alex Hobbs, a tutor in the Faculty of Arts. Here she shares her top 10 tips for expanding your literary horizons...

1) Try an author from a different country

If you usually read only British or American authors, try a novel by an Australian, Indian, or Russian writer. There are lots of translated novels these days. Why not read an Italian or Swedish bestseller? There is literally a whole world of literature out there. How about a German legal thriller in the vein of John Grisham, like The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach? Or a mysterious coming of age tale, like The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

2) Read something different on holiday

We all love a book that we can fall into immediately, something accessible for the daily train commute or an escape at the end of a long day. But on holiday you might have a bit more time for reading or be able to concentrate a little more. Take advantage of this by adding one challenging title to your bag or Kindle alongside your go to page-turners.

3) Go back in time

If you’re someone who always reads contemporary fiction, try something in the same genre but from over 100 years ago. Like romances? Try a Jane Austen novel. Enjoy an epic adventure? Try Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Want something scary? Try Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

4) Find out who your favourite authors were influenced by

If you’re a devoted reader of J.K. Rowling or Julian Barnes, find out which writers inspired them and try their work. They may not always be what you expect. For example, Rowling has spoken of her admiration for Roddy Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Clement Freud, amongst others.

5) Ask a much older or younger relative what they enjoy reading

What we read tends to evolve as we grow up and grow older, but if you find yourself in a rut, ask a family member for their best recommendation. Even if you don’t enjoy their suggestion, you’re sure to learn something about the person.

6) Look at the awards

Pick an award – Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Costa Book Awards, Man Booker Prize – then pick a year, then read the winner!

7) Pick a book by its cover

We’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but being guided by what stands out at the bookshop or the library might yield interesting results.

8) Read a banned book

Titles were banned for a reason. Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho was banned in parts of Australia. George Orwell’s Animal Farm was banned in many communist countries and is still only published in a censored form in Vietnam. Vladamir Nabokov’s Lolita was banned and censored in many countries. Have a read and think about why this might have been.

9) Choose another form of literature

If you only ever read novels, try a play, some poetry, a collection of short stories, a memoir, or a graphic novel.

10) Read a debut novel by a new author

There are awards for the first novel by an author and these are a good place to start; for example, The Guardian First Book Award. The BBC Radio 2 book club also showcases debut writing.

11) Listen to it

If you don’t have the time to dedicate to reading something new, why not borrow a talking book from your library or find out what’s being serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week or Book at Bedtime. Unlike television or film adaptations, there are no visuals to limit your imagination. So walk the dog, do the washing up, or drive to work with something great being read to you.


Dr Alex Hobbs is a tutor for AA100 The arts past and present and EA300 Children’s literature. To find out more about reading, writing, authors and literature, visit OpenLearn. You can also read Dr Hobbs' 11 recommended children's books that challenge gender stereotypes.