Expanding Literary Horizons


A few days ago, my sisters and I discussed how certain types of books become so much richer when you’re familiar with the tradition from which they emerged. For example, if you’re familiar with folklore and fairy tales, you can spot those roots in afantasy novel, and it enhances the reading experience.

Not that you can’t enjoy the story without it, but you gain something more–something valuable–for the experience you have in a genre.

Yet I can’t help but think we’re also enriched when we go beyond the familiar and enter new literary territory, when we explore new traditions and broaden our perspective. Perhaps a speculative reader might pick up Jane Austen’s novels and grow familiar with the style of Regency fiction. Or a romance reader might explore steampunk, starting with its precursors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Sometimes, of course, the new types of books will not appeal, but other times unexpected favorites will emerge.

At the very least, having both depth and breadth in our reading habits enriches our thinking, and for those of us who write, it makes us stronger writers. So pick up something new and different…the results may surprise you.

What do you think? Have you ventured into new literary territory recently?


  • Mary
    October 7, 2011 - 9:50 am · Reply

    I love sampling new genres and styles of literature. Like you said, I might try something new and discover that I don’t like it, but I may discover a new favorite. My tastes have proven to be rather eclectic – in my bookshelf, a collection of Jane Austen novels sits next to The Secret Garden, which sets next to The Arabian Nights, which sits next to a fantasy trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead, which sits next to Edgar Allen Poe, etc. And I’m always open to try something new!

    • Sarah Sawyer
      October 7, 2011 - 2:56 pm · Reply

      Ah, a fellow eclectic reader! I love Jane Austen and many of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s works also. While fantasy remains my favorite genre, I’ve found many delightful works in a variety of genres that have ended up on my keeper shelf. Finding unexpected treasures is quite satisfying. 🙂

  • Kessie
    October 7, 2011 - 11:35 am · Reply

    I recently discovered Dickens. I spent three months last year reading Bleak House, and I’m hoping for another of his books this year (possibly Great Expectations?). I love old books by dead authors, and really, spec fiction is the new genre for me. I’ve barely scratched its surface because it’s hard to find somebody without a lot of gross sexual stuff in their books.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      October 7, 2011 - 2:57 pm · Reply

      Dickens is one author I’ve never fully managed to connect with–maybe it is time to revisit his works. But I love many of the classic/old writers as well. Their books have stood the test of time for a reason!

      As far as speculative fiction without explicit sexuality (which I agree is essential), the classic speculative writers are obviously great (MacDonald, Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton, etc). Also, have you read Jeffery Overstreet’s fantasy novels? His rich style reminds me of some of the classic writers, yet he invented a fresh storyline. He writes for adults, but he keeps things clean and weaves a Christian thread into his stories.

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