Expand Your Horizons by Restricting Your Reading

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The title of this post is intentionally oxymoronic. After all, headlines are supposed to grab attention. But not all that is attention-grabbing is merely a click-bait. I mean what I say in the title of this post. In context, of course.

There is too much to read out there and even for those whose job it might be to read books, too little time to read. Ideally we would want to read not only good but also diverse books. But how do most of you pick books?

choosing a book

One way is by hearing about books from various sources.

Unfortunately, there are systemic biases in what we get to hear about. Yes, there is a J. K. Rowling – one of the top earning authors in the world, but women authors are usually under-represented in reviews, recommendations, must-read compilations and most reading lists (Rowling too had to deliberately use a male-sounding name to get her book published!). So are the authors from minority communities, or those from outside our countries, or those writing in a different language.

You might think that you are not biased because when you pick up a book, it is not based on the gender, race or nationality of an author. And you are right. But your selection is still biased, because the pool you are selecting without bias from is itself biased.

How do you break free from this systemic bias then? That’s where restricting your reading set for a pre-decided time period comes into the picture. You could dedicate a quarter (or a month, if you are voracious reader) to read only a certain kind of writer. That way, you will be forced to go beyond the usual recommendations you come across and you might be surprised at what you find.

Here are some such restrictions you can try out.

Read only

  • Women writers
  • Writers of color
  • Books not original written in English (or whatever language you primarily read in)
  • Books from countries that you usually do not read (This is particularly a goldmine for English readers. Because English literature is published in many, many countries where primary native language may not even be English. The accessibility for English readers is like nobody else in the world)
  • Books from genres you don’t usually read (If you are picking up a book from a not-your-genre, you are likely to pick up one of the top ones. And you might be pleasantly surprised by it.)

One tip to make this exercise most effective is to avoid reading only stereotypical writing from the group you have chosen. If you choose women writers and read only romance novels, you wouldn’t have expanded your horizons much. I mean, sure, do read good romance novels from women too while you are at it. But don’t do only that.

Have you tried restricting your reading in past? What has your experience been like? If you haven’t tried yet, would you like to try it in the future? What genre/authors would you restrict yourselves to?

4 Comments

  1. I have made a conscious effort to balance my reading more evenly between male and female writers. I think most readers (myself included) could benefit from a corrective to their unconscious biases, but I’m still slightly uncomfortable choosing books based on “gender, race or nationality”. Just as I wouldn’t recommend Philip Roth as a “man writer”, I wouldn’t class Virginia Woolf or Alice Munro as “women writers”. I would recommend all three on the basis of different strengths- and the fact that they are all unparalleled masters in their respective genres.
    However, we all need encouragement to break out of our comfort zones. As readers of English, we have an embarrassment of riches in translated fiction… there’s no excuse for boredom!

    • “However, we all need encouragement to break out of our comfort zones. As readers of English, we have an embarrassment of riches in translated fiction… there’s no excuse for boredom!”

      Perfectly put! 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on Booknomics and commented:

    A good way of reading better…

  3. An interesting idea. Thanks.

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