There's a lot of advice for writers floating around the internet. I want to follow it. I know it's there for a reason, and following it will improve my writing. Unfortunately, there's one piece of advice in particular that I struggle with, and that's "read outside your comfort zone".
What exactly does the "comfort zone" refer to? The books one is interested in? The books one gravitates to for entertainment reads? The books one will willingly read when handed?*
I answer each question differently, you see, and this is why I can never tell if I'm reading within my zone or not. I also struggle with the whole problem of (lifespan) / (x zillion books) = (divide by cucumber error), and frankly have no interest in medicine, politics, cooking, self help, or interior design. Here's what I read:
Interesting: steampunk, cyberpunk, space opera, urban fantasy, comic fantasy, science fantasy, occasionally horror, paranormal YA, fantasy YA, forensic mysteries, historical mysteries, literary mysteries, historical fiction, the occasional piece of literary fiction, the occasional piece of chick lit, histories of objects or cultural aspects, pop quantum mechanics, pop string theory, pop biology, pop astrophysics, sociology, cultural commentary, some biography, some memoir, medieval literature, some Renaissance and 18th-century literature.
Fluff and Entertainment: steampunk, space opera, urban fantasy, comic fantasy, science fantasy, paranormal YA, fantasy YA.
When Recommended: 18th-century literature, Victorian literature, poetry, women's fiction, literary fiction, most science fiction written between 1900 and 1980(ish), epic fantasy besides Tolkien, thrillers in the Ludlum and Brown veins.
Admittedly, I do tend to concentrate on the speculative fiction end of the literary spectrum, and I figure I'm okay to weight my reading list that way, since that's what I write and plan to continue writing. But it's not the only thing I read and I'd like to think I'm reasonably familiar with the conventions of most genres and types of non-fiction out there, even if there are some I greatly dislike reading, and some I won't read at all.
But you do kind of see where my problem with the "comfort zone" definition comes from. If we go with entertainment reading, I do read outside my zone, but if we define "comfort zone" as everything I gladly pick up, then I mostly don't and I need to bone up on Dickens, who I can't get into at all, and possibly Picoult and David Foster Wallace.
And yes, I'm embarrassed that I don't really like a lot of old SF (or haven't liked what I've read, at least), and I know I'm prejudiced against some types of books because I've had bad experiences or have ideas that don't quite match with the reality. Mostly, though, I'm a little ashamed that there's so much stuff I want to read that I'm unwilling to spend a lot of time on what I should.
How do you guys deal with that? Or am I reading broadly enough already that I shouldn't be worried? (And who out there reads outside their zone? Show of hands?)
* Note that I'm aware these groups aren't mutually exclusive.