Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Took Me Out of My Comfort Zone (And Helped Me Find New Ones)


Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now being hosted by The Artsy Reader. This week’s topic is Books I Enjoyed That Are Outside of My Comfort Zone, but I’ve modified it slightly to “books that took me out of my comfort zone but I didn’t necessarily enjoy.”

Comfort zones are funny. Sometimes I feel like I know exactly what I’m comfortable with and not. Other times I don’t even know where the boundary is until I’m suddenly standing outside of it, saying, “Uh, hello? I’d like to go back inside.”

Anywho, the titles = subjects/themes/character types that were (or still are) beyond my comfort zone.


Second Person POV


The Fifth Season was the first book with an extended second-person POV (beyond choose-your-own-adventure books) that I liked, and it actually made me see it in a new light. I love that it goes beyond a gimmick, that it actually serves a purpose in the story, narrative-wise. And I love even more that we don’t find out what that purpose is until book 3.


Space Opera


I was never a big space opera fan as a kid, and I only got into Star Wars and Firefly and all those other big scifi franchises as an undergrad. But then I played Mass Effect and it was like, oh hey, this spacefaring business is actually kind of cool and exciting and I think I want more.

So technically, Mass Effect is what took me out of my comfort zone. But in terms of books, it’s Karin Lowachee’s Warchild that did it. I talk about it quite a bit on the blog, and I cannot overstate just how brilliant the series is. Beyond the space opera aspect, it talks about war and identity, and it features the most disquieting exploration of abuse and its lasting effects that I’ve ever read.

Coincidentally, it also makes use of second-person POV (albeit a lot more sparingly than  Broken Earth and also in a different way), and the effect is very, very powerful.


BDSM, Sex, and Queerness


I read this series when I was 18, and it was my first experience seeing BDSM, queerness, and sex mixed together, and so forwardly, in one place. And boy, did that mean a lot to me.

I’m not saying that the Beauty books are quality BDSM literature, because they’re not (I’m 90% sure I’ll end up hating them if I ever do a reread), and it’s absolutely not the series I’d recommend to anyone who wants to dip their toes in BDSM (I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard Kushiel’s Dart is a better alternative). But I grew up in a conservative Asian family where sex wasn’t a thing I should even be contemplating, let alone having. Add to that a strong penchant for a kink, and you have the prime recipe for guilt, self-hatred, and repression–a full-course meal. And these books did a lot to make me feel more comfortable in my own skin. “Thankful” is maybe not the right word–it feels weird and a little wrong to be thankful for something that’s kind of problematic–but my feelings are a close cousin to it.

Ironically, by pushing me out of my comfort zone, Beauty helped me find it.


Small Pawns in a Wide World


I have a hard time dealing with stories that reek of helplessness. Where the characters are given the smallest margin of agency, and everything beyond that is too vast, too complex, too deeply seeded for them to change. That’s the main reason why I dislike Never Let Me Go (I struggle with enough feelings of smallness on my own, thank you), yet it’s also the reason why I can’t get it out of my head.


A Heartpuncher of an Ending


Adam, what crime did I commit in a previous life for you to make me go through the ending of More Happy than Not? I’m 100% comfortable reading books that talk about depression and suicide as long as they give me a few rays of hope at the end. This…wasn’t that.

But now, with the initial shock of emotions faded, I can say that it’s a fantastic and crucial piece of fiction–one that talks about queerness and mental health with stark honesty–and I’m glad to have experienced it.


A Heartpuncher of an Ending 2 (Feat. Irish Stream of Consciousness)


Here’s the thing: heartwrenching endings aren’t within my comfort zone and I don’t think they will ever be. I don’t think I can ever be comfortable with something that shreds me from the inside out and leaves me tattered on the ground. That is the definition of uncomfortable.

But here’s another thing: I can be uncomfortable with something and still love it and crave it.

The final thing: I love being broken by someone’s art.

At Swim, Two Boys left me insensate with tears by the end. I was hobbling around for days with my eyes puffy and glazed over. And I would gladly experience it hundred times more. Because this book is one of the most profoundly human things I’ve ever read, and that ending, and my reaction to it, is proof of just how deeply I connected with the characters.


Queer Pain (aka Why Do I Do This to Myself)


I sorely underestimated how uncompromising and triggering Orpheus Girl would be and I paid the price for it. Which sounds kind of dramatic, but god, reading this was like trying to swallow nails: painful, and not in the way I described above.

I didn’t dislike the book and I’m glad that it exists, as it talks about atrocities that are still very present for queer teens today (in the form of gay conversion camps), but it’s also something I almost wish I could unread, and I stand by what I said in my GR review: you don’t have to read these heavy topical books if you don’t want to. You’re not obligated to hold pain–any pain, queer or otherwise–by the blade and bleed yourself to prove that you’re aware of its existence.


You’re Not the Character I Thought You Were


You know what I love? Awful and seemingly irredeemable characters who, against all odds, win me over by the end of the story.

You know what I don’t love? The opposite of that. When there’s a character that I like and want to wrap in a blanket because “oh, he seems so troubled and sweet and he just needs someone to hold him.” And then it turns out he’s actually none of that. He’s actually an asshole with psychopathic tendencies and deserves a fireball to the face more than a hug. That’s a “I WAS ROOTING FOR YOU” moment and not something I’m terribly fond of.

So I should have hated The Court of Broken Knives (and its sequel, which I’m currently reading). The fact that I don’t–the fact that I love it, and it’s become one of my favourite fantasy series–is a testament to how good Anna Smith Spark is.

40 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Took Me Out of My Comfort Zone (And Helped Me Find New Ones)

  1. Captain's Quarters says:

    Glad to hear someone else talk about how great warchild is! I tend to avoid all books dealing with child abuse. But that book was amazing as was the rest of the series. I was fascinated. I did give it to me best friend to read and she had to stop because it was too harsh for her.

    And I need to read the Sparks book. Fantastic post matey!
    x The Captain

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      That book was so hard to get through at times, especially the beginning and near the end, but it was well worth it in the end. It’s one of those stories that I think about very, very often.

      And Anna Smith Spark is amazing! Her prose might not be for everyone (it’s very fragmented and stream-of-conscious), but I can’t enough of it. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sophie @ Me and Ink says:

    I loved this post— I think reading outside of your comfort zone can be a good and rewarding thing but sometimes you just want to run back to your comfort zone and be wrapped up in it. So on occasion I like to reach out of my comfort zone but I couldn’t do it all the time.
    Second person POV is certainly something you don’t see that much but I think it can be interesting and add a different element to the story. I didn’t realise The Fifth Season was second person POV and I might be curious about trying it now!!
    Heart punching endings are ones I am uncertain because sometimes I feel too sad to like it and it takes a lot of energy out of you but sometimes they are so emotional and beautiful that I really like it so it depends on the book for me. But I do really want to read More Happy Than Not even if I am slightly scared for it.
    The Court of Broken Knives sounds interesting and I like that the character surprised even if it wasn’t the way you wanted them too. It has made me want to try the books out though– I’m curious ahah!!
    Great post and it has brought some new books to my attention so thank you!! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Sorry I’m getting to this late, Sophie!!! And thank you! ❤ I think ever since I started blogging I've been more inclined to stay in my comfort zone? And like you said, often times that's a good thing!

      I think second person POVs can be polarizing for a lot of people, but yeah, I think it can bring out a different layer to the story if it's used right! And I feel like I only ever see it in adult books? It'd be really cool to see YA authors use it more. 😀

      And oh gosh, you should prepare tissues and a stack of super fluffy books if you ever try reading More Happy Than Not! It's a great story and it talks about a lot of important topics, but the ending KILLED ME and I was feeling it for DAYS.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sophie @ Me and Ink says:

        It’s completely fine there is no rush!! I agree I think blogging and reading other blogs has definitely made me try different things out which I am really thankful for.
        It is very unique and I can understand why some people don’t like it but I think it is really fascinating but like you said has to be used right. Yes you’re right I don’t think I have seen it in YA books but that would be really cool.
        Oh wow I will definitely prepare lots of tissues and happy books for after More Happy Than Not then!!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Sammie @ The Writerly Way says:

    Love your story about the Beauty series! I tried it and it was just too much of a no for me personally, but I always love to hear about when people connect with books like that. 😀

    Oooh, I didn’t realize The Fifth Person was in second person POV! That sounds so unique and now I’m interested to read it. I’ll have to grab a copy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. waytoofantasy says:

    Omg those Beauty books by Rice, ahahaha. I read those in high school, actually my friend G and I read them together and still to this day we will quote things from them to each other. They definitely got me out of my comfort zone for sure. Great list!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. acquadimore says:

    “You’re not obligated to hold pain–any pain, queer or otherwise–by the blade and bleed yourself to prove that you’re aware of its existence.” = this, so much. It only ends up hurting me, and hurting myself because other people have been hurt in horrible ways doesn’t actually help anyone.
    I initially underestimated Orpheus Girl as well – I mean, the cover makes it look like a Nina LaCour book, I expected something else. Then I skimmed the ARC and just… decided not to read it, when I realized. (I also kind of wish I could unread what I saw.)

    And about The Court of Broken Knives, that’s an interesting kind of character reveal, I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything similar.
    Great list!


  6. PerfectlyTolerable says:

    There is something poetic in your line “Ironically, by pushing me out of my comfort zone, Beauty helped me find it.” Thats so awesome that these books did this for you, even if they aren’t the best books they can still hold a special place in your memories and that is great!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Meeghan reads says:

    Ahhhh, Adam Silvera… Your description above of how you felt after reading ‘More Happy Than Not’ is pretty much exactly how felt after finishing ‘They Both Die at the End’. Like, amazing book, great concept, buuuuuut why do you hate me Adam? What did I ever do to you? 😅

    Liked by 1 person

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