Reading Outside Your Comfort Zone

One of the great delights of getting older is knowing exactly what you enjoy and refining your choices accordingly. But, as we get comfortable, there is always that danger of missing out on something we’ve written off as not for us.

We regularly tell kids how their tastes will alter over time and what seems awful now – brussel sprouts, olives, country music – might be more appealing in time… or not of course, I still don’t ‘get’ country music. But could that also be true for us as readers?

I felt genuine pity for the gentleman I encountered a few months ago, who announced that he never read books by women as ‘they cannot write from the male perspective’. Your loss sir, I thought to myself. Goodness, what a great many wonderful books that excluded from his experience.

Occasionally I encounter parents and grandparents who desperately want their children to read ‘real’ books. Not the kind with silly cartoons and not enough words. Yet, my own kids have shown me the joy and delight to be found in reading graphic novels. In fact, when they went through the inevitable mid-teens reading slump, it was graphic novels which kept them engaged and reading. Sometimes our natural inclinations close us off from trying something different, and it may be that we’re missing out.

I grew up reading fiction – fantasy, historical sagas, thrillers and sci-fi – all the genre fiction which the ‘literary’ world can seem a bit sniffy of. Non-fiction, however, has always been a struggle. Much as I liked the idea of it, I often found I would get a few chapters in and lose interest. Fast forward to now, and part of my job over the past few years has been reading ahead and choosing our Book of the Month. It has really challenged me to read beyond the well-travelled, familiar paths and try new things.

Without it I would have missed out on the utter joy of Kathleen Jamie’s ‘Surfacing’. A non-fiction gem looking at archaeology, our collective past, buried histories, lost cultures, the natural world and family. Poetic and moving, it was so different from what I would usually choose yet, is easily one of the most beautiful books I have read.

Another discovery for me was ‘On The Red Hill’ by Mike Parker. Nature writing and history, definitely not my kind of book, and yet… It is actually the most beautiful memoir. A history of people and place, celebrating nature’s rhythms and finding a place to call home. In it, Mike uncovers a queer rural history previously hidden in the margins of literature and history. Gorgeous and joyful! I also had the opportunity to visit Rhiw Goch (Red Hill) – Mike’s home – with a group of Welsh (& Welsh Borders) booksellers, to walk the hills and chat with Mike. An absolute treat, which I so very nearly missed out on completely.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago, and reading through our trade magazines and looking ahead I spotted a ‘memoir as fiction’ of Uriah Rennie, the first black Premier League referee. ‘Who?’ I thought to myself & looked him up. Out of my comfort zone completely. Neither my husband nor my dad watches football. In the shop, Tim regularly rolls his eyes at my utter lack of sporting knowledge and inability to remember the authors of the latest sports biographies. But my interest was piqued, and after years in this job I’ve learnt to pay attention to that little twitch of interest in my gut. I’m glad I did.

‘Your Show’ by Ashley Hickson-Lovence is lyrical and inventive. A ‘memoir as fiction’ of Uriah Rennie, the first black Premier League referee. Whether you’re a football fan or not, there is much to impress in this bold and fascinating book.

Told in short stanzas of 2nd person narrative, this unusual little gem of a novel draws you in, places you directly in the midst of the action, to experience it firsthand. Capturing both the repetition and uniqueness of each match, the sights, smells, sounds of each ground, Hickson-Lovence layers his narrative with dance-like wordplay and builds a captivating picture of the man in the middle; Uriah Rennie. Complex and driven, born in Jamaica, raised in Sheffield. Ambition and fire in his belly.

Rennie is a man defined by his job, by his decisions on the pitch, every action scrutinised, often vilified and despised by press and fans alike. Yet, what we see is a man with utter surety and conviction, a desire to be the best, passionate, fair-minded and determined to make his mark.

Surprisingly exciting, immediate, poetic yet grounded; this novel of football and fouls, superstars and Sunday players, of red cards, race, masculinity and ambition makes for a fascinating read. Ashley Hickson-Lovence is one to watch.

  • Ruth