Grow Your Brain with a Reading Safari

One of the most time-honored ways to stretch your brain: grab a book. |

When it comes to reading, we all tend to have a sweet spot. Right? The kind of book that it's easy to reach for. The sort of thing we're always in the mood to read.

For me, that's British mysteries, middle grade adventure novels, and essays about food. I am never not in the mood for these.

The rest of the literary world radiates out from there, from books I'm comfortable with, to the ones that challenge me the most--because of style, vocabulary, subject matter, point of view, or genre.

We all have that spectrum: from the books that are our best friends, all the way out to the books that make our toes curl.

So here's a little growth experiment for all of us. A mini-challenge for the weekend.

Grow by reading the thing that stretches you.

I'm not saying aim yourself at out-and-out torture, but lean in to the kind of reading you avoid--on purpose or accidentally. The kind of books you don't normally consider.

What does that look like for you?

Here's a clue: hit the library or a bookstore. Think about where you normally go. Then think about all the other places. This weekend, let's prowl in all those other places.

Let's read writers from other continents, writers from four hundred years ago. (Unless that's what you normally read. In which case I'd say: read a writer from your own backyard, from the last decade or two.)

If you avoid books of letters, pick up a book of letters. If poetry is something you dodge, wander among the poets.

Find a book about the mystics, a book of plays, nature books, field guides, philosophy. 

Let's dive into whatever is least familiar.

Treat it like an excursion to an unfamiliar city. Have yourself a little word safari.

What's a safari? An expedition that involves observing and hunting. 

And that's what we're gonna do with these books we don't normally read.

You don't have to read it, not in the usual way, from page one to the end. It's an expedition. Observe. Hunt.

Look at the metaphors, at the flow of it. What kind of nouns keep showing up? And what about the verbs? What's the style like? Adjective-heavy or spare? Formal or conversational?

Look at the people involved--whether that means characters, or creatures, or whatever. The actors in the book, whatever the book is. Look at the different settings, the places where things happen.

Take a few notes if you want. Make lists. Capture examples of the writer's unique vocabulary. Copy out the quirkiest or most stirring phrases that you come across. 

Browse the world that the book is describing (because every book, every single one, is describing a world). And just let it cross-pollinate with your brain. Taste it. 

I have a feeling that the more we do this, the more we dip into books we wouldn't normally read, the more reading safaris we have, the more rich and strong our own writing will become. 

And that seems well worth the expedition.