I remember a (nameless) college professor who once told a class to read outside of their favourite genres and authors. I asked her what was the last science fiction book she had read, and she floundered. Probably not the best way for me to win friends, but then I've never been a big fan of hypocrisy. However, the advice was good (even if she didn't follow it herself). It is far too easy to get stuck into one niche. By nature, I have very broad interests, and I typically have a range of different books on the go; normally including some poetry, non-fiction, short stories or flash, and a novel. I could always do with expanding my own horizons though. My last few novels have included a 'police procedural', which sounds boring but was actually one o the best studies of character I have read in a long time, an award winning sci-fi novel from a couple of years ago, the latest blockbuster about a crime in an Australian town, a thriller about people who can control language to manipulate us, and a collection of African fables. I also read 'The Vorrh', which is officially fantasy but is pretty hard to place, and unlike anything else I have read. The downside of Amazon and other search engines is that they try to give you other books enjoyed by 'people like you' which too often means you get stereotyped - the books you see when you visit the online store are very similar to the last one's you read, a sequel or prequel, the same themes, and so on. That is all very nice, and useful, and probably the most profitable way to sell books, but is it a preferable approach to choose your next item to read? Is it the best way to use reading as a window into different worlds, alternate lives and perspectives?

There used to be a time when we would choose books by browsing through a bookstore. There were still constraints and limits; the number of books a single shop could offer, the discrete sections for romance or fantasy or autobiographies, that meant people were all dressed in the same clothes in the same aisles, the top ten lists put together by the booksellers, and so on. There was a much better chance of serendipity though, you could see a cover that caught your eye, take a wrong turn, meander through a different corner of the shop. My favourite part of modern book stores is the 'Books our staff like' region, because these are personal choices, by book lovers, who may come from different ages, areas, and have a variety of obscure preferences.

It's not new year, but it is the new school year. A time for education. Ask yourself, when was the last time you read something totally outside of your 'normal' reading habits? Take a walk on the wild side. Head into a real bookshop and wander, or mistype a few words into Amazon and see what comes up. Explore. Adventure. You never know what you may find.

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