I’ve recently noticed from talking to people about what they read that they tend to have a reading comfort zone. This isn’t an unusual phenomenon. The comfort zone is the cocoon we construct in all aspects of life to shelter us from what is outside. Simply put, it is easier to hide, remain comfortable and safe, than to experience the world on a broader spectrum.
I started thinking a lot about the concept of the comfort zone recently, mostly as a result of my own experiences; last September, I moved out of my parents house to a city to start college. It was big, scary, terribly daunting, and what was worse, I was completely out of my comfort zone. I no longer had the cocoon to embrace at night, of home, and family, and friends. Essentially, I was all alone, ready to construct something brand new for myself.
As time went by, I realised that there was something to be said for the shedding of the cocoon. Although I was terrified for a while, I had never felt as alive as I did in those few months. It was reinvigorating, like being plunged into icy cold water. Not that dissimilar from when you’re a child, and your parents bring you swimming. You spend a while dipping your toe in, telling your Mum that it’s too cold. But she tells you to just jump – to just go for it. Eventually you do, and you know in that moment that it is one of the greatest experiences you will ever have.
As time progressed, I became increasingly comfortable with my new surroundings, and it is certainly fair to say that soon, a new cocoon had been constructed – away from my family, with wonderful friends and essays and books to immerse myself in.
As a part of my study of English Literature, we were given a novel to read called Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. Safely cocooned in my new comfort zone, I didn’t expect it to make much of an impact on me. I certainly didn’t expect it to yet again look at my cocoon quizically. But it did. Set in Zimbabwe, the reader follows a family torn by colonialization. The author skilfully shows us the true effects of cultural hybridity on the family unit. Dangarembga not only tells a story of her country, she goes further. She makes us feel like we are there. As a man, the experience of the coming-of-age of two teenage girls continued to pull me from my safety.
It was only at this point in my life that I realised the full severity of the comfort zone. Not only had I embedded myself in an unyielding cocoon in life, where regularity became some kind of worthless currency, I had also read myself into safety. For the first time, I had to acknowledge that my comfort zone, and indeed, the comfort zone of western society as a whole, often stops us from even reading of experiences that are not our own.
If you go into a bookshop and look at the list of bestsellers, this view will be reinforced. Chick-lit, romance, newly popular erotica and crime fiction greets us. How many of these bestsellers are about people in faraway lands, or experiences unfamiliar to us? The sad answer is that it these are very few.
So on that note, I encourage you to break out of your cocoon; say goodbye to the comfort zone, and not only in your everyday life, but say goodbye to it in your reading too. Try new things. Go skydiving. Learn French. Take up painting. Become a naturist. I don’t know – just do something. And while you’re doing all of these things, read a book about people who are in no way like yourself. Because if you truly want to broaden your mind, and your experiences, the cocoon will have to be scrapped. Greet the butterfly as it emerges, don’t push it back.