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Read beyond your comfort zone: Titles to stretch your mind

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Recommendations for reading beyond your comfort zone
Recommendations for reading beyond your comfort zone: Pick up something in a different genre or translated from another language.
Courtesy of publishers

As the Library of Congress' Ambassador for Young People's Literature, cartoonist Gene Luen Yang travels the country with a challenge for children: Read without walls.

Yang wants young readers to read outside their comfort zone and explore beyond their usual favorites. That can mean reading about a character who "doesn't look like you or doesn't live like you."

It's advice that's not just for children.

MPR News host Kerri Miller invited three avid readers into the studio to talk about how adults can follow this challenge to read without walls:

• Anitra Budd is a writer and visiting assistant professor at Macalester College

• Sarah Park Dahlen is an associate professor of library and information science at Saint Catherine University

• Matt Keliher is the manager at Subtext Bookstore in downtown St. Paul

In age when algorithms are ready to more of the same — "if you like this, you'll also like this" — it can be hard to break out of a reading rut, but here are the titles they recommended:

• "We Were Eight Years in Power" by Ta-Nehisi Coates

"Yes, it can be uncomfortable to understand how someone else engages with their history, but it's tremendously important, and you're left a better person for engaging with those ideas." -Matt Keliher

• "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas

Kerri Miller never read YA until she was challenged to read four titles this summer, including "The Hate U Give." She called it one of the most meaningful books she read this year, for its youth perspective on police brutality.

• "Four Reincarnations" by Max Ritvo

Anitra Budd said she wouldn't normally have picked up a poetry collection like this one — "what's he have to say to me?" — but Ritvo's honest portrayal of death caught her. The poet wrote the book while dying of cancer, and it was published after his death. 

Ritvo faces "death in a clear-eyed lyrical way that was scary to me at first," Budd said. But the book is "filled with so much light and strangeness and beauty. And coming out on the other side, I felt a little bit more healed, in a weird way."

• "Swallowing Mercury" by Wioletta Greg

Matt Keliher recommends picking up literature in translation to break out of your comfort zone. He recently read "Swallowing Mercury": "this book is about Poland and the political climate there."

• "Black Lives Matter" by Duchess Harris and Sue Bradford Edwards

Sarah Park Dahlen has read a number of books about "Black Lives Matter" and associated issues in the last year, as a contrast to other public narratives about the movement.

• "The Brother" by Rein Raud

More on the translation front: Both Kerri Miller and Matt Keliher recommend this "wonderful Western that would make Clint Eastwood happy." Keliher called it a story "about karma and mafioso," which was translated from Estonian.

• "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" by Benjamin Alire Saenz; audiobook narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Sometimes reading without walls can mean reading beyond your typical formats. Take on audiobooks for a change. Sarah Park Dahlen called Miranda's reading of "Aristotle and Dante" "one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to in my life."

• "I Hotel" by Karen Tei Yamashita

"This is such a wonderful book. If you read Thomas Pynchon or you read David Foster Wallace, or any of those post-modern novels, this is the book you need to read." -Matt Keliher

Also mentioned: "Love That Dog" by Sharon Creech, "The Crossover" by Kwame Alexander, "A Different Pond" by Bao Phi, "The Baron in the Trees" by Italo Calvino, "Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire" by Susan Tan, "Don't Call Us Dead" by Danez Smith" and "They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us" by Hanif Abdurraqib.

 Use the audio player above to hear the full discussion