When I was younger, I always had a strong preference for reading books in which the main character was my age or slightly older. As a teen, a lot of books I read were about 16-year-olds… but then once I reached 17, I didn’t want to read those anymore. Instead, I wanted the protagonists to be 17 – like me – or slightly older.
I read constantly, from the time I learned all the way through high school, generally reading those age-appropriate novels along with the literary classics my teachers assigned. I had enough time that I could read for school and for pleasure. But once I began college, I all but stopped reading for pleasure. I was an English major, so I still did plenty of reading, but it was all assigned and invariably led to graded essays.
While the reading I did during my college years was illuminating, I was beginning to lose my sense of identity when it came to what I wanted to read. Upon completing my master’s degree in 2013, I was 23 and had no idea what books I wanted to read. I didn’t fit in with YA anymore – it seemed too young! I wasn’t a teenager! I wasn’t a kid anymore! But at the same time, I also didn’t fit in with normal Adult fiction, either. At least, that’s how I felt at the time. I didn’t want to read about “old” people and their unrelatable “old people problems” – Money issues? Dealing with children? Divorce? Slightly misguided though I may have been, I truly felt that I was between age groups.
In an effort to find something that felt relatable, I set out on a search for books that were specifically about people in their 20s. Preferably characters who were fresh out of college and still young. I wanted to read about love (I had a serious boyfriend; we got engaged during all of this) and weddings, friendships and first jobs… issues and events people in their 20s face.
The first couple of books I read after my master’s were YA – one about a high schooler, and one about a girl who just graduated. They were good, but felt too young for me. Then I stumbled across a book about a girl pursuing a PhD – now that felt like the right age for a protagonist! Even better that she was studying music and did a summer internship in Prague – I myself had just gotten a degree in Music Business at a campus in Valencia, Spain. So I got the book and enjoyed its slightly more mature themes. I read its sequel immediately after.
But then my struggle really hit. How does one find books about women in their 20s? What was the right keyword for that? After a few bookless months, I found a list of books “every woman in her 20s should read.” It led me to a novel called Girls in White Dresses. It was fine, but then I was at another dead end, and so my struggle continued. My past reading bug just wasn’t biting.
Then I moved to Lima, Peru to be with my boyfriend (who became my fiancé). In the 10 months I lived there, finding books in English was difficult. They had limited selections, and I still didn’t feel drawn to most of the novels. They weren’t what I was looking for. Yet I was restless and had time on my hands, and I wanted the old book-obsessed version of me to return, so I persisted.
Online, I made lists of a whole new genre of books labeled New Adult. I wouldn’t be able to get those until I returned to the US. Instead, my time in Lima found me bouncing between YA books (Incantation and If I Stay), classics (Emma), and my first proper adult thriller (Gone Girl). That last one may have been the wake-up call that proved “adult” books could actually capture and hold my interest… but I didn’t understand that right away.
Once I returned to Washington State and got married, I did read some of those New Adult books I’d been eyeing. They were a helpful transition for me, but in the end, the genre was short-lived. The scope felt narrow, and my increasingly frequent sojourns into adult fiction proved again and again that it offered an expansive and diverse array of books. I found that I really loved historical fiction and learning about different times and places. Later, thrillers took over (I had loved Nancy Drew back in the day!).
The more I read, the more I opened up my mind to what and whom I could read about. I learned that I can actually relate to all kinds of characters, regardless of their age, where they’re from, or what century the book is set in. I found that I could become as absorbed in a thriller starring a 28-year-old American protagonist as a historical fiction about a 45-year-old woman in 1700s France. Later, that expanded more, to fantasies about teenagers in Malaysia and to literary fiction spanning decades in 1900s Nigeria.
Discovering how expansive my reading tastes can be was a long learning curve. I look back now and see how naive and close-minded I was – at least in terms of book choices – even after earning a master’s degree and getting engaged, even after living in foreign countries for two years of my life. And yet, I was still finding myself and learning how far reading can take me.
While it felt confusing for a year or two, I’m glad I processed through it and that I have so many books available to me now. Of course, I still go through phases – one season I’m into fantasies set in Asia, another season I just want historical murder mysteries in Europe – and sure, some genres still don’t generally appeal to me (futurisitc science fiction…). But nothing is off-limits now, and reading has returned as my favorite hobby!
Did you experience growing pains in your reading journey? Are there any struggles you faced or changed opinions on subjects or genres you can share? Let me know in the comments!