Reading Books You Don’t Expect to Like

Have you done this? Have you ever started reading a book even though you don't think you're going to like it? And then you do? Let's confess in the comments!

books that surprise you read it forward

I remember reading books that I’ve started reluctantly, usually because they were recommended by a friend so enthusiastically I couldn’t refuse. I know what I like when it comes to books, and I’m super choosy. But I love being surprised.

One of my biggest surprise discoveries came when I was working at the renowned Tattered Cover Book Store. I’d asked my fellow booksellers to help me find something to read that weekend, and the guy who managed the science fiction section recommended Neal Stephenson.

Snow Crash is the most awesome cyberpunk novel ever!” he cheered.

You know that zeal you get when you’re recommending one of your favorite authors? I could feel his excitement practically vibrating off him.

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He was a huge reader, and I trusted his expertise in all things science fiction. But … I wasn’t a big scifi fan. I was finishing my master’s degree in English, and most everything I read was feminist-deconstructionist literary theory. I didn’t even know what cyberpunk was!

But he convinced me, and I brought home a copy of Snow Crash. I opened the first page and … that was it. I was hooked. I stayed up all night reading it. Snow Crash is a clever, fast-paced, provocative look at an almost-could-be-us future, with a wicked-smart narrator who made me laugh. What a surprise! And how cool to discover not only an author I didn’t expect to like, but an entire genre.

You must read Snow Crash! And let me tell you about some more cyberpunk books you might like. Yeah, I know, it’s okay if you don’t usually read science fiction….

Photo Credit: Gayvoronskaya_Yana/

About Kira Walton

Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

  • Sarah

    I just read “Instructions for a Heatwave” by Maggie O’Farrell. I’d seen a blurb somewhere and thought it sounded interesting. I got started on reading it, and then my interest faded a bit … and then the narrative would pick up a bit … and then lag a bit … and then pick up a bit. I finished it at midnight last night; I guess I liked it more than I thought! Good story about an Irish family having to figure out why their dad “ran away” and then coming together to locate him. The characters are hard to read sometimes, but the family dynamics kept me turning pages till long past my bedtime!

    • Oh man! I know that lag-pick-up-lag-pick-up all too well, Sarah! I’ll have to check out Instructions for a Heatwave …

  • Jenn

    Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I didn’t expect it to be so engaging, and funny!

    • buffalogirl

      I know what you mean! Every time I suggested it to someone, they said no, I don’t like “westerns”, but after only one chapter, they’re hooked and no one could do it better than McMurtry! One of my favorites (and I don’t like westerns!)

    • Mindy Hamby Miller

      Absolutely agree…on my “I need to read this again” pile.

    • Mary Beth

      I just read it as well. And thought I’d somehow get through it! But I loved it!!!!!! A surprise, for sure!

  • mm

    I was persuaded to read

    The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
    I did the lag,drag routine but finally gave in and opened it to find a facinating story that I could not put down.

    • Marilyn

      You should also try Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard. It is about President Garfield who was assassinated. It is a fascinating story that deals with the assassin as well as the incompetence of the doctors who treated him. I knew little about Garfield but based on the information in the book, he probably would have made a good leader had he survived.

  • Vicki Valenta

    The Road by Cormac McCarthy is way out of my comfort zone. But it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I liked it so much that I’ve read it twice. This is one of the best things about belonging to a book club; it gets me reading books that I wouldn’t ordinarily read.

  • Shasta C

    “The Story of Edgar Sawtell; A Novel” by David Wroblewski. My dad insisted I read this book right after he read it. Though we both love to read, our tastes usually differ in what subject matter we choose. I was sure I would not like this book, but gave it a shot because my father was SO adamant. I cannot even describe the myriad of emotions and thoughts that this novel provoked in me. An amazing and honest story.

    • That’s it, Edgar Sawtell is now moved to the top of my TBR pile It’s been there for a while!) … hope you and your dad had a great conversation about it, Shasta. Isn’t that the best part?

      • Shasta C

        It absolutely is, Kira.

    • techeditor

      That’s one of my favorite books.

  • Leslie Asher

    I am presently reading the Girl onthe Cliff by Lucinda Riley. At first, after reading the first few chapters, I thought I would not continue. However, I was on the beach and finished all my other reading material. Much to my surprise, the book was wonderful.. I am so glad that I decided to continue.

  • Janet B

    Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer was on I would not have normally read. I belonged to an online book group and that was the pick. I have to say, I really enjoyed it – nonfiction was not my type of read at that time. It’s been over 10 years ago and I still recall parts of that book and what went on during the climb of Mt Everest. I still recommend to those who have not read it.

    As for cyberpunk, I’ve not heard of that one but will have to check it out sometime.

    • I’ve read Krakauer’s INTO THE WILD (so haunting) but haven’t read INTO THIN AIR. Might be especially moving now given the recent tragedy … so sad.

      Did you see Vicki’s comment about how book club makes you read stuff you wouldn’t normally read? So true!

      • Guin Reese

        I just loved Into the Wild and agree with your assessment will definitely need to read a few more books by Jon Krakauer.

  • Buffalogirl

    someone gave me a tattered copy of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and I’ve never had any inclination to read it and heard the movie with Nicholas Cage was awful, but I was desperate for reading material, so I started it and I have to say that it has replaced “A Fine Balance” on my favorite book list! A wonderful, superbly written novel! One of the best!

    • Guin Reese

      I loved this story book was far better than movie. Read the book because was thinking about seeing the movie. I tend to do that for books that are turn into movies.

  • Mary Kase Tabeling

    Grapes of Wrath

    • Guin Reese

      Read this on my own after finding out there was a book before there was a movie. Great story and movie of course they really knew how to do epic movies back then.

  • Hoda H. Fadl

    “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene. The bookseller, who was an old man, told me that it was good and that I should read it. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d like it, but once I started reading it, I loved it and it became one of my favourites.

  • d.endris

    Ha…Kira, how goes it? It’s David from Crown, hope you’re well. Anyway, I just had a great conversation about this last night with some people: generally I feel the books that are more important to read are those that you are pretty sure you won’t like or agree with; e.g. I read a Coulter book some years back and though I not surprisingly thought most of it was sensationalized/inflammatory rhetoric, I recognized that it’s healthier intellectually to immerse myself in something like that rather than another book that i simply agree with all the way through (e.g. I can read Sagan or Hitchens all day but ultimately I’m just being preached to by the choir and I’m not challenging myself to think differently nor am i forced to see someone else’s perspective, no matter how much i’m convinced beforehand that their ideas, opinions, viewpoints, etc. are different enough to justify not exploring and thinking about). Reading something we’re pretty sure we’ll like is fine, but it behooves us spiritually to push the boundaries on a constant enough basis that it turns into progress. Expanding one’s horizons and all that. If we stay within our own comfort bubbles and never explore where the edge is, we’ll never know how much further we can go before we do run out of room!

    • Hi David! So nice to see you here. I totally respect your reading books “on the other side of the aisle.” That sure does make for a broader understanding!

  • Curtis Sanae Martin

    A friend tortured me into reading Pride & Prejudice. I was stuck in a Sci-Fi rut with a few spy novels thrown in for good measure. I loved it. Next, she twisted my arm to read War & Peace which blew me away. Now I have Snow Crash & River of Doubt on my TBR list. I’m hesitantly looking forward to The Strain by Guillermo del Toro.

  • techeditor

    I didn’t think I’d like THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS, but I sure did!

  • techeditor

    I just remembered another one: LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was in the third grade and looking for a book on the bookmobile. The librarian pulled this big green book off the shelf. It had big printing like a child’s book. It insulted me. I didn’t like children’s books. But I didn’t want to insult the librarian, so I took it home and read it. I read the whole series after that. None of the other books had big printing.

  • Dawn Price Bach

    One of my boyfriends from high school told me he’d had to read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in his English class and that it bored him to tears, so I avoided reading it. Later, when I worked in a data entry center and we ‘shared’ audiocasettes with each other, I took this when it was the only one available. I couldn’t believe I’d missed out on this wonderful story for so many years. I was so captivated that I would type right through my breaks! I of course read the book later, and when I met up with my ex-boyfriend on Facebook I told him what an idiot he was! 🙂

  • Guin Reese

    I read Dune by Frank Herbert because my brother Eric suggested it he reads just about anything and science fiction is what he tends to lean toward. I have since picked up a few in that genre and really liked them.

  • wrybroad

    Duma Key by Stephen King. Never been a King fan, but I enjoyed this book enough to give it as a gift.

    • Madeleine Poe

      I am a long-time fan of Stephen King in spite of being repeatedly disappointed these last few years, with Duma Key being an exception. I suppose one shouldn’t expect repeated hits like The Stand, The Shining, Carrie…I could go on. But for the most part, there is something missing. That has not stopped me from buying his books and Dr. Sleep and Mr. Mercedes are on top of my “don’t expect to like” stack. Here’s hoping I’m wrong…

  • RosemarySimm

    One of my co-workers kept after me for at least three years to read the first Harry Potter book. I was a mature woman with a love of books, but a kids magical story just didn’t appeal to me. I gave in and took the book home and started to read and read and read. I would never believe that I could enjoy the adventures of Potter and friends. When I gave back the book, the second book was on his desk with my name on a sticky note and a big smile drawn on it. I read the whole series and watched the movies. I will never turn down a book again, without first giving it a try.

  • RosemarySimm

    Funny thing……….I read Edgar Sawtell a few years ago. Loved the book, but passed it on to a friend with a no return needed. A week ago a new friend was
    reading a book and I looked to see what it was. It was Edgar Sawtell and after a brief look at her book, I found my dot on the last page that was my way of knowing I was done reading it. Love traveling books. 🙂

  • As a youth librarian, I primarily read only YA and books for independent readers. I was very reluctant to start reading anything that was recommended to me by a particular group of teens because the last time I listened to them I read Twilight and can never get those brain cells back, but they were insistent that I check out Rick Riordan. In the space of a week, I had read every book he’d ever written for children, including the entire 39 Clues series (even though he only wrote the narrative arc and the first book). He’s definitely worth reading along with your child.

  • Cheryl Lucas

    “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain. I’m not a book club type of reader. My main reading choices are popular genre book with happily ever afters but I now have to expand my reading list for a work related book club.”The Paris Wife” was the first one I actually finished and while I wouldn’t read it again it was enjoyable and broadened my recommendations list.

  • Anyanwu Butler

    I accepted an ARC from a large online bookseller of The Divide by Matt Taibbi. I hadn’t read any of his previous books, but I had seen him on Bill Maher’s show & The Daily Show. It was months between seeing him and picking up the book. I didn’t think I’d like it.
    I couldn’t put it down! Fascinating stories, well-told, upsetting, frustrating, an excellent read!

  • lizF

    When I was in Peace Corps 40 years ago we were given a small collection of books. Since my town had NO books, I read first the ones I thought I’d like but then had the others. I remember never expecting to like Tess of the D’urbervilles but DID. Shortly after Far From the Madding Crowd played in the theaters. Liked that book too.

  • Pam

    I thought I would find classics a drag… but I was wondering what the fuss was all about for Wuthering Heights, and I ended up buying a copy of the book. I didn’t regret it. Yes, it was dreary but I loved the very idea. I have since made it a point to read at least one classic every now and then. Next up would be Oliver Twist… 🙂

  • Gail Dickey

    I though I wouldn’t like the Saxon Chronicle series by Bernard Cornwell. I got the first one as a gift and read it. Now it is one of the series that I buy on the first day of release. Great series. PS. Thanks Shasta C. I have just put “The Story of Edgar Sawtell: A Novel” on my TBR.

  • Cabot

    A friend recommended The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which was way, way out of my comfort zone. The book hooked me immediately! I now recommend it to others too.

    • Areader

      Agree with this one! I recommended in two book clubs and could not believe the universal like for this book! And it was definitely not a book that most of those readers would have picked up. Such a special story.

  • Areader

    I so agree with Snow Crash! I have read Sci-Fi and Fantasy for years but resisted the cyberpunk. My brother pushed me to read and I am so glad I did! Absolutely entertaining!

  • Areader

    I decided one year to read the top 100 Editors Choices for 2009 by Amazon. Read through them regardless of whether it was a type of book I would have normally picked up or not. Needless to say, I did not finish all 100 (over 50!) but I read more non-fiction than I had in years. Wonderful and engaging books. Lost City of Z – crazy searching for lost cities in the Amazon, Crazy for the Storm – wonderful heartbreaking story of a boy and his father, Stiches: A Memoir – go figure – a graphic novel! , The Gamble, Gen. Petraeus in Iraq 2006-2008 and many, many wonderful works of fiction. It was one of the best things I ever did and really changed my approach to reading. You can always stop reading a book if you don’t like it…But if you never start reading it you’ll never know!

  • Libooks

    I am so happy to be in a book club, as this is where I found “Lost in Shangri-La” by Mitchell Zuckoff. Never would I even have opened this book, as it just wasn’t my type. WOW! What an eye-opener for me! This book has everything…intrigue, suspense, wonderful characters, action, drama…and superb writing that pulls it all together. Thanks, Book Club, for opening my eyes and making me get into new and different genres.

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