I write lots of different stuff, and I read lots of different stuff. I tend to find a writer I really enjoy, and then just devour everything they’ve written until they disappoint me a couple of times in a row and I find someone new to binge-read. That said, I read very little ‘approved’ literature. The last time I put in an effort to read unassigned important fiction was a reading list coming out of the eighth grade that was intended to prepare me for the rigors of high school.
I loved Catcher in the Rye.
I bailed on Catch 22 for nonspecific reasons.
Jane Eyre was my favorite-book-of-all-time for about a decade.
I aborted my read of Last of the Mohicans on the twenty-second page of description of the man’s coat buttons. Seriously.
I enjoyed Animal Farm, though I know I wouldn’t now because of the overbearing politics. At 14, I didn’t see the agenda and just read the story. There’s something important there about stories and innocence, but that’s not the paydirt I’m looking for.
It was an educational summer, and I don’t regret a bit of it.
I haven’t done it since, though, and there’s a reason for that.
I prefer Jack Ryan.
Even as an avid reader, one who habitually checked two books out of the library each morning in middle school and returned them before I got on the bus at the end of the day, reading in the hallways and in the classes where my teachers didn’t confiscate my reading material, I didn’t read any of the ‘classics’ in an afternoon, forgetting to eat, or under the covers in bed with a flashlight long after bedtime. They were work.
Work isn’t a bad thing. But it should accomplish something, not just be work for its own sake, and I’m not convinced that higher, harder literature always (or even usually) accomplishes something that’s that special, compared to other formats.
My favorite author of all time, bar none, is Terry Pratchett. I am not alone in this. People would show up in costume to his book signings and stand in lines that went around the building – twice. I can make a compelling case why Alexander Dumas or fill-in-the-blank Bronte should be my favorite author, given that they are suitably long-dead to be considered great writers, but they simply don’t hold a candle to Pratchett and his world that goes floating through space, a disc riding on the back of four elephants who stand on the back of the great world turtle Atuin.
Anything is possible on Discworld.
An entire sequence of books with DEATH as the central character.
And thoughtful and profound and sometimes outright disturbing in their observations on humanity.
People really are like that.
Strip away all of the details of the real world, and you can ask any question any way you want, and just go looking for an answer. A fantasy world has only got the baggage you give it, and the important questions that are so tangled here get streamlined, sometimes in deeply poignant or painful ways. People paint fantasy as escapism, and there are lots of strong, valid arguments against that characterization being bad, but fantasy has the space to create its own cultures, its own races, its own political and social structures. Its canvas is simply bigger than any other genre I know.
Without the burden of literary distinction, fantasy has taken on some of the hardest questions out there, honestly and without pretension. This is where I turn over and over again to find worlds that are worth exploring, dilemmas worth fleshing out, and characters worth following.
Yeah, I love Jack Ryan. And Spencer. And Harlan Coben’s Win. The world is certainly big enough for fantastic stories, all by itself. I love science fiction. I even read some ‘normal’ fiction, here and there. But I binge on fantasy, shelf after shelf of it, in all of its diversity and its spectrum of seriousness.
We live in an era of superhero movies and young adult dystopian trilogies. It’s clear beyond argument that these are popular stories. But it’s more than just escapism. Fantasy stories are important in the questions they’re able to ask, and they aren’t just for kids and geeks. They’re microcosmic experiments that arguably tell us more about human nature than any ripped-from-the-headlines fiction out there.
What I’m reading: Bitesize by Liz Hedgecock
What I’m watching: Young Riders