On Reluctantly Reading Fantasy

One of the reasons I got into the lucrative field of unpaid, unpublished (for the most part) authoring is so I could read more novels and call it work. I blame Anne Lamott, the wonderful writer, teacher, and spiritual pioneer. I read an interview with her years ago in which she described her day as a writer. It involved writing (of course) first thing in the morning, then hiking, then reading…and reading and reading. Short stories, piled-up back issues of the New Yorker, lit magazines she subscribed to but never had the chance to do more than admire the cover art, the Paris Review’s interviews with authors (real ones), flash fiction online, and novels. Lots and lots of novels.

I may have made up that part, about exactly what she reads. But that’s what I imagined. Because that’s what I want to do.

So this summer, having checked the MFA box in May, I began to up my reading-what-I-want game. And that lasted about ten minutes, because after two years of reading for school (great stuff, don’t get me wrong, but still, I didn’t choose it), reading my friends and teachers’ published works, and reading for workshop, I’d forgotten how to pick my own material. Or more accurately, there was so much I wanted to read and re-read (in light of all I had learned doing my degree), that I couldn’t decide among the riches all around me. My Goodreads “to read” list became an embarrassment. I was like the kid who turns down every page corner in FAO Schwartz Christmas catalogue (Was that me? That was me).

Then the Man Booker Prize long list came out (read my last post to find out what I loved there. Or I’ll just tell you: Ali Smith’s Autumn). My friend, the sublime novelist and Colgate professor CJ Hauser announced she was teaching a class on the prize (it already started so, sorry, too late to travel back in time, reapply for college, and register before the add/drop date). She was reading through the list to prepare, and because I am highly suggestible, I was determined to do the same. And I joined the Book of the Month Club, which is a little bit like the Crack Pipe of the Month Club for an addict.

Then I considered buying a horse, because I couldn’t add books to my “want to read” list on horseback, but that’s another story.

Clearly, this was literary overload, soon to be followed by complete shutdown and bingeing on Twin Peaks, so I developed a system. In order to spread my reading around and calm the f*** down, I would follow a list, ten categories:

  1. Recent literary fiction releases
  2. YA/science fiction/fantasy
  3. Modern but pre-2017 literary fiction
  4. Classic
  5. Mystery/thriller
  6. Book of the Month
  7. Nonfiction
  8. Books recommended by friends
  9. Short stories in a collection or a lit magazine
  10. New York Review of Books book club selection (Oh yeah, I joined that too).

I’ve been through the list one and a half times, got derailed with the whole Booker long list debacle, derailed again by a recommendation from a good friend and again by a new book out by Jonathan Dee but have now returned, determined to stick with my self-imposed order.

I’m on number two right now.

This is not a genre, or series of genres, for which I naturally reach. But I know there is a great deal I can learn and appreciate about world building and storytelling fantasy and scifi.

I’m not yet half-way through The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss’ first novel and ther first installment in the fantasy series, The Kingkiller Chronicle. It was enthusiastically recommended in an episode of “What Should I Read Next?” a podcast I’m fond of but need like I need, say, a horse.

All of this is prelude to opening a discussion about the fantasy genre. I get it. I loved Chronicles of Narnia when I was a kid. And it’s not that I’m not liking The Name of the Wind. It’s engaging. A little slow so far but not taxing. It feels very much like a bedtime story. I want to know what happens next, but I’m not desperate to turn the page. It’s not badly written, but I wouldn’t say it’s well written. It’s just written. A little overwrought at times, a little simplistic at others. A lot of repetition that I don’t believe is intentional. It doesn’t challenge me. It doesn’t bother me. It’s like that friend from high school whom you meet up with, have lunch, enjoy yourself, and wonder why it is you didn’t keep in touch. And then another decade goes by and you repeat the cycle.

I’m not a writer who bashes genre fiction, by the way. I adore mysteries and thrillers. And I’m not rejecting fantasy or this book out of hand. In fact, it’s kind of a relief after finishing Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which was painful and painfully difficult, crazy, joyous, sad, and a lot of work.

I am curious, though. What do you make of the fantasy genre? Why do you love it or hate it? Or is it just a meh? How does it fit in with the rest of your reading life?


4 thoughts on “On Reluctantly Reading Fantasy”

  1. It sneaks in. I am a reader/devourer of books. I generally read whatever I can get my hands on, except romance and historical romance – NEVER. And I spend a good deal sorting through the free book section on my e-re-reader. I have hit a few YA/fantasy series, such as the House Of Night, written by mom and daughter duo Kristin and P.C. Cast that I did enjoy (vampires in this one). But for the most part, they sneak in due to an editorial blurb about the book, and an interesting cover. What can I say? And while I have discovered some authors that I will (And have) read again, there have been some that I will not hold my breath on, thinking, hmmm, I could have done better!

    1. Nothing worse than finishing a book and thinking, “wow, that time was wasted.” I’m learning, though it is tough, to put books like that down before I finish them. I can do it for about one stinker in three these days. And even when I do, I feel guilty.

  2. KT, I’m no help here, unfortunately. I don’t read fantasy. For some reason I’ve never been able to get into it. For my personal reading I tend to favor what is often labeled “literary” fiction. Now, for example, I am reading Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!”. I enjoyed this blog.

    1. Thanks Gershon. I’m not really a fantasy fan either, but I’m trying to understand why that is. I feel like I was much more into it when I was young, really young, and wonder if somewhere along that line I lost that ability to suspend that much disbelief. And Absalom, Absalom — I’m impressed. I read it in college a hundred years ago and it defeated me, and I picked it back up maybe five years ago, and it still defeated me.

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