Hello, and welcome back to my blog! Today, I’m bringing you another bookish discussion.
I’ve been thinking about writing this post for quite a while. Coming back to the book community after a long hiatus, I see a lot of hype around new and upcoming YA fantasy/sci-fi books. And while I grew up on Harry Potter and became obsessed with The Lord of the Rings and later A Song of Ice and Fire, I definitely read less fantasy now than I did when I was younger. Even when I intend to read outside of contemporary genres, it still seems like I avoid delving into fantasy worlds. I started asking myself, am I afraid of fantasy stories? and if so, why?
I’ll be the first to admit that contemporary is my comfort zone.
No matter the age category, contemporary fiction is incredibly easy to jump into. I don’t have to know anything beforehand; it doesn’t require a map or a glossary or even (usually) a family tree. Contemporary is safe (mostly).
I’ve been reading contemporary fiction, without really thinking about it, as long as I can remember.
The fantasy stories I read as a kid are technically urban fantasy: they’re based in the real world, with some fantasy elements thrown in. As a kid, though, I craved the kind of stories I could easily insert myself into—and shied away from stories where I couldn’t picture myself. As a teen, I read a lot of Sarah Dessen books, with sweet romances and relatable main characters whose shoes I could easily step into.
As I got older and entered college, I abandoned even contemporary in favor of a mountain of classics. This wasn’t so much a choice as the dictatorship of my English degree. By the time I graduated, I was reading on average a book a week, all of which fell into the category of classics.
After earning my English degree, I felt a lot of pressure to read things that were Important, things I Should Read rather than books that drew me. I spent a lot of time forcing myself through the great literary authors of the past that I’d missed in school, as well as more current writers of important.
I spent way too many years reading a bunch of middle-aged white guys. In order to break up the monotony of these stories, I indulged in YA contemporaries and romances, books that helped me escape the desperation of my life for the hopefulness of someone else’s.
It was only when I discovered book blogging for the first time back in 2017, when I learned about the push for diverse books, that I began to really embrace my love of YA.
I discovered that I wasn’t actually the only 20-something who was still clinging to YA like a lifeline. I learned how many amazing YA authors wrote diverse stories, often about their own experiences with being marginalized in wider society. I discovered book bloggers who were actively promoting these books. And…I realized how many diverse fantasies were out there that I just hadn’t encountered before.
So why exactly am I afraid to read fantasy?
One of the biggest reasons—or rather, my biggest excuse—is that I read for character above all else. I’ve said this a million times, but if a main character can draw me into their world, I don’t care what that world is or what genre I’m reading.
Fantasy and sci-fi, in my experience, tend to be more plot-driven.
Yes, characterization is important, because that’s the entry-point to the story. But I find that often fantasy can get away with having characters who don’t really have much going on, aside from the fact that they’re out there fighting monsters, or demons, or vampires, or ghosts, or whatever the case may be. Especially in the YA fantasies I’ve read, there’s a tendency to leave the main character a little flat, since that’s the presumed reader’s point of entry into the story, and thus it’s easier to imagine yourself in the character’s shoes.
Another reason I struggle to read fantasy is because of the time investment.
Most of the fantasy books I see recommended are incredibly long series of books that are 500+ pages each. Because I’m the type of person who will forget what happens between books, I’d need to binge the whole thing. As a book blogger, I don’t feel that I have the time to devote to one series of books like that. Hell, I haven’t even finished reading the two sequels to To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before! I’m awful at committing to a whole series, even though I know I’ll enjoy the process.
But the biggest reason I’m afraid of fantasy? World-building scares me.
Stay with me now. I know this sounds like a pathetic excuse, and it totally is. But think about it: how much world-building or description really goes into a contemporary novel? Not much. The author just has to describe things well enough to relate to what you, the reader, experience in your everyday life. In a fantasy novel, though, the writer has to describe what the world looks like, how it works, and give you enough to go on so that you can imagine what the character sees.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read world-building that blew me away. As a writer, description is definitely my weakness, so I can certainly appreciate when its done well. I know that world-building is so necessary to a good fantasy story, so it’s not that I think it should be left out. It’s just that, for me, knowing I’m going into an unfamiliar world stresses me out, rather than makes me excited for the adventure.
Now that I’ve come clean, though, I’d like to commit to reading more fantasy books in the coming months.
Just because contemporary is my comfort zone doesn’t mean I should be content to stay there. Just because (I think) I want to write contemporary doesn’t mean I have to only read contemporary either. The best way to become a better writer is to read—everything. So here are some non-contemporaries I’m looking forward to reading soon.
- The Reader by Traci Chee
- Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
- The Familiars by Stacey Hall
- Year One by Nora Roberts
- We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
- We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
- An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
- Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
- A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
- Fire and Blood by George R.R. Martin