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Mom Doesn’t Get Dragons

My mom doesn’t understand my reading habits. I believe the exact quote was, “I would think science fiction would be the last thing you’d be interested in.” The fact that I read mostly fantasy is a distinction I didn’t even bother to bring up. She wouldn’t understand.

Let me back up. Provide context.

Vintage Books by CarlChristensenMy mother is an avid reader. She has been my entire 34 years on this planet. I’m certain that my love of reading is directly attributable to hers. I also think that, in both our cases, it all stems from a desire to escape from reality for a few chapters at a time.

My mom tends to read thrillers. And only thrillers. James Patterson. John Grisham. Vince Flynn. I tried to get her to read Le Carre but she found it “boring.” I don’t get it, but to each his or her own. I don’t read thrillers. I read a few Grisham books in high school. They were OK. Then I became a lawyer, and the last thing I want to read about is other lawyers. In fact, I barely read contemporary fiction at all. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy it. It isn’t that there aren’t great works of fiction to be read. I just have no interest. I’m perfectly happy in my world of swords, sorcery and boiled leather.

I think my mom truly enjoys looking at our world through the lens of danger, crime and intrigue. Our family has experienced little or none of those things for several generations. It is a safe way for her to walk down the dark alley without actually having to deal with the potential consequences. I respect it. But I don’t cop to the same feelings.

I read all the time. But I’m not very well-read. The only Franzen I care about is the one that isn’t currently scoring goals for the Detroit Red Wings. I’ve never read the Da Vinci Code. I detested most of the “literature” I was forced to read in high school (bits of Hemingway, Moliere and Hugo being exceptions). And I think that is what my mother doesn’t get.

She knows that I love to shove as much information into my mind-hole as possible, and she knows I love the craft of writing and can appreciate all the nuances that can be found in various genres. So why should I limit myself to what, in her mind, is a very narrow portion of the literary spectrum?

Sometimes I don’t understand it myself. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Set Your World On Fire by Boy_WonderFirst, fantasy is by far my favorite genre. Always has been. And we should read what we like, right? This isn’t high school or college. This is reading for pleasure. And I get the most pleasure out of reading a fantasy series that stretches over the course of several volumes. I like the tropes. I like the epic scope. I like the magic. I like the dragons.

I live in the real world. I more or less understand what happens here, if not always why. Why read fiction set in the here and now? Nonfiction? Absolutely. History? You bet. But I could care less what Alex Cross is up to. I do have a soft spot for Le Carre and Tom Clancy, and I attribute that solely to watching a ton of James Bond movies as a kid. I find espionage fiction—particularly in the Cold War era—to be fantasy of a different nature. I know it makes no sense. Just accept it and move on. I did.

Second, I have a backlog. As many fantasy novels and series as I’ve read, there are always more to be read. And the list gets bigger every day. And every time a fantasy novel or series gets added to the list, a contemporary work of fiction gets bumped to the back of the line. Right or wrong, it is the way of my world. I’m not really reading to gain insight into the human condition or the plight of the modern man (although that can happen through fantasy). I’m reading to be entertained. And the fantasy genre is entertaining. To me, anyway.

Book Ladder by BrookeSchmidtWhich brings me back around to escapism. I don’t think I’ve ever truly “escaped” when reading contemporary fiction. Even historical fiction such as the Masters of Rome series by Colleen McCullogh or Gary Jennings’ Raptor doesn’t really do it for me. Tolkien does. Daniel Polansky does. Even urban fantasy as written by Jim Butcher or Richard Kadrey transports me to a different place unlike “real world” fiction. I’ve always wondered what other worlds were like; fantasy gives me the opportunity to explore them.

Sure, it is escapism. And sure, there have been times in my life when the desire to escape has probably been unhealthy, but that’s why fantasy is such a great genre. No matter how frustrating, irritating, scary or disappointing real life can be, a good fantasy novel always takes me to a better place. Even if that better place is a war-ravaged continent ruled by an oligarchy of sociopaths.

I tried explaining this to my mom. She smiled, handed me her Kindle, and asked me to “put the next Vince Flynn book on it.” Mom just doesn’t get dragons, I guess. She understands that her reading list is, more or less, as narrow as mine. But what I don’t think she’ll ever acknowledge is that the worlds she escapes to are just as fantastical, albeit in less overt ways.

Title image by Boy_Wonder.

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16 Comments

  1. Lorraine Powell says:

    Wow, a spurs fan, in Detroit. I’m not one (sorry, it just caught my eye!) I do read across genres but Fantasy is the one that makes my heart beat just that bit faster, the books I can’t escape from are always in this genre. Romance, crime, I read them, I enjoy them, but in most cases as soon as the book is closed the characters are forgotten. But I can’t forget Locke Lamora, or Kvothe, or Harry Potter (even though I know what happens to him) or Tyrion. I find myself thinking about them when I should be doing other stuff. You know those real world things like working and stuff. I’m hoping my children enjoy fantasy as they grow older (we have a good start, they bioth love HP – books – and the films of LotR & TH). Trying to convince my mother-in-law to try a little bit of Scott Lynch, I’m just not sure it will work. Like your mum she is firmly fixed in the crime reading camp!

    • Zack Matzo (@perch15) says:

      I’m right there with you Lorraine. The books just kind of take over. I suppose there are worse things to occupy one’s mind in those (rare) quiet moments! I’m happy to say that both my son and daughter are showing a great deal of interest in my favorites–while they’re not really old enough to read yet, they love being read to, and can’t get enough of the LOtR movies, Harry Potter, Star Wars, etc. Seeing it all again through their eyes is great, and it is a wonderful feeling to be able to share something so important to me with them.

      • Lorraine Powell says:

        Audio CD’s are the way to go! Mine love stories above their reading level so, as well as reading to them, we have several story CD’s, they love them!

  2. Erica Dakin says:

    I’m so with you. I read like there’s no tomorrow, but I had to drag myself through my literary reading lists in school. No genre will engage me as much as Fantasy does. And don’t make apologies for reading escapist books! I’ve never understood why people think escapism is a bad thing. If it helps you cope with real life, it can’t be bad in my opinion.

    • Zack Matzo (@perch15) says:

      Trust me Erica, there are no apologies! They’ll have to pry my books out of my cold dead hands one day!

  3. JARH says:

    Interesting article. As a non-English person I read a lot of translated fantasy in Dutch, which is perfectly fine for me. What you describe in your article is exactly the way I feel about fantasy, and I think for everyone else too. Most people don’t even understand the difference between science fiction and fantasy, and I also no longer ruin my time by explaining it. But I’m proud to be a fantasy-reader 🙂

    • Zack Matzo (@perch15) says:

      Glad you liked the article! I feel like we’re an ever-growing army. And having a site like FF makes it all the better!

  4. Davieboy says:

    Hey, fine article, thanks. Next time give us your recommends.

    Davieboy, (fellow THFC supporter since 1967 in London).

    • Zack Matzo (@perch15) says:

      Glad you liked the article, and happy to see another member of AVBs Blue and White Army on FF. What an amazingly horrible end to another great campaign. I was praying for Borussia Dortmund to punish Bayern for their transgression against us last season, but alas it was not to be.

      My Spurs fandom is a relatively recent development. I was never a soccer fan growing up. In fact, I had the typical American attitude toward the game (with the exception of the World Cup) until five years ago when I started getting up early on the weekend with a newborn. I’m a sports nut, and I started watching early morning matches while feeding my son. All o fa sudden, the game just clicked for me, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The Spurs supporter part evolved naturally. Bale’s dismantling of the Italian sides in the CL a few years ago really sealed the deal for me, and I’ve been a die-hard Spurs supporter ever since. I love the club, I love the community of supporters, I love the tradition. I know I’m late to the party, but I’ve never once felt an outsider or unwelcome on Spurs forums, Twitter, etc. Tottenham has become a huge part of my life. I’m a man on an island in Detroit though. Lots of Scum supporters and typical Man U fans. My wife and kids have slowly bought in as well, which has been great. My wife insists that for my 40th birthday, we will be heading to the UK to see Spurs. She’s got a few more years to get the plan together, but the anticipation is already killing me.

      • Davieboy says:

        The great thing about Spurs is the tradition of playing proper attacking football – they’ve been blessed to have supremely talented players over the years. I n my time I can speak of Jimmy Greaves, Dave Mackay, Ardilles & Villa, the majestic Glenn Hoddle and the sublime Chris Waddle. Gareth Bale is a name to rank alongside those, a player to ferment excitement and anticipation we he collects the ball as literally anything can happen.
        Football these days is not the sport it was; like so many other areas in life it’s been hi-jacked by big business and the media. But just occasionally, as in fantasy books, a touch of magic leaks into the world and its memory never fades.
        These days my heroes are writers and I’ll happily queue for GRRM’s or Max Brooks’ (as last week) signatures. It takes me back to the time when a small boy queued outside the Spurs’ training ground and the thrill he received when he got to speak to Jimmy Greaves! We all need heroes to aspire to and escapism is what many seek; these days it’s via fantasy for me.

  5. Jenna says:

    I was introduced to fantasy by my father, something that makes my mom’s obsession with curing me of it entertaining. My mother reads self help books and occasionally history lite. She’s tried to force me out of reading “trash” for most of the last decade, including when I was out of her house and well out from under her preview. My father has taken to occupying the bathroom for hours at a time so he can read without interference. Whining aside it’s amazing how parents struggle with us being different from them.

    • Zack Matzo (@perch15) says:

      Growing up, my parents just kind of accepted that I read what I liked. I was very lucky in that regard. They were very supportive of my “habit” and were never ones to say no when I asked for a new book. I think they were just happy that I loved to read, even if they thought what I was reading was a bit different. And I completely get the bathroom thing! I do it all the time. Sometimes, it is the last refuge available.

      Seeing my kids evolve into fantasy fans is fun to watch, and I’m happy it is an interest we can share. At the same time, I enjoy their uniqueness as well. Sure, some of it I don’t really get–Power Rangers being a HUGE example–but as long as they’re happy, I’m happy.

  6. Elfy says:

    My parents were both the same. Avid readers. Mum could get through 2 – 3 books a week. They never understood my interest in fantasy, though. They always referred to it as ‘that stuff you read’. Mind you Mum did sneak the occasional look at some of it and actually liked it.

  7. Xen says:

    Honestly, what is wrong with escapism? Heck, some of the fantasy books I’ve read dealt with real world problems. I think some people are scared that once they dive in they won’t be able to get out. I’ve never had that problem.

  8. Dan says:

    I read this and thought, “I must have written this, but I’m sure I didn’t…”
    My mother must be living a secret other life as your mother too. She’s exactly the same, reads the same stuff yours does and claims not to understand what I read. She does go a step further though and claim she couldn’t read anything “the length of some of the books [I] read” (especially as I’ve been reading wheel of time lately, which are rarely less than 700ish pages), even though she could easily read (and has in the past) about 3 books of around 300 pages in length each given the time and inclination. People’s reading habits can be funny can’t they?

  9. Erica says:

    Loved the article. I’m very much the same way. I’ve enjoyed a few of the classics they made us read in school, and I’m glad I was introduced to them, even the ones that bored me, but fantasy and science fiction are my passions. I do read an occasional contemporary novel (Amy Tan, Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler, Pat Conroy and some others), but between my reading and my writing, I have such a large backlog of fantasy titles, they attract most of my attention. And overall, I really do enjoy getting caught up in a good second world fantasy.

    But darn it, whenever someone asks in a writing forum which authors most inspire you, and I rattle off a list of contemporary and not so contemporary fantasy writers, there’s someone who will list classic or literary authors. Kind of like SFF writers are slumming for reading and writing what we most enjoy. Sorry, I admire Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Jane Austin, Virginia Woolf, and Earnest Hemingway, but I’m not trying to write my prose like they did. Nor have they influenced my approach to things like world building, magic systems, and even my understanding of point of view, the way authors like Le Guin, Cherryh, Larke, Tolkien, Abercrombie, Flewelling, Moorcock, Sanderson and others have.

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