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I could say that I’ve been neglecting my blog because of New York. That would be true.
I could also say that it’s because I’ve been crazy busy since I got back, which is also true. However, I’ve been avoiding the Internet because I’ve been trying to read as many books that could possibly pass for beach reads as possible.
Confession: I never read at the beach, I swim
Confession: I have no real idea what people read at the beach
I assume it’s a lot like what people read on vacation, but I’m not sure. When I’m on vacation, I’ll read whatever I was reading before I was on vacation, be it an ARC from work or a dry tome on genetic engineering, or whatever subject I happen to be researching for a novel.
Anyhow, I’m supposed to be writing reviews and recommending beach reads. Not for my blog, but for the women’s magazine that I contribute to on a monthly basis. It’s aimed at professional Michigan women of diverse tastes, so I always try for maximum variety in my book suggestions. This is great: it makes me read outside of my normal taste zone, and makes me better at my job (bookselling!). I really do understand that not everyone has reread The Lord of the Rings almost every year, and even more so, I understand that not everyone wants to read gritty, post apocalyptic novels with gallows humor and dry social commentary.* This is a wonderful thing-we are all different.
So today I had the day off from my real job, and I made myself stay home and read. This sounds wonderful, until you realize that I was trying to read about ten different books that I had zero interest in. They were not bad books. Someone would be interested in them. That someone was not me.
I succeeded in finishing a couple, which is a testament to the writers’ skills. I can freely add these to my recommended beach reads, no reservations. But now that I am sitting at the computer, I don’t feel like writing reviews at all. I’d rather work on my current project-a post apocalyptic humor/adventure novel that is silly and snarky and full of duels (wits and weapons), sci-fi tech, criminals, and coffee love.
Or I could be watching Daredevil (the Netflix series, not that dreadful movie). I only have 1.5 episodes left, and I am constantly distracted from what I am doing by wondering what will happen in that finale. It is pathetic.
But this post was not supposed to be about Daredevil.
I Googled beach reads (I do this every time), and found the answers unsatisfactory and banal: Gone Girl,** Beautiful Ruins,***The Notebook, ****The Fault in Our Stars*****
I could go on, but you could probably fill in the rest of this list with most of the pop book hits of the past decade. Some of the suggestions were interesting (And the Mountains Echoed and Where’d You Go Bernadette? for example, both of which are on my to-read list). But the problem was, even the interesting ones aren’t sitting on my floor, waiting to be grabbed. So I considered going to the library.
But no, I was wearing holey jeans and a scrub top******and I didn’t want to change. [As excuses go, this is pretty bad, but there you go]
I also knew that when I got to the library, I would see all the shiny books, forget which ones I wanted, and grab shinies like a magpie in a silver shop. And they would be about monsters, or chosen ones, or ninja assassins, or flying people. They would not be books that land on Real Simple‘s beach reads, or even BuzzFeed.
I try to limit myself to only one book about ^^^^^ per month. Variety, remember?
So instead, I starting reading a book about a woman who was fifty-six and had a falling out with her daughter about a television show. There was architecture, and family drama, and there were bizarrely attractive men sprouting out of the ground, like daisies (not exactly, but you get the point).
And I thought “How is this any more plausible than Harry Potter? How are these financially stable, uber-talented, attractive and successful people any more relatable than Bilbo Baggins or Elizabeth Bennet?
Answer: No. They are not.
I am twenty-six. I work at a bookstore. I write books, read books, and will watch (almost) anything MARVEL. I live with my sister, and if I don’t budget scrupulously, I will not be able to pay my rent or buy food. I chain-drink tea and coffee, and sometimes I wear make-up.
Of the above characters, I relate the most to Bilbo. He’s cranky, he lives in a hole, and he’s enamored with elves [see my other posts]. I love adventures, but I am usually burned out before I embark on one, and decide to stay home instead. I have waited roughly twenty years for a stubborn wizard and a pack of dwarves to show up, but if they did, I would probably be a perfect beast, and if they raided my (lean) pantry, I would be irate. But I would go with them anyway.
This is probably more than you ever wanted to know about me, and if you are still reading, you get a gold star.
But back to the point (I know there was a point): all novels are fantasy!
And before you wave that super-realistic holycrapsorelatable! thisbookjustgotme! or that thisbookissogritty! sorealandraw! can’tyoujustfeelthedirtthroughthepages,man? at me, hear me out. (I’ll restrict myself to two examples)
EXAMPLE 1: I have never met a bizarrely attractive man in my life (sorry, every man I have ever met). They might exist, but they don’t grow out of the ground, fall from the sky, hang out in my library, or live anywhere near me.*******In fact, sometimes I suspect that they are brewed in a secret S.H.I.E.L.D facility. And the women in the book never seem to notice that this is strange and unusual, instead they spend pages staring at the guy in excruciating, TMI, cringe-inducing detail . . .
AND DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON UNREALISTIC WOMEN! THIS IS OLD NEWS AND HAS BEEN HOTLY DEBATED ELSEWHERE. I am specifically addressing the book I just read.
EXAMPLE 2: Most twenty-somethings through thirty-somethings that I know are:
A. Back in school because paper DECREES they need more if they want to get their dream job
B. Only wish that they were financially secure enough to have their own studio/fancy car/condo/dream house
C. Have student loans
D. They are married/engaged-to [if they aren’t single] absolutely normal (wonderful) people who aren’t secretly spies/master hackers/wizards/billionaires or whatever, and would never concoct schemes to kill them [this is something I’m sure we’re all grateful for].
So those are examples directly addressed to the contemporary realistic fiction that I just read. There are more, but I could write an essay and I have not done enough research for that. I need way more footnotes, and quotations.
But my point remains: regardless of why or what you read, all fiction is fiction, and all fiction is fantasy of a sorts.
Even if we lived a world where we got Hogwarts letters or visits from Gandalf, we’d have to obey the rules of that world, just like ours. I always think about this while reading Jasper Fforde’s lovably loony Thursday Next series. They are crazy and chaotic and wonderful, and I would love to live in them. But what if that meant I couldn’t have other worlds too? What if books there weren’t books here? Call me crazy, but I’m a writer, and this is the sort of thing I like to consider when I’m supposed to be writing reviews.
If you had to give up every book you’d ever read, and the whole world you’ve experienced, but you could have a totally uncertain life in a book-world of your choosing [no guarantees that you would survive, meet Mr/Mrs. Right, be chosen for an adventure, etc], would you actually do it?
Think about it.
Say what you will, we read for a lot of reasons. To know that we’re not alone (you saw that coming, I’m sure). To experience things we’d never want to (really, who wants to be kidnapped and slung over an enemy horse, headed to who knows what terrible fate?). For sheer entertainment. But at the end of the day, if the book is scary, or miserable, or crazy, we can leave. It is the ultimate no-strings relationship. Books never ask for anything, but they give a lot. And after the book, there are people to talk about it with, there is an author to doggedly follow (stalk), and there are often feelings to deal with. There are Pinterest boards and Tumblr posts, and whole websites to make.
I love fantasy-as-a-genre because it is shameless. It says, “this isn’t real, but I can make you believe it.” It challenges your perceptions of reality, and often exposes deep, universal themes and truth. And it is fun.
But I will not force anyone to read it.
And because I know that not every successful, professional woman would like to read about monster hunting, I will read more books about successful, professional women. I will evaluate writing and plots and characters, and be better able to relate to more people.
All of this will help me as a bookseller (and I hope, as a person). But when I finally hit “send” on those reviews, I will dig under my bed for the first book with a monster or a wizard on the cover, and I will forgive every single overly-gifted orphan or bizarrely attractive man, and it will be wonderful.
So, do you have any good “beach reads” to recommend? Do you believe a beach read is anything more than just a book you bring to a beach?
And how do you feel about the fantasy genre? Do you think that all novels are fantasy novels? Have you ever met a bizarrely attractive man, or are all your twenty-something acquaintances financially stable and ridiculously accomplished? I NEED TO KNOW
*I honestly love books like this. That may mean I have issues. But even I get tired of them sometimes.
**Really? I couldn’t stand that book. I figured it out by chapter three, then made it through pages of vomit-inducing characters to find out that I had been right about the plot all along, and that there was no plot twist at all. Made me so mad.
***Sooooo boring. We read it for book club. It was sentimental and full of annoying characters and I Just. Didn’t. Care.
****Never read Nicholas Sparks. Never seen one of his movies. Never plan to. But I know why Ryan Gosling is iconic.
*****Preposterous, pretentious, sentimental, and over-rated. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, and yes, I read it for book club. I felt horrible because I was the only one present who hadn’t felt a thing the whole novel.
******I do not work in the medical field. My dad had to wear scrubs when I was born, and he gave me the top as a momento (sweet, huh?). No, I don’t look good in them.
*******In this respect, I refuse to believe they exist until I’ve seen one. Not on TV. In real life. If they are hiding in basements, I don’t think I want to meet them.