Books were this wonderful escape for me because I could open a book and disappear into it, and that was the only way out of that house when I was a kid.
I like this Dean Koontz quotation as it sums up nicely how I feel about books even to this day, as a grown-up (theoretically speaking) personage. I like to escape into the story, get emotionally involved with the characters and forget about my own worries for a while. I think it’s a common thread and just one of many reasons why most people enjoy reading. But there are limits to the kind of worlds I can abide. You see, in order for me to lose myself in it, the fictional world has to be…well…recognizable. As a rule, I don’t like fantasy books that bear absolutely no resemblance to my own world. If I need a dictionary and thesaurus reference at the back of the book just to understand the protagonist’s environment, then then the writer has already lost me.
Lately I’ve been reading the The Hollows series by Kim Harrison. This falls under the genre of Urban Fantasy. The protagonist, Rachel Morgan, is a witch-not a human with magical properties, but a different species altogether. The world she lives in, though different than our own, is wholly recognizable. The split happened in the 1960s when a human ate a genetically modified tomato with a deadly virus. As such viruses are wont to do, it threaded it’s way through mankind and killed 60% of the world’s human population. Seeing an opportunity, the other species (witch, vampire, werewolf) “came out of the closet” and organized, both to save humanity and to shift the balance of power to the supernatural community. There’s a funny line somewhere in the series where Rachel wonders something to the effect of “I wonder what would have happened had science been dedicated to landing on the moon instead of genetically modifying fruit.” A great meta joke there that reminds the reader that Rachel’s world isn’t quite so far removed from our own.
And therein lies the difference between urban fantasy and high fantasy. For me, anyway. You see, I don’t want to escape into an entirely different world. I don’t want to go somewhere else. For all it’s faults I love the world I love in. I don’t want to imagine a brand new utopia; rather I want to imagine that my own world has possibilities. Hope. That magic lurks in corners and brave people do the right thing because they can’t imagine any other way to be.
Chauceriangirl chiming in here: As much as I enjoy a good novel (good being the operative word here), I escape into reality. It’s been very eye-opening for me as one of the quirky girls to find how much I enjoy nonfiction. Probably 75% to 85% of the books I get for my nook are quick and fun reads, mostly suspense or mystery, occasionally paranormal. But it is the remainder of my book purchases that really gets me thinking. I want to know why people make the choices they do. I want to imagine how different the world would be had different choices been made.
My husband and I saw a movie last weekend called Max, and the premise was that Adolf Hitler and an art dealer became friends. The art dealer, played beautifully by John Cusack, was fascinated with Hitler’s art. Not the insipid landscapes, but his bold and yet kitschy reimaginings of the brave new world with red and black, strong uses of ancient signs of good fortune, soldiers and mothers and children, all drawn in a style evoking Hitler’s view of how the German people should stand up to the world. The movie closes with Hitler waiting in vain for Max to show up at a restaurant, while Max was being beaten nearly to death by some thugs who had been moved by Hitler’s last speech on how the Jews are to blame for everything. This movie is fictional. But it beautifully raised the questions of how the 20th century could have been altered beyond belief had things just been a little different, how the actions of one man can change the world.
So in the nonfiction I choose to read, I like to see people’s journeys through life and how the little actions they take from day to day alter the course of human events. I like to ask myself why they do what they do. It fascinates me. It makes me wonder how I change the world just by getting up in the morning, by turning left instead of right (see Doctor Who for more info on that question), by eating a taco instead of a cheeseburger. I know this sounds a little facetious, but it’s no more and no less significant than a butterfly fluttering its wings in Africa and the effects being felt in Greenland.
How about you, dear reader? What kind of stories provide the best escape for you? Do you like brave new worlds or do you prefer your own, thank you very much? Gritty reality? Escapist fun? Urban fantasy? Biographies and histories? Share your thoughts in the comments.