While being a kid, it never really matters what kind of books you read as long as you are reading something. Reading is a virtue, so our parents and guardians tried to get us into reading through whatever means possible, even though the stories we enjoyed the most often unfolded in made-up magical universes with wizards, fairies, and superheroes. Nevertheless, now, as young adults, we are expected to read serious books: classics, psychoanalysis, scientific literature. There is simply no time and no room for stories you enjoyed as a child. But what to do when those stories are still the ones you enjoy the most? I might have an answer to that.
My reading journey started when I was 13. Around that age, I first encountered the riches of Greek mythology and instantly got fascinated by stories about Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare, and Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, and chastity. Imagine my excitement when Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson book series – a story about a demigod surviving in a world where all the myths and legends are true – got into my hands.
While I was on an incredible ten-books-long journey together with my favourite characters, somehow, without my noticing, we started studying Russian classics during literature classes at school. And although it was enlightening to get acquainted with such great minds like Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky, it also made me feel like I was too old to engage in stories I had used to read for pleasure before. Most importantly, it made me feel ashamed of my childish interests. Yep, Russian literature would do that to a kid.
Since then, I have read Austen, Chekhov, Hesse, London (I am not finished, let me brag a little, please), García Márquez, Maupassant, Bronte, and many other acclaimed writers. I did enjoy some of the books, or maybe I enjoyed the thought of me reading heavy serious literature and being praised by parents and teachers, but let’s not get into psychoanalysis, or else you are stuck here with me until the end of times. Today, I am reading fantasy again as I have managed to find a community of people who share the same interests as me. The shame that I have felt is not there anymore, however, sometimes I cannot help but wonder why some adults keep going back to fantasy books.
“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.” – W. Somerset Maugham
Why Are We Reading?
Escape. It is as simple as that. However insignificant the problems which we encounter in everyday life may be, it is unreasonable to deny that from time to time all people need a distraction, an escape from the real world and its cruelties. When reading fantasy books, we delve into universes so different from the real one, that all the problems and worries blur together with it, providing the safety of a haven and the excitement of a glorious adventure. We survive and laugh and dream and live alongside our favourite characters even for a fraction of time during the day and endless hours during the night to avoid if not the malice of the real world, then its numbness and boredom.
Turning to fantasy when feeling unmotivated and uninspired might seem like a path of least resistance to avoid mundane problems. However, it is unreasonable to think so because in times of hardship, seeking comfort in fictional stories is not a sign of weakness but simply an act of self-care.
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.” – Shirley Jackson
Why Are We Reading Fantasy?
Another reason why some mature readers are still attracted to fantasy may lie in the fact that, other than unreal realms full of magic, fantasy books are also stories about loyal friendships, unconditional love, humanity, epic heroism, the bravery of heart and spirit, and sacrifice. As children, we did not question these notions and looked into the future convinced that we will cherish and carry them into adulthood. Surely, along the way, things change, we get hurt, and suddenly the world is not as idealistic as we thought it was. It is no surprise that we would still want to hold on to the children we once were and to the dreams we once had. Fantasy connects us to those images of youth and keeps them alive in our minds. In this case, turning to fantasy books is also an escape, though not from reality, but from our current selves.
Although the reasons justifying the lasting love for fantasy fiction listed above might make it seem like fantasy readers are depressed and tired of the real world, do not think that people who prefer such stories only find salvation in magical worlds. There is, actually, a whole community of readers who can prove you otherwise.
Does It Matter What We Read?
Read what you want. Read what your soul needs and desires. These are simple truths, but in the present competitive and cruel environment, we do need to be reminded of the simplest things sometimes. Like that your mental health and well-being are more important than status and reputation in society and that an intelligent person would learn an important life lesson from any book. I firmly believe people should not be ashamed of any personal interests, but if they do, then book preferences are the last thing in that list for “a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… the man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin.
Cover: Patrick Tomasso