Open Your Mind, Clenching is Bad For You

Maurice Sendak, the guy who wrote the iconic WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE died recently. It was reported today, but I’m not sure when it happened, and for the purposes of this post, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that he was an author that was beloved by a very great many people.

I liked the book. I didn’t love it the way that it is obvious that many people did, but I liked it. Ever since it was read to us in school, way back in the days of story time and laboriously hand-printing individual letters out on broad-lined paper, I’ve liked the book.

So when I mentioned briefly, over the lunch table today, I expected to hear things like, “Oh, wow. I used to really like that book.” Or, “I still love that book.” I’d have even been happy with, “I’ve never heard of him, but that sucks.” For the most part, those are the reactions I received. Except one.

This is that exchange.

“Oh, I’ve never seen that.”

“… They made a movie out of it. But it’s a book. I’m talking about the guy who wrote it. It’s a kid’s book.”

“No, I don’t read that stuff.”

“It’s a really popular kid’s picture book. They read it in school’s all the time.”

“No, really, I don’t read things like that.”

Each time, the words were said with a sneer. It was very nearly a hateful sneer, and this isn’t the first time I’ve gotten it. When I mentioned wanting to go see The Hunger Games, to see if it matched the book, I got the sneer. Whenever I mention a book I may be reading, I get the sneer. The Handmaid’s Tale? Sneer. The Avengers movie? Sneer.

The most messed up part of this is: this girl watched Twilight. But she didn’t watch it because she was a fan. She didn’t watch it because she was passionate about it. It’s obvious she watched it because it was popular and she’s a follower.

There are certain people who are so sheltered and so prejudiced in their opinions (and I’m not mentioning names here specifically because I’m not fond of libel suits and this paragraph does not necessarily relate at all to the person mentioned above, just to be perfectly clear) that they can’t see anything else. It’s such a narrow scope.

Like the girl who doesn’t read fiction because she “doesn’t believe in make believe” and only wants to hear about things that happen “in real life”. Well, good luck with all those serial killer biographies then. I’d much rather read about fantasy monsters than real ones. Like the guy who doesn’t read about vampires or zombies because “they’re stupid”, not realizing and not willing to hear that these creatures are metaphors for humanity’s own darkness. Not wanting to believe that genre fiction can say anything true or real.

Well, genre fiction is true. It’s more real most of the time then any crappy Nicholas Sparks book you could pick up. The Belgariad taught me values. The Rowan showed me that women can be more than baby-making machines — though there’s no harm in being that *and* saving the world while you’re at it. I Am Legend taught me that there’s two sides to every story. The Dark is Rising and A Wrinkle in Time taught me that science and truth and good can triumph over evil. The Wheel of Time brought me out of one of the darkest times in my life.

I could name dozens more. I bet you could too.

So all I’m saying is… If you’re one of those people who maybe wouldn’t read this or see that or enjoy whatever? Just unclench. Open your mind. Be willing to see value where maybe you didn’t expect it before. And if you want to be friends? Don’t fucking sneer at me.

Is Urban Fantasy Ruining Our Attention Spans?

It’s been a pretty long time since I’ve picked up a book in any genre except urban fantasy or YA paranormal. If you looked through my reading list for the last year or so, you wouldn’t see much traditional fantasy – except for continuing series – or very many other genres at all.

Now, I used to pick out epic fantasy series like some women pick out designer purses – compulsively, and with a Pokemon-style urge to “collect ’em all”.  I have several new (and some slightly older) fantasy series, as well as a few others in assorted genres, on my TBR shelf, so I decided recently to pick up a little something different.

The first is Rob Thurman’s Chimera. This book is a sci-fi fantasy from an author whose work I’ve previously adored. The author has compared it to the likes of Dean Koontz (whose work I enjoyed when I was younger). I’m currently a few chapters in and I believe the author isn’t far off the mark in her comparison. Stefan and his brother are on the run from some pretty scary bad guys.

And yet it hasn’t (yet, at least) grabbed me in that “must-stay-up-all-night-to-finish” kind of way.  I’m even vaguely disappointed in myself that I feel that way, but it’s the truth. Despite being full of creepy DNA-mangling and mysteriously stalker-ish bad guys, I haven’t been pulled in the way I was with Thurman’s other series.

Let’s try another example. If sci-fi thrillers aren’t my cup of tea anymore, surely my old stand by – the traditional epic fantasy – will pull me in, right?

Carol Berg’s duology that begins with Flesh and Spirit , comes highly recommended. It’s even won an award. I’m a few chapters into that one as well, and it has the timeless, slow, measured pace of the epic world-building necessary in this kind of fantasy. We’ve got a group of magic-users who are bred almost like cattle, wielding a mysterious form of sorcery that has to do with maps. Our drug-and-spell-addicted main character is a juicy bit of contradiction. We know he’s our hero, but even his own parents seem to hate him.

It sounds like an amazing start to a story, and it is. But that stately, intricate dance of world-building and story-telling hasn’t commanded my attention like some other epic fantasies have previously.

I honestly don’t believe that either of these situations stem from the authors’ lack of skill. They both seem to be excellent books. So what’s the problem?

Is it because no ogres or werewolves or vampires or other assorted mythological baddies have jumped out to create some chaos and carnage? Is it the lack of a romantic plot line that has me feeling like something’s missing? I’d like to think not, on that score, but I’m too invested in the answer. (I’d like to think I’m intellectually ‘above’ needing a romance to keep me interested. But I freely admit that could just be my genre prejudices showing.)

Is it just simply that urban fantasy as a genre is faster-paced than your typical sci-fi or fantasy novel? Or have urban fantasy novels become the literary equivalent of a chocolate chip cookie? Yummy and gooey and satisfying for a moment, but not very good for you in the long run? Remember – have too many cookies and your body starts to crave them over more filling foods.

Do you think the pacing of the urban fantasy genre has “trained” us to expect a certain pacing in our novels? And do you think this will have (or has had) an effect on our enjoyment of other genres?