I’m an equal opportunity reader most times, selecting various titles from across the spectrum of genre – contemporary lit, classics, horror, mystery, romance. But my heart really lies with Science Fiction and Fantasy. Those are my go-to genres when I’m itching for something new to read, and they are my most often re-read books whenever I’m jonesing for something more familiar. I return to the Ender Saga by Orson Scott Card every year, as well as the Hyperion series. I’ve recently discovered the rich and moving fantasy worlds of Juliet Marillier and have been devouring everything of hers that I can get my hands on. I love the Harry Potter series, and have filled many nights with Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams, or George R. R. Martin.
Why do these genres appeal to me so much? Sometimes, it’s pure escapism. And certainly a lot of it is that I grew up devouring the Oz books – they were my favorite series as a pre-teen, and I still own my entire full set of the fourteen L. Frank Baum-penned titles. But I think the bulk of it is the sheer freedom those genres are given to create, imagine, and stretch the boundaries of what is possible or even plausible. I love reading a science fiction novel that challenges my perceptions of the world, the future, and human nature. I love delving into a fantasy world where the magic is a kind of catalyst for real revelation about the workings of the mind, or the idea of love. These fictional worlds, one step further removed from our own reality than a “straight” novel, can unearth truths that are just that much closer to the heart. The unreal becomes so much more real than reality – and if you think that’s a ridiculous statement, consider how classics such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or A Wrinkle in Time are considered staples for children, books that are imperative to read and considered formative despite their almost entirely fantastical nature. It’s not just because “kids like to make-believe,” (never mind the fact that “make-believing” is an essential creative practice that we “adults” could often use a brush-up on) — it’s because being able to stretch your mind to process these wondrous things exercises your most precious tool – your brain — and leaves you better, smarter, and wiser for the experience.