Apr 22, 2010

A Fantasy Reader’s Frequently Asked Questions

Three Bears by Arthur Rackham Question mark

(I apologise for using this blog to vent about “real life” conversations that frustrate me and to say what I wish I’d said in those conversations. But that has to be one of the most common uses of the internet, right? I also apologise for the slightly repetitive nature of this post. It seems that I periodically need to get these things off my chest.)

(Also – I know I know I know I know I know: I need to take my own advice.)

You mainly read for “escapism”, yes?
I can’t answer this question without first explaining that the traditional definition of “escapism” is one I have a bit of a problem with. If you take it to mean “go to happy rainbow unicorn land where you won’t have to think about your problems, or anyone else’s, or sad things, or anything but FLUFFY KITTENS for the duration of the book,” then no. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with happy things, with things that make us forget our problems, or with fluffy kittens, but personally I have to say I rarely if ever pick up a book with that specific intent.

If, however, by escapism you mean “to exit the confines of your own identity (and/or of your own time, place, culture, and life) and temporarily enter someone else’s”, then yes, yes, absolutely yes. This is, incidentally, something as easily achieved by a fantasy as by a classic or a piece of realistic fiction. I could go on about this point at great length, but my friend Jason has done so recently, and far better than I ever could. So I’ll point you towards his post (and the very interesting and thoughtful comments) instead.

But don’t you prefer books that allow you to “turn your brain off”?
Now here’s an expression that makes me cringe almost as badly as, say, “the graphic novel genre” - and if you know me well, you’ll know that’s saying a lot. First of all, I actually question the existence of completely “fluffy” (a term I loathe) or “mindless” books, as I believe reading to be too complex a mental process to ever not be enriching in some way or another. More than on the book itself, I think this depends on what the reader is willing to take away from the reading experience. This isn’t to say that some books, regardless of their genre, aren’t more complex or generally felt to be more meaningful and enriching than others – but again, this will largely depend on the reader rather than solely on the book. However, my fondness for fantasy (and for comics, children’s books or YA) has absolutely nothing to do with a preference for books that aren’t meaningful, that won’t challenge me, that won’t make me think. And I regret to say that this is an assumption I’ve come to really resent.

But you’re a bit on the dim side, aren’t you? It just takes less to challenge you or make you think.
You wouldn’t believe how often people actually say this – or imply it in ways they probably think are subtle, but even dim little me can see through. You’d think common politeness at the very least would stop them, but no. Anyway, quite possibly I am, yes. But I wish people wouldn’t make instant assumptions about my intelligence based on what I choose to read. I’m not exactly confident, and I suspect I could very easily fall into this trap and believe this of myself. Fortunately for me, some of the smartest people I have ever met are fans of fantasy, science fiction, comics, YA, or all of the above. Therefore, all I can do is roll my eyes.

(Then again, you could argue that unintelligent people such as me aren’t qualified to recognise intelligence in others, and that therefore all those fantasyYAcomics lovers I think highly of are just pseudo-intellectuals. You win, and I walk away in shame.)

Why do you hate the classics?
Another common misconception about fantasy fans is that we only ever read fantasy. I love many classics, and though I’m all for expanding the canon to include more non-realistic fiction (among many other things), I’m definitely not for chunking the books currently thought of as classics into a bonfire. I wish we’d stop trying so hard to determine what’s worthier, better, smarter, or more meaningful, as if these were qualities that can only be attributed to a very specific category of books.

Why do you hate literary fiction?
Again, I absolutely don’t, and many of my favourite books would be described as such. I do dislike the term, as it’s often used to imply that “literariness” is the exclusive propriety of the kind of books it’s usually applied to – but nevermind that for now.

I don’t hate classics, or literary fiction, or non-fiction – and I realise I don’t need to tell this to those of you who have been reading me for more than, say, one day. But you wouldn’t believe how often people assume that I do. In reality, fantasy is only about 30% of what I read, but it’s like saying I’ve enjoyed even one fantasy novel forever brands me as a “fantasy nerd”. Not that I particularly mind, as I’m proud to call myself one. But I do mind all the baggage that seems to come with the term.

You’re slipping into “reverse snobbery”!
First of all, what is “reverse” snobbery? I think snobbery is snobbery is snobbery, period. Secondly, no, I’m not. I don’t see how refusing to accept the inherent superiority of realistic fiction is the same thing as saying it’s inherently inferior. However, this is something I’ve seen fantasy fans do, so I can see where the assumption comes from. Yes, there are readers of fantasy (and readers of other genres, probably) who will accuse so-called Serious Literature and its readers of being tedious, pretentious, pompous and snobbish. I think this is a sign of how polarised these discussions have become, and I regret that it happens. But it’s not something that all, or even most, fantasy lovers do, because – surprise! – we’re actually as diverse in our tastes, personalities and approaches to literature as readers of realistic fiction.

Why do you insist on calling [insert book thought of as literary here] “fantasy”? Obviously it’s too good to be “fantasy”!
Why do you insist on putting quotation marks around the term fantasy? It’s not like it’ll bite unless it’s muzzled, is it? This is something that really aggravates me: very often, when people who have preconceived notions about a genre read a book that counters those notions, instead of thinking, “Oh, perhaps I was wrong after all” they’ll try very hard to distance said book from the genre they take such pleasure in maligning, as if by doing so they’ll save it—and themselves— from being soiled. Cue in, “Oh, His Dark Materials is excellent! But of course, it’s barely even fantasy”, or “Ursula Le Guin is of course a feminist writer. Isn’t it revolting how she keeps being labelled a ‘fantasy and sci-fi writer’?”. True quotes, my friends. It’s No true Scotsman at its best.

Also, by “people” I don’t just mean common readers, but also critics, marketing departments, and even authors themselves. How many fantasy books are repackaged with Serious and Respectable-Looking covers and put on the general fiction shelf? How many reviews beginning with, “I don’t normally like fantasy, but…” have you read? It’s like the critic is desperate to first and foremost save her or his reputation, and reassure their readers that their enjoyment of this one fantasy book does not in fact mean that their brain has turned to mush. (I realise that the same phrase can be used to denote surprise that a genre you though you didn’t like is actually not so bad, and in such cases I have absolutely nothing against it.)

I’ve often seen people say that fantastic elements alone are not enough to make something “fantasy” (yes, with quotation marks), and what I’d like to know is what, then, is enough – this is an honest question for anyone who happens to disagree. Is it bookshop or library placement? Cover design? The existence of that mythical beast, the nerdy fan? Is it the author’s prestige? Is it “literariness” or the lack thereof? And, more importantly, who gets to decide? Why do certain definitions (usually the least inclusive ones, the ones that perpetuate the ghettoisation of fantasy) get to be dominant? I’m not saying I have all the answers here, but I think these are questions well worth considering.

Do you want me to lend you this mediocre fantasy novel that my daughter read recently? It has a dragon on the cover, so you’re sure to love it!
Thank you, but no thank you. Yet another one of those common misconceptions about readers of fantasy (and possibly of science fiction, mystery or romance) is that we instantly love any fantasy book simply because it’s fantasy. What we love about the books we read is actually not that different from what readers of realistic fiction (which – can this get any more confusing? – we also are!) love about their books, nor is it any less diverse. So no, I don’t particularly want to read a book you think of as mediocre merely because it has a dragon on the cover.

Good writing doesn’t matter to you, does it?
Actually, it does. And I hate the assumption that when you read fantasy, you’re supposed to lower your standards when it comes to the writing. I don’t quite know where this idea comes from, as some of my favourite writers prose-wise (Margo Lanagan, Kij Johnson, Catherynne M. Valente, Ray Bradbury, John Crowley, Neil Gaiman, Angela Carter) write or wrote fantasy. I’m not trying to say that every fantasy book out there is written in beautiful prose, but would anyone ever expect that of realistic fiction? We go back to the fact that genres are perceived as a lot more samey than they actually are.

I wish I had numbers that could back up an argument about the proportion of books with quality writing in genre fiction and in mainstream fiction, but a study like that would be very difficult to conduct because it would require an objective definition of “quality prose”. I know a lot of people are ready to argue that this can be objectively defined, but in fact these arguments exist even about classics and literary fiction. One reader’s lyrical writing is another’s purple prose.

So yes, I do care about good writing (or my personal definition of it, which you’re free to dismiss as not as sophisticated as your own), and I don’t think it’s fair to assume that fantasy readers generally don’t.

But don’t you fantasy fans mostly read for plot?
Nope. I do enjoy a good story, but I mostly read for characterisation. This is, of course, a personal preference. And as fantasy readers aren’t all, to steal a phrase from Terry Pratchett, a fourteen-year-old boy named Kevin, we all value different aspects of our reading and read for very different reasons.

Characterisation?! But doesn’t everyone know that characters in fantasy novels are nothing but stereotypes?
*sigh*

You’re probably just not as “discerning” as I am.
I wish someone would be so kind as to explain the meaning of this term to me as if I were three years old. Whenever I come across it, it seems to be used dismissively, which is something that really saddens me. I’ve been accused of having no standards, no taste and no discernment; but ironically I hear this as often about liking fantasy writers as I do about liking canonical ones (such as, say, D.H. Lawrence), which causes me to have a little bit of trouble taking it seriously at all.

It’s only human to define “good taste” in a way that includes our own taste, but the least we can do is try to make an effort not to deride everything that falls on the “wrong” side of our own personal line.

Don’t you get tired of reading about things that aren’t real?
Of all the misconception about fantasy, this is probably the one that baffles me the most. Surely it should go without saying that a book with fantasy elements won’t really be about said fantasy elements? I’ll let you in on a secret: fantasy novels are not about dragons, fairies, unicorns or elves. They’re very often about people. They’re about interpersonal relationships; about our relationship with the world we live in; about what we know and what we don’t; about the imagination; about storytelling; about growing up; about falling in love; about gender; about family, friendship, loss, grief, madness, power, war, peace, you name it. I read them exactly because they tell me just as much about being human as realistic fiction does – and no, not in a less complex or sophisticated way. (But then again, how would I know, right?)

Why can’t you respect the fact that I don’t like fantasy?
I absolutely do. Often when I tell people that fantasy is a lot more diverse than they seem to believe, they feel that I’m pressuring them to start reading it. Possibly I sound like I am because I let my enthusiasm for something I love carry me away, but I’m actually not, I promise. I do believe that the genre is diverse enough that there’s likely a fantasy book out there for every reader, and that dismissing it entirely about one bad experience is hasty; but then again, this is quite likely also the case with, say, thrillers or romance, and I’ve yet to try those genres. It’s not that I refuse to, but we all can be a little wary of venturing into brand-new territory, especially when we already have a thousand different reading interests to pursue. So who am I to judge? There’s something to be said for being adventurous and stepping out of our comfort zone more often, but I won’t look down on people who choose to stick to what they already know they like. Life is short, after all.

This is all very well, but it’s called a genre for a reason, no? The books that belong to the fantasy genre follow certain conventions, and how can any meaningful truths about Life, The Universe and Everything be expressed if the writer is limited by the shackles of genre conventions?
Ah, where to start. First of all, the conventions people usually have in mind when they think “fantasy conventions” are those of a very specific subgenre: epic or quest fantasy. I don’t actually read much epic fantasy – I have nothing against it, but it’s not my favourite subgenre, so I don’t feel that I’m qualified to talk about it at length.

But I’ll say I wish more people realised there’s a lot more to fantasy than just epic quests. Yes, those thick books and endless series are hard to miss when you wander to the fantasy section, but saying they’re all there is to fantasy is like saying that Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Picoult or Dan Brown are accurate representations of the majority of realistic fiction because their books are hard to miss. I have absolutely nothing against these authors or their readers, mind you, but the fact remains that they don’t accurately represent all realistic or mainstream fiction.

Also, I have a problem with the assumption that realistic fiction has no conventions, when in fact all fiction is based on conventions. Aristotle wrote about them a long, long time ago. Why is “experimental fiction” often so strange and discomforting? Why do we even have a term such as “experimental fiction”? It’s exactly because we recognise that there are books that break the conventions we’re used to.

But but but! Surely you can’t compare the conventions that govern all fiction to genre conventions! Those a lot more limiting!
I don’t actually think genre conventions are all that limiting. My favourite authors work both within and around them. They make them work for them; in favour of, not against, the story they want to tell. And while conventions may determine the general shape of a story (or not, and that can be used to create a certain tone or effect), they don’t at all determine its themes or its meaningfulness, however you define that. So no, I don’t think they’re limiting. For example, I’m using a loose version of the conventions of the Socratic dialogue in this post, and rather than limit me they’re allowing me to say exactly what I want to say.

It’s okay; we all have our “guilty pleasures”. *pat pat*
I can’t tell you how tired I am of expressions such as “guilty pleasure”, “fluff”, “indulgence”, or “brain candy.” It’s not the fact that fantasy represents this for some people that I mind; it’s the implication that this is all it can ever hope to be for everyone. Those of us who like fantasy surely do so because we acknowledge there’s a time and place for Serious Books and a time and place for fun and games, right? And surely we won’t deny that these are mutually exclusive categories? We can’t possibly actually take fantasy seriously, can we now?

It saddens me that even some fantasy fans accept this assumption without pausing to examine it – and as a result, they always sound mildly apologetic when talking about fantasy books they’ve enjoyed. It’s funny; the fact that I take fantasy seriously and read it as attentively and critically as I do so-called serious literature seems to shock people more than the fact that I read it to begin with. It’s like I’m some wayward child who’ll not only be naughty, but refuses to apologise or to acknowledge the fact that her parents Know Best when they tell her she misbehaved.

For the record, I hate this assumption both because it implies that fantasy can’t be serious and because it implies that Serious Literature can’t be fun.

Why do you think everyone is out to get you?
Actually, I don’t. I realise that most other readers are very open-minded and respectful, and that even in the most conservative corners of the literary establishment non-realistic or “genre” fiction has begun to receive some serious critical attention. I also know that most people who don’t read fantasy don’t actively dismiss it or look down on its readers. Somehow, though, I always seem to be cornered into these kinds of conversations. Clearly I’m doing something wrong. Help?

If your reading choices make you happy, why do you even care what anyone else thinks?
Because I’m tired of a lifetime of conversations where people subtly or not so subtly talk down to me and patronise me because not only do I admit to loving fantasy, but I refuse to look ashamed of myself for it. As I also love comics and YA (and take them seriously too), I have this happen to me thrice as frequently – which isn’t as fun as it might sound, believe me. I don’t like being patronised, and I doubt anyone does. I realise this doesn’t happen everywhere (again, possibly I’m moving entirely in the wrong circles), and I also realise that people are patronised and judged for many, many other reasons. But this is my experience, so it’s the only thing I feel qualified to talk about. I really wish we wouldn’t be so quick to judge and dismiss people because of what they read.

WHY ARE YOU SO ANGRY?!
I’m not; I promise! I’m just not apologetic or acquiescent, which for some reason everyone seems to expect me to be. If I don’t accept a narrative about the world in which the books I love are relegated to a place of intellectual inferiority and unimportance, I’m dismissed as angry. It gets frustrating, as you can probably tell.

Seriously now: why do you let this consume you?
I don’t know! Possibly because I’m young and impatient and need to grow a thicker skin. Also because I love talking about books, and the assumptions about the books I like (and, by extension, about me) under which many of me interlocutors seem to operate make these conversations very difficult and frustrating. It’s like I’m expected to at least have the decency to stay in the closet and laugh along when somebody makes a joke about all those brain-dead Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter fans, or when somebody says, “Oh, that book was kind of dumb, but then again, it’s fantasy/a graphic novel/YA, so what did you expect?” And if I don’t, that’s it. I’m out. I’m Not Fit For Polite Society.

I realise that saying what I’ve said here for the nth time is pretty useless, as most people who feel this way aren’t likely to change their minds (or to be reading my blog to begin with). But perhaps I’ll encourage a reader or two to rethink their previously unexamined assumptions (we all have those, only about different things). And if so, it’ll have been worth it.

Do people ever make assumptions about you based on what you read (be it fantasy, mysteries, classics, award-winners, YA, you name it)? Does this frustrate you? Do you just shrug it off, or does it get to you? How do you deal with it?

68 comments:

  1. I know where you're coming from and I'm sorry that you have to deal with so many ignorant people who can't just accept your reading habits.

    I've had this happen to me before when I announced that I would base my MA thesis on Sarah Waters' works (and some others), in order to take a closer look at lesbianism in Victorian times. There were so many people who asked me whether I'm a hardcore feminist (only because my thesis was gender-based) and then there were some others who asked me if I was a lesbian myself and if that would be the reason I was interested in this topic. Can't you be straight in still be interested in the history of lesbianism and homophobia? I mainly shrugged it off, but I got really angry sometimes. I'm all for tolerance and respect and I get upset when some people don't show enough of either.

    Don't let them get to you. Keep on enjoying fantasy - they don't know what they are missing out on.

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  2. Thank you so much for the encouragement/sympathy, Susi! Argh, I can't believe people assumed you had to be a lesbian to be interested in Sarah Waters or the history of lesbianism. That actually upsets me even more than simple genre snobbery, because it implies that the experiences of glbtq people are of no relevance whatsoever unless you're one yourself *head desk*. A friend of mine actually wrote a brilliant post that touches on this recently: here.

    Also: AWESOME topic for an MA thesis :D

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  3. Oh I can definitely feel your frustrations, Ana! Just this morning, a coworker gave me that kind of look when I accidentally left a YA novel on my desk and he asked me why am I reading that? The impression he gave me as if I'm reading a bad book, and I hate that feeling!

    My best advice? Just ignore their remarks and do whatever we like to do. After all, we all have our own preferences, don't we? ;)

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  4. I'd like to turn the issue on its head and point out that what other people say to you about your reading preferences is in fact self-referential. They're telling you that they are a book snob, or haven't a clue what they're talking about, or have a closed mind. It's obvious from reading your blog that you are well-read, educated, and know what you're talking about. People like to put others down when they feel inferior, and I'm thinking that they can see how smart you are, and that bothers them a lot, hence the cheap shots.

    In my experience, whenever anyone says anything negative to or about another person, there's a whole lot of psychological reasons behind it, and fear is one of the biggies. I think you might intimidate people with your intelligence. *smile*

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  5. Ana you deserve a standing ovation from all us fantasy fans right now. This post is so comprehesive and slaps down pretty much every argument (including the, don't get angry argument, which is probably the hardest one to fight against).

    It has amazed me how many of my previously anti-fantasy friends came around to the genre after Harry Potter turned up. Those books were a force for change, no matter what their flaws. I had one friend who said she would never watch Stuart Little because a talking mouse could never happen and why would anyone enjoy a story that couldn't be real (aghhh). Then she got into Harry Potter and got cool about things that aren't real. Now I'm not saying they'd all gobble up the fantasy books I like, but it's helped to promote understanding about the potential of fantasy reading.

    And ugh the dull serious cover rebranding. The UK Pratchett covers are the worst and the adult Potter covers look pretty indistinguishable from them. Way to rob fantasy of it's graphic joy.

    I find YA still attracts the most snobbery over here. It hasn't really broken through into the adult market the way it has in other countries and I still find myself hiding the covers, or deliberately obscuring the fact that what I'm reading is young adult to avoid the sneers.

    The 'Oh you only like...' argument is why I avoid talking about reading with real life people I'm not really close to. It's weird, but reading feels very personal to me and having someone assume I only like one kind of book, makes me feel like they're being super judgemental. I try to avoid that, but it makes me sad because surely we could all be having wonderful book related conversations.

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  6. Lovely post, Nymeth. I knew that some people have a "thing" against fantasy but I just don't understand it.I don't think any person who can look down on a certain genre and still appreciate literature. There are a few genres that I don't read, but I can't snub them or the people who read them.We all get something different from reading and should celebrate the act of reading.

    I had to shake my head on that "reverse snobbery" question.

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  7. Hear, hear! Especially this:

    "However, my fondness for fantasy (and for comics, children’s books or YA) has absolutely nothing to do with a preference for books that aren’t meaningful, that won’t challenge me, that won’t make me think."

    I don't read as much adult fantasy (yet, you are adding to my wish list though!) but I do so love my YA fantasy books! I call it my guilty pleasure not because I feel any sense of guilt but because I want to avoid the entire discussion that you wrote out here. Especially with co-workers. It so bothers me that fairy tales and fantasy books are somehow considered 'not as good' when they explore such similar themes but as 'real books' (true story, I had someone ask why I was reading YA fantasy and not a real book!). Argh!

    Great post, I agree with all of it!

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  8. Great post Nymeth (as usual)! I find that most people who go on about fantasy not being 'serious literature' actually have never read a fantasy book or don't read much at all. They judge the book by its cover and dismiss it. I let them say what they want and then I go on about why I like it so much, how serious literature is also fiction and that genre fiction also deal with serious human issues and drama. Frankly it doesn't bother me much and it doesn't affect how I choose what I read (but I haven't had many people ask me some of the direct questions you got - that might piss me off). Reading is subjective and each to their own, I say! And most of the people I know who read fantasy are some of the most erudite and intelligent people I know who also read widely :)

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  9. Ana, OMG! Fluffy kittens? Dim? Angry? People out to get you? People actually say this stuff to you? What the hell! No wonder you had to get this off your chest. I would have never thought any of those things about you, and would guess that your blogger friends wouldn't either. You are probably the LEAST dim person I know. Love this post - you tell 'em.

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  10. I think all of us who read fantasy fiction/ ya etc have met with "those people" .. it makes me laugh at how closed minded they are but hey, it takes all kinds of people to make up the world.

    When I get those looks or sneers or comments I just hold my book all the tighter to my chest and smile . I'm sure since I am "ancient" they think I am in my second childhood or something..but I could care less. Enjoyment is the key word. No matter what it is if you enjoy the book then it's done what it's meant to do. But we have all had our frustrating moments..most recently I had someone looking at my book strangely and I smiled..then I said, "have you seen Avatar yet?" I got even a weirder look.. I loved it! hahahaha

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  11. Sounds like you have to deal with uncommonly idiotic people!

    I´m not a fantasy reader myself, but I usually assume that my opinions of the genre are prejudice because I haven´t read many fantasy books and that there have to be so many great books out there that will make me love the genre.

    We all have our favorite genres and others that we don´t read so much but I find that there are nearly always a couple of books that can be appreciated by everyone. And why would fantasy be any less respectable than others? And the classics consist of so many genres, including fantasy I think, are they more worthy because they are "old"?

    Hope you won´t let those people seriously bother you! Your blog is amazing and your reviews are always so well-written and complex. And you read very diversely.

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  12. I don't read a lot of fantasy, but that has nothing to do with the stereotypes you mentioned. I just never really got introduced to the genre.

    I hate it so much when people turn all snobbish about your reading choices. I actually recognize a lot of what Susi said in what people remark on when I say I am specializing in "gender studies", because they tend to assume I am either someone who screams feminist values whenever she gets a chance or is a lesbian. I get tired of defending myself, but often find myself repeating arguments in my head once the conversation is over. It's so anoying not being able to think up a good reply when you're in the middle, or not wanting to, or feeling too shy about it, wouldn't you agree?

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  13. 'Don’t you get tired of reading about things that aren’t real?' Isn't all fiction just that, pure fantasy, all made up for the reader?

    Well done Ana, you made some excellent points and I can totally see where you are coming from. Just remind me never to have an argument with you as I think you would win hands down.

    I have learnt so much about fantasy through your blog and now read a lot more than I used to and can only thank you for opening my eyes to such a wonderful world.

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  14. this is a fabulous post and a a wonderful defense of the fantasy "thing". i'm a literary snob & definitely have had some of the attitudes you describe, but i'm trying to be better! :-)

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  15. The other day I had someone disdain me solely because I read fiction. Seriously. And I read across all genres, so I've had plenty of this in all respects. =( Fantasy is one of my favourite genres and I've had my dad asking me my entire life whether I know what I'm reading isn't real, for example.

    I love the way you analyse and think more deeply about every kind of book you read, Ana. And I love that you said that all literature is valuable. I very rarely talk to real life people about books for this very reason, because I know they'll just mock my tastes. Sad but true. I might just direct them here next time. =)

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  16. Excellent post, as usual. I laughed out loud at "Why do you insist on putting quotation marks around the term fantasy? It’s not like it’ll bite unless it’s muzzled, is it?" I'm guilty of doing this for what I call chick-lit. And I guess it is my way of apologizing for it. :-(

    While I've definitely been guilty of being a book snob at times in my life, I've come to realize that it doesn't matter what anyone reads, as long as they are reading. Let's encourage anything that would be an alternative to constant TV or video games - and not that these are even all bad; it is just our society doesn't practice moderation.

    On a side note, anyone who would insinuate that you are dim obviously doesn't read your blog.

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  17. Wow, I can't believe people say (or imply) those things to you. On the other end of the spectrum, my mother-in-law thinks that every reader is a genius, so she's always calling me and asking me for some obscure fact that she's sure I'll know.

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  18. Sigh. So well said, Ana. I think we all come across dialog like this in our reading paths and it's really disturbing. I won't begin to ennumerate the sorts of questions I get asked, or the sorts of conversations that exclude or belittle me - my comment would be WAY too long. Thank you for writing this.

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  19. I find it unbelievable that people would say such things to you! It galls me that they have such a low, misconceived opinion of fantasy. In my experience, fantasy books are just the opposite of a "happy rainbow unicorn land" populated with fluffy kittens! It's often got plenty serious moral dilemmas and characters wrestling with very real conficts, in a totally creative setting, which makes it so fantastic- you can find almost any kind of scenario imaginable and it stretches the brain so much- I'm feeling myself getting into a rant here, so I'll stop. The fantasy genre has just the same wide range of fluff to serious as any other genre. And it has its own classics! Have they never heard of writers like Jules Verne? But I don't need to say all these things to you, you know them already!

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  20. Guilty as charged!

    I can't tell you how often I apologize to people for enjoying fantasy. I feel emboldened by your post. No more apologies!

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  21. No wonder you had to get it off your chest! Well spoken.

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  22. Sometimes people can be so idiotic much as you want to give them all the leg room you can offer, much as you don't want to judge them the way they judge you. But if people aren't even open enough to the idea that reading fantasy is well, a serious thing, then they're not worth your time :)

    I'm probably thick-skinned enough for some of the stuff you mentioned not to bother me anymore. It used to, until I realized that when I try to explain why I'm reading a certain book, I look as if I'm being defensive about it. And I don't have to be. That if I wallow or consider other people's apparent "uprightness" in reading choices, I'd get stressed out. I'd hate to get wrinkles out of that so uh, to hell with their choices! And I say that nicely :)

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  23. DIM?! YOU?! Who on earth could read your blog and consider you dim? I think this goes back to your previous point that it matters less what's in a written text than what a reader takes away from it. If I had read your blog every day and only taken away that you love fantasy, wanted escape, and would love any book with a dragon on the cover, then shame on me. I have learned a lot from reading your blog, and found a lot of authors I might otherwise hadn't read--and the more books I read that are outside my habitual preference for "literary" fiction, the more I realize how much these categorizations can actually keep terrific books out of a wider market. So thank you, Nymeth!

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  24. I am sorry that you have to deal with such things, Nymeth. I agree with everything that you said. People should not be judged by what they read. Everyone should have the right to read whatever genre or book they want because everyone has their own reasons for doing so and one shouldn't have to apologize for reading a specific book / genre just because someone else doesn't like it. Books can make such a difference in somebody's life and you never know what book made that difference for them. I don't read many genres because I just simply prefer Victorian Lit and co., but that doesn't give my the right to say negative things to someone who reads Chicklit or romance novels.

    And I must be honest with you, before I discovered your blog, I rarely read any fantasy books, but thanks to you, I discovered such great books and authors and I wanted to thank you for that. I truly love your blog and appreciate the work and effort you put into it.

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  25. Love it. You must be getting my share of these conversations, because I can't remember ever having to defend my love for fantasy to anybody.

    (I hate the term "literary fiction" too. What does that even mean? Fiction that is better than other fiction? So weird.)

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  26. Thank you for this really excellent dismissal of the all-too-widely held prejudices against fantasy and sf writing.

    In fact, all fiction is make-belief, isn't it? And I seriously mean that. When Philip Sidney wrote his Apologie for Poetry back in the 16th century, he was defending poetry AS FICTION - against the charge that it was all lies.

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  27. Tell it, Nymeth!

    I have totally felt this way. I especially love it when people try to "explain" how fantasy is badly written and only plot-based to me! More like "mansplain" (http://karenhealey.livejournal.com/781085.html if you're unfamiliar with the term). I'm not saying that no women are guilty of the same thing with fantasy literature, but for me it's been mostly men so I've just filed it under "mansplaining."

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  28. My daughter is a big fantasy reader, and I was once asked by a woman at church if I thought that she was treading in dangerous areas because she was always choosing such escapist literature. We ended up having an argument in which I defended my daughter's right to read any darn thing she wanted to. The funniest thing was, the woman who was criticizing had children who wouldn't touch a book with a ten foot pole. Needless to say, we found another church soon after. I totally loved these rebuttals, Nymeth. You shouldn't have to defend your choice of reading material, but I can tell that you often do.

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  29. Standing Ovation!

    I can't tell you how many times I hear all of this too. The insulting comments are usually followed up by something like "but you're a professor!?!?"

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  30. Ana, WHO DO YOU TALK TO?! I think you should cut these jerks out of your life :-)

    I also get super-annoyed by people who view fantasy with some sort of raised eyebrow. I know there are many bloggers out there who ONLY read fantasy, though, and also view me (and probably you, too!) with a raised eyebrow. Lose-lose for us, I suppose.

    I am proud of my push to expand my reading this year, but fantasy has been my go-to genre since I was a child and I intend to stick with it. It saddens me because EVERYONE reads fantasy as a child- literally, all fairy tales and many children's stories are fantastical in nature- so when does that go away? Why do people decide at some point that they're too good for it? Do they view it as childish just because they read about it as a child? I don't understand.

    Also, I would just state that epic fantasy so often isn't about the plot or the quest, but about SO much more. Well, nowadays, it is much more about political motivations and character interactions and all sorts of fascinating stuff like that.

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  31. I've always read lots of genre fiction that I didn't necessarily talk about to my literary friends or my professors, because I didn't feel like explaining all the stuff you've explained so well here. But I got less shy about it when I was working towards my PhD in English Literature at the U of MD, College Park in the 1980s because Verlyn Fleiger was there. She's one of the premier Tolkien critics in the world.

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  32. *pat pat* there, there. Get it all out.

    Just kidding. Excellent rebuttal to completely stupid questions. I would like to point people like this to The Golden Compass. Betcha they couldn't get through half of that amazing trilogy.

    Sometimes we all have to just let it all out. I almost choked on my coffee when you said, "but... you're a bit dim, aren't you?" because I was *just* thinking how smart and well-reasoned you are. Stupid people. Grr. And argh!

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  33. Ugh. So sorry you have to go through this. Shaking my head at the comments people make.

    But, I can tell you this... I actually get comments like "oh, you read?!" or "wow, you read these type of books?!" from people who assume that, because I'm hearing impaired, that certainly I couldn't be smart enough to read.

    Anyway, it's great that you wrote this post. People shouldn't make judgements on what others read. I think that as long as people enjoy reading, that's what counts!

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  34. Your post is spot on. It is amazing that people can be so narrow minded or even ignorant but I have encountered similar kinds of remarks about my true crime reading habit.

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  35. First it's your blog so you can rant about whatever you like whenever you like :) I know exactly what you mean, I get so much stick for liking fantasy, vampire fiction (band wagon much is the general impression when I've been reading it since I was a teenager 12 years ago), graphic novels and fantasy and now manga. It's the "there there" attitude I hate, "whatever makes you happy little lady". Why should anyone have to apologise over what they enjoy.

    PS if you find the way to the happy unicorn fluffy cats land can you please email me the directions :)

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  36. All I have to say is "PREACH ON!". LOL

    I do understand about genre snobbery - or snobbery in either direction and have experienced it my whole reading life. I hate it. Each of us has our own book journey and it will take us near and far and to the outer edges of this world and other worlds. A good book is a good book.

    I want to say - I'm 52 years old and I'll read what I want to. And I am a serious reader. You too!

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  37. Hear Hear!!!!

    Oh I so want to shove this post up the nose of some people!

    Very incredibly well said!

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  38. This post is exactly why I love you, because even though I don't really read fantasy, I always wish I did so I could be cool like you (and other really cool people who like fantasy). And you've expressed so much of what I feel about all types of fiction and the assumptions people make about it.

    I have to confess to having said I don't normally like fantasy but in a review, but it wasn't I promise a way of setting myself apart, I was honestly just trying to communicate that the book was a pleasant surprise. However, it does annoy me when people say that about romance or chick-lit (or try to pretend chick-lit isn't chick-lit but more serious GAR!!!) so I can see where you're coming from and I'll try to avoid that in the future!

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  39. LOL Ana, who are these people asking you these outrageous questions?!

    It could be worse. Some non-readers I speak to sometimes think that you don't actually learn anything when you read fiction (except English maybe). Outrageous.

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  40. I don't read much fantasy at this much point in my life, but I am really surprised that people would assume that you are less interested in excellent writing, complex character development, and intellectually stimulating reading than any other reader. I love your definition of "escapism!"

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  41. If you think assumptions like this are bad with fantasy, try reading romance novels! That's about a bazillion times worse. Especially the assumption about being stupid.

    I don't really let people's opinions bother me. If they knew me, they'd know I read a bunch of stuff. And if they read romance novels, they'd know their assumptions are false.

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  42. I thankfully haven't had to deal too much with people badgering me on my reading preferences (especially now when I live in my college's fantasy/sci-fi dorm!).

    However, the times a friend has subtly implied that I could be reading more "quality" fiction or that I should expand my horizons so I can stop reading fantasy do twinge when they happen.

    What's actually great these days is discussing more speculative fiction with my mom. She's always been a sci-fi fan, but now she's been branching out into boks that are more fantasy-ish in nature, so I can proudly say I know someone as old as she is who loves to read the sorts of stuff other people her age would look down on her for.

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  43. I was going to try and read through the whole FAQ here and then I reached the third question. I understand the tone you're going for and all, but I just feel the need to say it:

    You are NOT unintelligent! You're one of the most intelligent people I know, in fact. And I want to point that out to you. ^-^ And now you can copy that bit somewhere and read it over every time someone makes you feel dim. Possibly. It might even help counter the self-esteem destroying such statements do...

    *snugs and goes read the rest*

    Of course now I realise I don't have anything good/useful to add to the conversation since you said everything else already...

    I wish more people would realise/consider that some of our oldest literature - all the mythology we have - would fall under 'fantasy' if it weren't so old and Cultural Heritagely Important, though.

    And of course now I have the whole "But fairytales are for children!" debate that's been around and probably still is around more than I realise on my brain. *sigh* I do wonder how related it is, though.

    *huggles* I'm sorry you're in such circles, though. :( If the people who say such things to you can't see what a wonderful, intelligent person you are... They're in serious need of a different pair of glasses.

    (Conversationally, I always feel a little bad when I feel I have to include bias-disclaimers in my book-rambling, especially if I liked the book in the end. It does sometimes come across as apologetic, but that's never how I mean it. It affects my reaction and I want to give my reaction as honestly and clearly as I can. Sometimes that means going "I don't usually like x, but..." It's a sticky situation, but is it one I could avoid in good conscience? I don't know...)

    *rambles, sends good thoughts*

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  44. I was seared by an experience where I found myself not able to 'fess up to reading fantasy to a horrible woman, instead saying something along the lines of "science fiction, things like that," to describe my reading, which did me *no* good in the end. She still managed to give me the monumental put-down that was her specialty whenever she pretended to engage someone in conversation.

    Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Never again.

    In my defense, she was my boss.

    To her eternal shame, she was a librarian.

    Fluffy kittens? Where? Sign me up!

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  45. Melody: YA definitely also gets a bad rap :\ Thank you for the sympathy and kind advice - I promise I'll do my best to follow it :P And I'm sorry you have to deal with some of that as well.

    Violet: It's funny; I'm perfectly capable of pointing out to a friend that I think someone is condescending to them because they feel threatened, but when it's me, I have a bit of a blind spot. It's the whole confidence thing, which I don't like talking about because I hate to sound like I'm fishing for compliments - but because it's hard to believe someone could ever be intimidated by *me* :P I think you have a point in general, though. Whenever I come across someone who always talk to other people as if they are far above them (and I know quite a few people who fit this description, unfortunately) I always wonder if they're so excessively confident they have NO clue how condescending they sound or if they're trying to compensate for the opposite.

    Jodie: The anger thing is just so infuriating - people use that as a cop-out to dismiss pretty much EVERYTHING that to avoid addressing what *they* may have done to anger others. Bah :P I think what you said about YA is true here too. There are more people who accept that fantasy can have literary value than people who accept that books written for children or teenagers can be anything other than dumbed down versions of adult books :\ Also, it always makes me sad to think of all those book conversations we could be having if only people watched their attitude!

    Vasilly: Exactly - we all have our preferences, but to dismiss an entire genre as "dumb" just baffles me.

    Amy: I completely understand how saying it's a guilty pleasure can be a defence - we don't always have the patience to explain all of this, after all, especially when a) it happens again and again and b) most people don't even listen anyway. SIGH. And ha, "real books" - good one *shakes head*

    Sakura: That's so true! I always ask those people how many fantasy books they've read, and then watch them avoid the question or say something how you "don't have to" because these are things that "everyone knows". If only people stopped to think that perhaps what "everyone knows" isn't true at all more often.

    Sandy: You are too kind! I don't know what I'd do without you guys - you're my support group :P Seriously, this is one of the reasons why blogging has added so much to my life. I can actually talk about books, any books, with you guys, and I know you'd never think less of me.

    DesLily: lol! I love how you asked them about Avatar :D

    Bina: What frustrates me is that many of them are quite smart AND very open-minded in many ways, but about the "literary" versus "genre" fiction divide they are absolutely stubborn. I just don't get it! I absolutely agree with this: "We all have our favorite genres and others that we don´t read so much but I find that there are nearly always a couple of books that can be appreciated by everyone". Also, thank you so much for the kind words!

    Iris: Yes, I completely agree. Why is it that we only think of the right come back once the conversation is over? Grrr :P I'm sorry you and Susi have to deal with that :\ I'm a feminist myself, but I accept that not everyone interested in gender will want to identify as one. And I also hate the "feminist = angry, preachy, hysterical" association that so many people make.

    Vivienne: Exactly! Realistic fiction is not actually real either - shock, horror! :P And thank you so much for the kind words! Nothing makes me happier than introducing others to something that I love :)

    Marie: Though we've disagreed on occasion, I've never ever felt that you were patronising or looked down on me because of what I read. So really, you pale in comparison to some of the snobs I know ;)

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  46. Meghan: It makes me so sad that people think about that as fiction as a whole :\ I see it less often than I do about just fantasy, but you're right, it does happen. And it also saddens me that we have to miss out on what could be great bookish conversations because of people's attitude!

    Elisabeth: Don't feel bad! You know, I may very well have done that with the term chick-lit in the past myself, but that's not really because of how I feel about the genre - it's that I dislike the term. It screams "frivolous womanish things" to me. I've never liked the word "chick", so it makes sense that I also don't like chick-lit.

    Kathy: lol! Well, she's got a point :P Not all readers are genius and plenty of smart people don't read, but we DO learn random and obscure facts all the time through books. I bet that many of the times she calls you, you DO know :P

    Amanda: You should write your own post sometime! Then again, maybe not, as I know that merely thinking about this stuff can be upsetting sometimes.

    Jeane: Exactly - many fantasy books are quite dark, and deal with all sorts of serious ethical, political and personal issues. Also, I completely agree that the light-to-serious books ratio should be about the same across every genre.

    Madigan McGillicuddy: I completely understand just wanting to avoid the argument or inevitable snide remark sometimes. But I'm happy to hear this post made you feel emboldened :D

    Annabel: Thank you!

    Lightheaded: I know you'd never said that not nicely! I definitely need to grow a thicker skin, if only to spare myself the stress and misery. I'm working on it, I promise :P

    Priscilla: You (and Sandy and Violet and everyone else) are too nice! I guess this is where I confess that I never tell people I know IRL about my blog, with the exception of my boyfriend :P Some of these people do know me more or less well and I suppose they mean it jokingly when they question my intelligence, but I still think there's something to it. It's the No True Scotsman rule at work: REAL smart people don't read fantasy, so either the books I read are not REALLY fantasy, or I'm not REALLY smart. It has to be one or the other, or else their heads will explode :P

    Andreea: "Books can make such a difference in somebody's life and you never know what book made that difference for them." So true! I completely understand mostly sticking to what you already know you like Andreea. But it also makes me very very happy to know I've introduced you to fantasy books you have enjoyed :D

    She: :D

    Jenny: I swear, sometimes I feel I'm getting ten people's share :P And yep - I also can't understand what ELSE "literary fiction" is supposed to mean.

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  47. Bravo! I love this post! (And I'm very sorry you've come up against so many antagonistic fantasy-haters. I've been pretty lucky, myself. I can't recall ever having been dismissed out of hand because I'm a fantasy fan. Although, I do feel a little selfconscious about telling people that I write fantasy, so I supposes the prevailing attitude affects me, too).

    I feel like I've recommended them to you before, but you must check out the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies. The editors adopt a very broad view of what is or isn't genre; many of their selections were originally published in mainstream magazines and anthologies, and they recommend tons of fantasies marketed as mainstream novels in their summations. I think they'd be perfect for you.

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  48. This is a fantastic post. I'm not a big fantasy reader but I totally understand where you are coming from. I'm passing this link on to my fantasy-reading best friend. :)

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  49. Great post! Though I can't believe some of the insulting things you've heard people say! Is politeness dead?? Anyway, I totally agree with you that people judge on the basis of what you read - I've had so many comments about reading YA, it's crazy. My Mom thinks I'm regressing and friends think I'm just crazy I think... And I do sound apologetic any time someone asks me what I'm reading and it happens to be YA!

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  50. As someone who, as a kid, turned away from fantasy/sci fi after loving a few of the old 'classics' of the genre, I can understand how people would come to poor assumptions, because before being properly educated in my later life, I went to try and buy some new books at Waldenbooks (don't judge me! It was the only bookstore we had!) and all the books on display were either star trek/star wars novels (which I tried and didn't much like), or ones with pictures of women in chain-mail bikinis or men in loincloths made of yak fur on the front (which may well have hid perfectly wonderful books,but which my bias was unable to see past). There was books hidden in there, tucked in there, I'm sure of it, but I just didn't know how to find them.

    Then, going to the library, I asked a librarian to help me find other books I'd like if I liked book X. Well, after, again, working through some of the classics of the genre, I was redirected to the EXACT same books. And I was treated exactly like you describe people treating you in this essay. And when you're a little kid, if someone thinks you're a bit dim, or that you will grow up to some particular negative stereotype, or that you must like hack and slashing battle scenes, or whatever, it's easy to think 'oh, well, in that case, I must just like these couple of books, and the rest of the genre isn't for me.'

    Of course, thank goodness for book blogging, which lets me find books like Tender Morsels, now. But I think part of the problem is that we treat 'genres' as second class all the way back through education. Now, this isn't to say that we should read, say, The Da Vinci Code instead of Catcher in the Rye (I love CAtcher in the Rye!) in High school - but that's just it, when I say that we shoudl include other genres, people ASSUME that's what I mean. That I think people are too dumb to like 'real' books, and need somethign easier. The same thing happens in poetry, where poetry people sniff down their noses when you suggest that kids are relating to, say, lyrics by a particularly talented musician than to modern poetry. There is this assumption that you're saying 'kids are stupid, lets all just let them analyze Kid Rock instead of 'real' poems'. Which is deeply frustrating, because lyrics can be very powerful poetry, no doubt of it. They can suck too, or they cna be mediocre. But so can 'real' poetry. This is the way I see Fantasy, is that we EDUCATE children to think that it's all just fluff, so of course, this becomes their truth.

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  51. And I'm laughing. Your post is absolutely fabulous! I want to be your friend. :)
    Fantasy has been one of my favorite genres since, oh, I was 8 - and it gets no respect. Ever. Shouldn't some credit be given for the pure creativity and imagination it takes to come up with a new world? Why is it less respectable to enjoy the characters and their evolution while they're actually doing something questy - as opposed to while they're knitting?
    Another point: Fantasy tends to be written by English professors who have an incredible mastery of the English language as well as *gasp* a more than passing familiarity with "the classics".

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  52. A little dim? You??? That's one of the funniest things I've heard all day! I'm not a huge fan of fantasy myself (I've actually enjoyed most of the fantasy books that I've read, but I've always preferred my fiction to be grounded in the real world), but I can't believe people have truly said/implied all these things.

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  53. Dim????? Dim???! Are they nuts? They should check themselves first. I love fantasy books and recently read quite a bit of romance. Well, Ana, you know, I've been given "the look" as well. Who cares? It's not like they're reading much!

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  54. I get the response you describe for reading, not only fantasy, but mostly children's books (and some YA). There's a certain look people get on their faces, definitely the pat-on-the-head attitude you mentioned! Thanks for this post, and for the link to Jason G's post, which was also enlightening.

    Ironically, I find myself trying to show my high school students that nonfiction is not quite as reliable as they think--that history books emphasize politics and power and exhibit personal as well as nation-sized biases, and that science is so dynamic that today's facts get left in the dust long before tomorrow's new findings show up in educational publishing--it's a field that's constantly evolving (mm, like evolution, to run with the obvious!).

    Now you've got me thinking about the interplay between reader and book, which creates something wholly new--shiver.

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  55. I'm still enjoying the comments on this, Nymeth! I just had to second Memory's recommendation for the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies, particularly the older ones edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. (I just skipped the horror parts, since horror isn't my thing.) They are worth reading for the summations of what went on in the publishing world even more than the short fiction. Again and again, they managed to scoop up excellent, uncategorizable books (very broad in their definition of fantasy) I never would have heard about--particularly first novels.

    One of these days, I am going to write about the Great Fantasy Famine of the '80s. I think a lot of library-going kids must have had the same experience as Jason back then. Jason, all we had was a Waldenbooks too. It is so touching to think of you going in there trying to find something you wanted to read. I can practically *smell* that store--the opposite of real bookstore smell. Can I get in my time machine and bring you some books?

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  56. Wow! That was a very comprehensive defense of fantasy. I can't believe people have said stuff like that to you.

    I am not a fan of epic fantasy, but I can totally respect people who are fans. It takes a lot of concentration and brain power to follow all those characters, made-up creatures and plot threads!

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  57. Katherine Langrish: These things are so old, aren't they? It amazes me to see how the same old arguments keep being recycled and applied to different things.

    Bill: Argh, don't get me started on mansplaining :\ Most of the fantasy fans I know outside the internet are guys, so I haven't had it happen to me in this particular area, but I know what you mean all the same.

    Zibilee: It's such a short step from dismissing fantasy as "escapist" to doing the same to ALL fiction - no wonder that lady's children didn't read at all!

    Trish: Argh - "But you're a professor" *head desk*

    Aarti: We don't fit in anywhere, I guess :P I do think that the association between fantasy and childish things has to do with the fact that children read it - but as Ursula Le Guin says, won't a person who is truly comfortable with having grown up be a little less defensive than that about adulthood and what it implies? I don't get it easier. Also, I didn't mean to dismiss epic fantasy, promise! I just can't talk about it because I'm not familiar with the subgenre beyond Tolkien. I DO want to read many epic series, though, namely A Song of Ice and Fire.

    Jeanne: I can see how having someone like that in the same department would make a world of difference! Anyway, yes, sometimes I just shrug because I'm too tired to explain.

    Daphne: lol :P But The Golden Compass is not *really* fantasy, remember? ;) Talking armoured bears DO exist in nature :P

    Valerie: wow - I have no words for how horrible that assumption is :S

    Kathleen: I can imagine :\

    Rhinoa: My inner 15-year-old Anne Rice lover also laughs at the bandwagon remarks about vampire books. Surprise! they existed long before Twilight. Anyway, I'll be sure to send you a postcard from happy unicorn fluffy card land ;)

    Kay: lol :P Snobbery is annoying in every shape or form, yes. It saddens me that so many people are always looking for excuses to treat others like they're beneath them.

    Zee: lol - do :D And thank you so much.

    Amy: I don't think you could possibly be cooler, fantasy or no fantasy :P And don't worry; I know that people don't always meant it that way when they say they don't normally like fantasy. Your tone is always SO different from the kind of thing I was talking about.

    Mee: I have a whole other post in mind about readers vs non-readers, actually :P

    Stephanie: I try not to take it too personally because I know it's a ready-made assumption. But it baffles me!

    Heidenkind: Yeah, I bet romance fans have it even worse - with sexist assumptions added to the mix :\ You should write about that sometime!

    Emily: A fantasy/sci-fi dorm! Why didn't my college have one? :P And that's so great about your mom :)

    Gricel: Thank you so much!

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  58. Ms Trapunto - Yes, please, Time Machine! I beg of you! While you're there could you smack me upside the head and tell me to stop being a dummy? I could of used that when I was a kid... :D. At least I had fairy tales... :)

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  59. Ms Nymeth - Sorry for the comment Hijack!

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  60. Shanra: As always, you're too sweet. Don't worry, I don't let it get to me (um, too much, that is :P). And yep, it's absolutely true that the oldest literature around is fantasy. I think people probably know that, but they disregard any fact that doesn't serve their point. And don't worry, as I was telling Amy, the tone of your (and hers) disclaimers and apologies is completely different from the kind of thing that annoys me. It's one thing to acknowledge that your lack of familiarity with a genre may affect your response to a book, and quite another to be all, "ewwww, genre lit *pokes with stick* :P

    Trapunto: I completely understand saying that just to avoid the inevitable argument. It gets old and tiresome, and we're only human. And a librarian *shakes head*. I hope my future co-workers are NOT that kind of librarian. I shall send you a postcard from fluffykittenland if I ever find my way there ;)

    Memory: I imagine that many fantasy authors get it even worse than fans do. I remember that Terry Pratchett once told a story about how he was signing at a big bookstore, and the manager was telling him that his new books had been their top sold title for two weeks. Right in front of where they were standing there was this panel with the list of the top ten bestsellers, and he wasn't listed. He asked the manager why, and the answer was, "that's the literature top!" *head desk* Thank you for reminding me about those anthologies - I absolutely must get my hands on them!

    Michelle: I'm glad you liked it, and I hope your friend does too!

    Joanna: I guess they think their assumptions are too subtle to be insulting or rude. They are wrong :P Don't get me started on YA...it's just as bad, if not worse :\

    Jason: Yes, I absolutely agree. We are educate people to define "fantasy", "proper literature", "poetry" and so on VERY narrowly, and so of course that anything that doesn't fit those narrow definitions gets excluded. That leads to librarians (and teachers, publishers, etc.) pointing people towards books with chain-mail clad ladies on the cover when asked about fantasy, because for them this is the only thing it CAN be, which of course will reinforce reader's assumptions. Another thing I notice is confirmation bias even when people get beyond the covers. For example, some people will read books like Tender Morsels or Nation, which, for me, deal with some of the most fundamental things that being human is about, and say that they are fun and cute, but slightly simplistic pieces of escapism with not much of a relationship with the real world at all. They'll say these books are about people changing into bears or about funny old grandfather birds, and thereof they have no relevance to our lives. Of course that people have the right NOT to find books that touched me deeply particularly meaningful, but they attribute this perceived lack of depth to the genre they belong to, or to their being YA. Which makes me wonder about the extent to which their assumptions about how much these books are *allowed* to matter influenced their reading. It's either that, or I AM in fact dim and very easily impressed, and what is meaningful to me will of course be completely obvious and simplistic to a much cleverer person :P I don't know; I just think there's a difference between saying "I didn't connect with this book" (which people will often say when explaining why they didn't like a book they think of as"proper" literature) and "there's nothing much here" (which they say about YA or fantasy MUCH more easily, and which is, in my view, a pretty dismissive and arrogant thing to say).

    Susan: You CAN be my friend :D And yes, excellent point about many fantasy writers being extremely well-read. I was just reading a book of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin and she cites Dickens and Tolstoy as the writers that inspired her the most.

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  61. Ali and Alice, Thank you so much for the kind words! I think people are often just *looking* for someone they can feel superior to, you know? If it's not fantasy readers, it'll probably be something else.

    Kate Coombs: It's true; those attitudes definitely exist about children's lit and YA :\ And so true about nonfiction! If only people were as willing to question it as they are to question whichever genres or literary forms they deem unworthy.

    Trapunto and Jason, nothing to apologise for! I completely approve of this time machine plan :P Also, this non-American wants to know what Waldenbooks is :P

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  62. To weigh in a bit on the "fluffiness" issue: this past weekend I went to Las Vegas. I filled my bag with graphic novels and YA because I wanted something that was engaging, but easy to read, and generally lighter than say, the book about Vietnam I'm currently reading. I read some of Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don't Float (I really don't know how to classify this) and Fables vol 3 on the plane, and most of the third Percy Jackson book by (and in) the pool.

    They worked out well for me because for the graphic novel and for Ophelia Joined..., it's easy to put down and pick up. The Percy Jackson book was exciting as always, but not something I had to think much about as I read it, which is good as I was also drinking Pina Colladas. That's not to say that a 12 year old, who is the audience in mind for the book, wouldn't have to think about it, but as an adult I wasn't learning a whole lot of lessons and mainly just read the series because I like Greek Mythology so much.

    In conclusion: I don't really have a conclusion. I guess what I'm saying is that the themes in the books I took with me were not as heavy as some historical or literary fiction I read (and, note, while I brought Sandman with me, I didn't read it, and the particular Fables book I was reading was Storybook Love). Also, literary fiction, and also some classics, can be really difficult to read stylistically sometimes. I didn't want to deal with that.

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  63. J.T. Oldfield: I just don't think that stylistic simplicity and thematic lightness is a characteristic of all or even most fantasy, or even of a greater percentage of fantasy than of realistic fiction. You'd probably have been able to find realistic books that would have done the job just fine.

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  64. Hard to explain Waldenbooks. I would be inclined to call it the MacDonalds of bookstores, which isn't quite right. Maybe Jason can do it.

    Jason. You are lucky. I don't need a time machine for this, because my baka-slap transcends space and time.

    *WHACK*

    Better? I don't really think you needed it, but what the hey, it can never hurt.

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  65. *HUGS* for this! I hate it when people can't fathom that fantasy can be synonymous to good writing.

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  66. Wow! I am so behind in GR it's just not even funny. Great post. I can also tell you from recent experience that even reading light, fluffy, and shallow books takes much more effort than watching anything on TV, to include the History channel.

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