For years, I have been an avid reader of realistic/ contemporary fiction. In fact, it’s pretty much all I read while growing up (save for the occasional historical fiction title that sneaked in or the classics I was given in high school English).
When we created genres for our library this year, I noticed that Realistic Fiction had met its match with Fantasy; shelf space is taking a nose dive. Not that I’m complaining, but I just couldn’t understand what the hype was all about.
I decided to go to the experts…teenagers. I am now in full-fangirl mode for fantasy. I recently realized (while stalking the shelves at Barnes and Noble) that there’s a reason I’ve historically stayed away from fantasy: have you SEEN the size of those books?! Not to mention that there are rows and rows of this genre (so many rows). It’s hard to know where to start… especially when the covers can look so similar (*insert a fierce protagonist on a dark cover, probably navy blue, hunter green, or black*). But change is good, and I’ve gotten into so many reading slumps, and I have found one of the best ways to break out of one is to break tradition. So, without further ado, here are my tips for diving into the wonderful world of fantasy!
1.) I Hear You:
If possible, try to get your hands on a physical copy AND the audiobook of your chosen title. If your school library doesn’t have Overdrive, your public library might. It’s definitely a more economical way to acquire audiobooks, but I’m also a fan of Audible (if it’s in your price range).
Here’s why: a lot of what happens at the beginning of a fantasy novel sets the reader up for: a.) world building and b.) a magic system. If you’ve never read fantasy and you start with a high-fantasy read, an audiobook can help (provided the narrator’s voice works for you) you get started. Hearing someone’s tone and inflection in those first few chapters gives you a baseline for the world, and it also clues you in to what might be important later.
2.) Split the Difference:
What I mean by this is…try a book that takes place in the real world and a different one. Think about it. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe start with the children leaving their city home for a countryside escape in the midst of WWII. Within no time, you’re in Narnia. Finding an entry point that’s in your comfort zone is what makes exploring fun.
3.) We’d Love to Double Date!
Don’t fret if you start feeling a little overwhelmed (sometimes in the best way) with your fantasy read. Sometimes you just need a break. I recently started reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and this book… is an epic (literally) read and halfway through, I just needed a break! I picked up a book that (I thought) was completely different from TNotW, but you’d be surprised how fast you start to see parallels. I picked up The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, because what could be more antithetical to a high-fantasy read than a story about a glamorous Hollywood star from the 1950’s?!
Both of these stories involve living legends whose life stories have remained elusive and borderline infamous over time. Their secrets would be lost, were it not for them telling their stories to a biographer (chronicler) throughout the entire book. The main characters are clever, cutthroat, unapologetic, and fiercely dedicated to telling the truth. I finished the latter title with a resurgence of excitement to dive back into Rothfuss’s opus.
4.) Safety in Numbers
The fantasy genre lends itself to series. It’s just the way it is; I don’t make the rules. And I can tell you this: if you spend that much time investing yourself into another world, with complex characters, and an incredible magic system (hello, Harry Potter), you will want more. Finding the right series and the right authors is almost another blog post entirely, but if you do your homework/ take a chance and find a series you enjoy, this will continuously challenge your conceptual, concrete limitations. Bottom line: the more time you spend in a variety of worlds, the more comfortable you’ll be when you encounter a new one.
5.) The Kids Are Alright:
When I told my students that I was interested in trying fantasy, they were all-too eager to suggest titles. But, as anyone knows, you only get to make a first impression once. My students deliberated for days about my new TBR pile. They crafted only their favorites (“but nothing too crazy otherwise she’ll hate it”). They worked and worked on their list for me, and when it was all said and done, they not only had some of the best books I’ve read in a long time on the list, but they were excited to talk to me about it when I finished.
When I check out books to kids that I’ve really enjoyed, I make them promise to come talk to me about the book when they finish. This was some major role reversal… but I didn’t hate it. I came to work for a week D-Y-I-N-G to talk about The Raven Cycle with two of the girls who recommended it. Every day they’d rush into my office and I’d explode with, “I can’t even with Blue and Gansey! What is going to happen?!!!” They would grin and say, “I don’t know. Guess you’ll have to keep reading.” And then they’d skip off to calculus, proud of themselves for creating yet another fan.
It was so wonderfully frustrating. I was being book-talked to by seniors, but that has always been my dream. Talking to kids about books is one thing, talking with kids about books is another.
My students have loved creating TBR (to be read) piles for me, which is wonderful. It’s yielded student voice, collaboration, relationship building, book talking, gushing, “shipping” our very favorite characters, and hating the ones who are “literally THE WORST, Ms. Son”. But I think (for me) the best part has been how organic the whole experience has been, and it all stemmed just from me asking what they thought. There is value in being heard.
Don’t believe me? Ask them.