One of my last Bookish Thought posts was all about the benefits of deep reading, with a focus on literary fiction. From that post, I started thinking about all the other genres out there. While it seems that reading literary fiction tends to have the most benefit for readers and their brains, I’m curious about what we learn (or don’t learn) when we read certain genres beyond literary fiction.
I probably won’t be able to get to every genre or even find anything on every genre, but I’m going to at least try to get something for the more well known genres.
A phrase that I see surround the fantasy genre a lot is ‘escaping reality’, which sounds kind of negative to me. Urban Fantasy was one of the first genres that really got me obsessed with reading. I always enjoyed reading, but once I discovered Urban Fantasy, that was it. So the broad genre of Fantasy is one that I wanted to look into first.
The first article I found, Children’s fantasy literature: why escaping reality is good for kids, focused on children’s literature and why ‘escaping reality’ was good for them. However, I found that the author made some really good points that I think apply to any fantasy reader.
Something interesting that is pointed out is that fantasy tends tone grouped into popular culture, “and is therefore generally regarded as being of inferior quality to realism.” I understand this point, because sometimes fantasy or other non-realism books lean more towards pure entertainment. However, as we all know, every reader is different. Every reader takes something different from everything they read, regardless if it’s fantasy, realism, or something else. The author does go on to point out that even realism as a small aspect of fantasy to it considering everything written comes out someone’s imagination. Fantasy is just an exaggerated detour away from reality.
I am happy to say – or write? – that there are some good things about reading fantasy for any reader of any age (in my opinion).
One of the most obvious benefits of fantasy is that it allows readers to experiment with different ways of seeing the world. It takes a hypothetical situation and invites readers to make connections between this fictive scenario and their own social reality.
While I think this is something that could be applied to any genre, I think it could apply even more to fantasy or any closely related genre. Take Dystopian novels for instance. I think this is a great example of an exaggeration of a fictitious situation that could be applied to a current social reality. It opens our eyes to different struggles around the world or around the reader’s own community. It shows that any world has their unfortunate struggles and events, including our own. This is mostly done through metaphor, as many of you probably already know ;) or an allegory or parable.
Fantasy’s use of metaphor makes it more “open” to different readings and meanings. This allows fantasy to explore quite complex social issues in ways that are less confrontational than realism because it takes place in a world that is distanced from social reality (and can also be mediated with humor).
The article, Reading Fantasy Books Could Make You a Better Person, outlines how subjects from a study that focused on reading passages from Harry Potter with focuses on prejudice and other related topics. Those that spent the time reading Harry Potter passages came out of it with different perspectives.
The researchers saw a marked change in their participants’ acceptance of others, and they were more understanding of different social groups. Hearing about the divisions between characters, such as the distinct categorization of people into pure, half, and mud-blood wizards, introduced the readers to prejudice and showed them the effects of facing such issues.
Of course any piece of literature that focuses on these different issues will have the same outcome. However,
fantasy books may be the most effective at changing our thoughts. Because these imaginary worlds focus on people, places, and societies that aren’t real, they don’t have to worry about being politically correct when depicting scenes of prejudice, or even interactions between different groups.
While many of us amy use fantasy as a way to escape reality, we still learn something from it. At the every least we learn to use it as a tool to see things in our reality from different perspectives, because everyone sees things differently. I think that’s part of the beauty of not only reading, but reading fantasy and the amazing details and aspects that come from omens imagination. And the author’s imagination has to be inspired by something too, right?
I found this great passage by Pati Perret about fantasy from George R. R. Martin’s website that I think is quite lovely. I’m only going to give a small tidbit because I want to save the whole thing for a later time ;)
The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.
Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab.
We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think.
I haven’t read a lot of strictly romance novels, so I am definitely not an ‘expert’ in any way. I do enjoy them from time to time, but they are rarely on the top of any TBR list. While I’m thinking of it, drop a comment with good romance suggestion :)
I don’t know if I’m surprised or not, but the romance genre is the biggest and best selling in the book business (at least as of a year or two ago).
I didn’t find a lot regarding what you learn from reading romance, but I did find a couple articles, which I will say right now, aren’t exactly scholarly, they’re informative observations.
The first is a 2010 Women’s Day article, What You Can Learn from Romance Novels, a romance novel blogger outlines why it isn’t so bad if we read romance novels (I’m assuming that this article is aimed towards female readers). It’s often said that romance novels generate false expectations in readers of romance in reality, which the authors points out isn’t exactly true. She says that,
romance novels can and have pointed the way toward genuine expressions of affection for many readers, myself included. Reading romance helps me, for example, recognize truly elegant and heartfelt moments when I find them in the real world, outside the pages of fiction. Romance is neither the Fabio hair nor a grand, sweeping moment with a crescendo of music and flowers raining from the sky. Romance is a lifelong habit present in the way we treat those we love and choose to be with. Most importantly, romance is found in how we treat ourselves.
I agree that, if written right, a romance novel can definitely do this for a reader. There is more and more romance novels or at least contemporary fiction novels with a romance core that features a strong female lead who doesn’t immediately fall in love or get swept away by the handsome and rich male protagonist.
Romance novels can teach you that romance itself is not merely a single gift or a gesture, and it sure isn’t just knockin’ boots. Romance doesn’t even guarantee a happy ending … It’s not chocolate or hearts, diamonds or roses, yachts or airplanes. It’s not the gesture itself that creates the romance. It’s the motivation behind the gift or action, no matter what time of year it arrives.
In a Huffington Post article, Why Smart Women Read Romance Novels, similar points are given. Romance novels, for the most part, have veered away from ‘bodice-rippers’ and into more relevant stories (thank goodness and no offense meant to anyone who likes those). Romance novels tend to highlight all the aspects of a healthy relationship.
Rather than ignoring the existence of love in our lives, these romances celebrate how the best love helps us to grow. Modern romance novels (for the most part) insist that the love between two people be to both of their benefit.
So while I’m not sure that you’ll be or feel more intelligent for reading romance novels, in no way is it detrimental to readers.
I’ve recently discovered a newfound love for mystery and thrillers and it’s all Gillian Flynn’s fault (even though I’ve only read one book). I didn’t find a lot for this genre, but I did find some interesting things.
This Telegraph article kind of outlines why we might dive into mystery and thrillers. It’s stated that,
thrillers are, at root, escapist and consolatory. As Auden said, they speak the dream-language of the heart. They reassure us that cruelty, violence and suffering have causes and rational intentions, however grotesque, and that the forces of right and justice will struggle against them. In the vast majority of cases, the world is back on its axis again at the end.
You know this something that I would never have thought of. I always thought of fantasy as the ‘escaping reality’ genre, but I guess mystery/thrillers can join in. Mark Rubinstein’s Huffington Post article, Why Crime-Thriller Fiction, elaborates a little more.
One of the first things he points out is that he believes that
crime novels are so popular and gripping because the events they describe could actually occur. With some variation, the experiences they describe could happen to any of us.
I think this point speaks back to some of the points about fantasy. They give the possibility that ‘hey, this could happen or something similar’. It opens our eyes. But then he goes to talk about aspects of this genre that tend to make them enjoyable reads, not necessarily if we learn anything.
So to avoid having this ridiculously long post, I decided that I will have to do a part two with the other genres I decided on and could find different articles on. I have to say that I did not think I could learn so much about these things; who have thought that reading does more than entertain us :)
What do you agree with or disagree with? Are there some points that I missed? Do you think literary fiction is the only beneficial genre?