Some readers, much like seasoned smokers and their tobacco, or heavy drinkers and their liquor, settle in time to favoring their own particular brand and flavor over any other. It’s not that we can’t read another kind of book, bum a cigarette from a stranger, or order a new drink every now and then, and even enjoy it, but given the choice, we will return to our familiar and beloved territory, to the themes and authors we prefer, to the aftertaste and the smell we are used to.
I am a hard-core science-fiction and fantasy literature lover. I have grown-up in Narnia and in outer space in equal parts. I read many other fiction and non-fiction books, stories and poems, and love many of them, but my hometown is in a deep dark magical forest aboard a flying spaceship.
In the last years, with the ease of reaching and acquiring new and old literature online and having to settle less and less for what the library simply has to offer that day, I have mostly chosen to read well within my genre, regardless of publishing date.
Recently, I have been reading outside of my comfort zone, cast away by choice from my usual haunting grounds into new lands, to places with new rules and different textures. Contemporary (non sci-fi/fantasy) Fiction! This experience has heightened a duality I find about reading:
1. A good story is a good story for any reader
Just like a good beer, a well-written book telling a compelling story can go down as smoothly as the one made by your favorite brewery, if not better than some of the local brews, even if it’s made from ingredients you are not used to. It does not matter that you haven’t read anything related, perhaps it’s even better, since it allows you to enjoy the act of consuming the book, the smoke, the drink, without the constant comparison to others you’ve had like it.
The act of telling a good story is supra-genre.
2. Past works in the genre is a major part of the ability to properly appreciate a book
In the years I have been reading sci-fi and fantasy I have amassed an extensive knowledge regarding the history of the genre, the major works and evolutions, the significant authors and influencers. Any piece I read can easily be compared to dozens of others similar or related to it, and put into context.
I felt that knowledge gave me a better understanding of where a work stands within its own field compared to while reading outside of my normal genre. I could tell better if a subject, a plot-line, a scene, has been already beaten to death by other writers to the point where you are now pounding the ground above the grave of the flogged horse, and where creation harnessed originality to become unique, or sophistication paid homage to other works in the past in a satisfying manner.
Disarmed of most of this insight, I have a harder time discerning between the two. In the same allegory we started with, we need to have a few cocktails, several cigars, before we can enjoy a perfectly crafted Martini or an exquisite Cuban.
Once I stopped being disappointed none of the stories were set in the far future, and stopped waiting for a dragon to appear or somebody to do some magic, I actually had a great and very interesting time. There are pieces of the shattered truth we are all looking for in any creation. Still, somewhere in the middle I snuck away to take a break in the arms of a proper science fiction book to recharge my batteries.