After hosting a series of short-term renters and Airbnb guests over the past few years, Katherine, an old friend, has come to be my new housemate. She plans to stay for a long while.

 

We have many things in common, not least of which is an addiction to books. It has been a comical scene as we pore over each other’s collections, exclaiming that we’d always wanted to read this or that, and, alternatively, shoving a book in the other’s direction saying, “Oh, if you haven’t read this one, you MUST!”

 

The books I get most excited about, lately, are in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. I loved The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, in which the good and the evil characters are topsy-turvy: the dismal town’s leadership council and an order of nuns turn out to be wicked, and an ogre, a witch, and a dragon turn out to be the ones who save the townspeople.

 

A short story, “The Story of Your Life,” by Ted Chiang (which became the movie “Arrival”) deals with physics, with linguistics, with bigotry, and with our receptiveness – or our failure to be open – to what could immensely broaden the scope of our lives.

 

Helene Wecker’s wonderful novel, The Golem and the Jinni, stretches the reader’s willingness to consider the minds and hearts, the thoughts and motivations, of two totally unexpected main characters: Chava, a Jewish golem and Ahmad, a Syrian jinni, who meet in New York City in 1899. Go ahead, wrap your mind around THAT premise – or, far better, just read the book!

 

Then there is the late lamented Terry Pratchett, whose books are so witty and wise that the reader soon overlooks how bizarre they are. Filled with trolls and vampires and imps, Pratchett’s books take on truth in journalism (The Truth), the illusion of the gold-standard monetary system (Making Money), war (Monstrous Regiment), misogyny (again, Monstrous Regiment), and organized religion (Small Gods) . . . for starters! They bring the reader face-to-face with these issues, approached from such unexpected angles and so painlessly that she doesn’t realize she’s being drawn into the discussion until she’s already immersed in it.

 

The most wonderful aspect of fantasy and sci-fi literature, to me, is how, when we are in those worlds created by the authors, we must accept differences. If characters that we care about happen to have fuchsia-colored skin or elephantine noses or more appendages than we do, nevertheless we keep on interacting with them because we want to know their stories. If their culture has different values and mores and rules than ours, but we’re deep into the story and beginning to understand those differences, that’s a bonus, and we keep on reading, keep on being fascinated by the characters and why they behave as they do.

 

In our contemporary climate of “them” and “us,” of “right” and “wrong,” of black and white with no gray allowed, an excursion into a good book of fantasy or science fiction seems to be just what’s called for to expand our awareness, our tolerance, our acceptance at a time when we need them so desperately.

 

Katherine has carried an armload of you-gotta-read fantasy and poetry books to her rooms, and I have a new stack of utopian and spirituality books borrowed from her collection. Winter’s coming, the living room couches and rocking chairs have warm lap-robes strewn about, the fireplace will be alight more often now, and we will be happy as pigs in mud, reveling in shared books, new ideas, well-turned phrases, and widening horizons.

library photo

 

12 replies
  1. Anna
    Anna says:

    I recall your recommendation of Terry Pratchett’s books, and haven’t yet read one… would you recommend one to start with?

    Reply
  2. Mike Trenshaw
    Mike Trenshaw says:

    I will never forget the evening call when we were talking about books on tape. I had often sung the praises of George Guidall and how he changed his voice to dozens of believable characters. You shot back with the reader for Terry Pratchett’s book. His name was Nigel something. You suggested the book “Feet of Clay” and I checked it out first thing. To this day, I can picture the world that was painted in the story. I’m sure my interpretation is far from yours, or others, but isn’t that what it’s all about?

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Especially with Pratchett’s writing! Any “interpretations” are up for grabs. And the best thing, I think, is just to go along for the wise, witty, wacky ride!

      Reply
  3. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    And have you seen that Philip Pullman has a new one out! I’m saving it for summer holiday reading (southern hemisphere, of course).
    Here is New Zealand we have a new government and new Prime Minister, a woman of 37, who speaks of governing with kindness. WIll the sky fall?

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      I’m waiting for my delivery of the new Pullman book – though it’s not as if I need more books waiting in line for my attention!

      Can one have Prime Minister envy? If so, I’ve got a bad case of it now!! But please feed my envy by keeping me informed about how well she serves.

      Reply
  4. Ann Medlock
    Ann Medlock says:

    I subscribed to Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine when I was a kid. Spent days in Other Realms. Now, not so much. But “Omelas”–the fantasy short story we talked about–will haunt me forever. It so wrenchingly describes a dilemma of our lives.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      At your recommendation, just this week I got around to reading “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula LeGuin. I found it toward the end of a collection of her short stories, “The Wind’s Twelve Quarters.” I’ve had that book for decades, and apparently never got as far as “Omelas” until now! What a powerful thought in so few pages. “Haunting” indeed. This is one I want to discuss with others, to help me come to grips with it.

      Reply
  5. Chris Belding
    Chris Belding says:

    Cynthia…I share your love of sci-fi and fantasy reads, as you know. I would add to the mix any film by Pixar. Their genius is dealing with important life issues in very creative ways and having fun in the process. Read on!

    Reply
  6. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Isaac Asimov spoke of sci fi saying it is a way to prepare for the changes that will inevitably come. These days I find myself wishing more people had read more sci fi, but then I often wish more people read period.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Amen, Sistah! Then again, sometimes I wish that our contemporary world did not quite so resemble some of the dystopian sci-fi I’ve read . . . and I long for places and societies like “Ecotopia.” At least I’m living in the right segment of the country where that might happen!

      PS – how can you say that people aren’t reading? Seems to me they’re reading all the time, from those little bitty screens in front of their noses while their thumbs dance furiously over the attached little-bittier keyboards! Oh, that doesn’t count as reading, huh . . . Amen, Sistah!!

      Reply

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