Every Tuesday, John Green posts a video blog for the week on YouTube. I usually keep up with the schedule of vlogbrothers videos – John posts on Tuesday and his brother Hank posts on Friday, though on particularly crazy, homework-heavy weeks, I might get behind. A few Tuesdays ago, John posted “18 Great Books You Probably Haven’t Read” on YouTube, and I watched it immediately, tempted by the prospect of knowing some of these obscure works.
And John was right. Almost all of the books were titles I had never read, and many that I had never even heard of. I can’t say I was surprised. Every year in the world of books, many incredible works are completely overlooked in favor of popular authors or the few titles everyone is talking about at the moment. As a writer myself, the idea intrigues me. What is it about the books that do make it big that leave dozens of hidden treasures gathering dust on the shelves like many of those that John lists?
I think I have an idea. There are a number of factors, some of which I briefly mentioned before, but I think it has to do with fads. Similar to fashion trends, certain topics for books, television, and movies go through phases of immense popularity. While there are certain genres that will always be popular, certain others lurk behind the scenes until they emerge from nowhere and take over the shelves for a few years. For example, vampire books dominated the shelves following the explosion of the Twilight Series. Harry Potter also had its own era of fandom that only continues going and growing. And now, we’re nearing the end of the boom of dystopian fiction with hits like The Hunger Games and soon Divergent. Many authors wrote about vampires, wizards, and dystopian alternate universes before they exploded in the YA fiction section of Barnes and Noble, and they’re going to keep being written about as long as there are still people interested in them, writing and reading these stories.
On a separate note, there is another growing fad I am not proud to see: the one that makes it cool for people to hate certain book trends and the people who love them simply because they don’t agree with their taste. Everyone is free to have their own opinions, granted, but tearing people down for enjoying something that you don’t is completely out of line. The reason I bring this up is that half of the books that I love are books I doubt many people know or would consider if they adopt this mindset.
I love reading vampire books. And magic books, and werewolf books, and basically anything related to the supernatural. Because Twilight has created a taboo around liking vampire stories as anything more than a guilty pleasure, I am afraid to bring it up in casual conversation. I feel as though I have to explain why I choose to read something that many people look upon with disdain. I am a passionate person about my interests; I flail and ramble excitedly about the things I enjoy, and being stifled by a fear of judgment about my personal interests is disconcerting, as is the fact that many people won’t give a book a chance to “wow” them if it’s about something as apparently distasteful as vampires.
I love fantasy fiction because I love being transported into a new and different world from the reality we live in. The differences between the supernaturally gifted characters often illuminate many of the issues we ourselves face. I love seeing the depth of an author’s exploration into their imagination to create alternate worlds with new traditions, languages and ways of life. I love seeing how different writers interpret these familiar ideas or characters and make them their own. I love analyzing all that there is to see in the books I read – I revel in rereading to search for more detail, hints of foreshadowing I didn’t originally notice, some scene I had skimmed that is actually key to a character’s development.
I admit, there are a lot of bad vampire and magic books out there. I haven’t read them all, but I have encountered several on my exploration of the genre. And they’re bad for multiple reasons, none of which connect to the fact that they’re about vampires – it’s because the plot is uninteresting and simple; or the writing is weak and unconvincing; or the characters are one-dimensional and I don’t connect to them on any level. But people have to realize that this is the case with any book genre. There are bad sci-fi books and bad romance novels and bad mystery novels, but people right now can be consumed by this very specific section of fantasy as being the worst. It saddens me to see since I know that despite the multitudes of bad works, there are some really good ones as well. These are the ones that I found only because my mom got me to read Twilight in the 7th grade after going to see the first film with her.
Now, I’ve come a long way since those days in many ways, but I am exploring and discovering what I enjoy (and tend to obsess over), whether it is as complicated as my future career or as simple as the books I choose to read in my (meager) spare time. Everyone has to start somewhere. I find that I enjoy books with strong main characters – maybe they’re brave, clever, determined, loyal, intelligent or just plain kickass – who are strong in their own, unique way. They are complicated and vulnerable. They have a past as everyone does. The heroines are often female but hey, I like to read about powerful (and usually sarcastic) women who save the world.
My main goal is to try to read broadly, as John has encouraged future writers to do repetitiously when he is asked for advice on the subject. Fantasy fiction is another genre out there that I have opened myself up to love, and with great success. College deals largely with moving out of our comfort zones, exploring and experimenting with who we are and what we enjoy. It breeds intense struggle and great triumph internally, but when you find your passion, everything clicks into place. It makes life more pleasant. In this circumstance, simply walking into a new section of the bookstore can change your life.