Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gateway Books: When a Single Read Becomes a New Obsession

We've all heard of them.  You think "oh, I'll just try it once; it'll be no big deal."  But then one things leads to another and suddenly you're trying to convince yourself you don't need to buy food this week because you need your next hit.

That's right, people.  I'm talking about Book Addiction.
It starts out so innocuously:  just one little book, sitting so peacefully on a shelf, looking so harmless.  And then you have to have another.  And another.  And then you can discuss the merits of the classics and are greeted by first name when you enter the library or the bookstore.

It can happen to any of us, folks. 

The scariest parts of Book Addiction are those Gateway Books.  The ones that make you rethink your answer to the question "what do you read, mostly?"  Formerly you never would have thought that you were a reader of Science Fiction, but now you can describe in detail why it's such a big deal that Episode VII isn't going to use the expanded universe as canon. 

Here are the books that introduced me to various genres throughout my life.

As a young child, I read pretty much anything.  However, the first book that I remember fanning an obsession was The Gorgon's Head.  It had been sitting on a burgeoning bookshelf at my grandparents' house and I picked it up because of the picture on the cover.
I remember it looking so much cooler than this...
I remember tearing through this book and then through all of the children's books on Greek mythology...and then even into the adult non-fiction section.  Ah the 293.2 section...  Bless you, Dewey Decimal System!  I read so many books on the subject that when I took a class on Greek Mythology in college, I was one of two people in the class to score more than 100%.  No-so-coincidentally, the other over achiever was another girl who had fallen in love with these stories as a child.  As an aside, she was from Sparta, Wisconsin.  I didn't even have to make that up.

Ah, the tweens.  Such awkward years.  Fortunately for me, my forays into the adult shelves at the library led me to the SF/F racks, where I found a brand-new, shiny copy of Arrows of the Queen.  I know this book has some flaws, but I still get warm fuzzies when I re-read it.  Yes, the dialogue can be awkward and clunky, and yes, the plot is pretty obvious, and yes, the protagonist can be a Mary Sue but I DON'T CARE.  I love it and you'll never convince me it's a bad book. 
Horses and pink and purple and heroines and friendship and magic and OMG I LOVE THIS BOOK.
Arrows was soon followed by Piers Anthony's Demons Don't Dream.  This was the book that showed me that fantasy doesn't have to be serious all the time.  This books has video games and puns and fake Florida and puns and magic and puns...basically it's 360 pages of puns.  After realizing that this was only an installment in a larger series, I went back to the beginning of the series and read a whole bunch of them.
Did I mention the puns?

Dangerous stuff, here, people,  Tell your kids about the dangers of fun fantasy books.

Historical Fiction
I remember reading Clan of the Cave Bear in middle school, but no matter how much I loved that series, it never really kicked off a love of HF in general.  At the time, I'm not even sure I knew that was a thing.
Years later I would see The Other Boleyn Girl all over the place.  I didn't even want to read it.  Who would want to read about that horrible king who killed his wives?  Why would you want to read about Anne Boleyn?
...But I did.
And I was hooked.  I barreled through several of Philippa Gregory's other works before casting a wider net.  I don't read as much HF as I used to, but it's still a major player on my shelves. 
Putting the "fiction" in "historical fiction" for over ten years now!
The Classics
Had it not been for a couple girls I met when studying abroad, I might never have discovered that classics can actually be good books - and not just for people who want to look smart!
Pride and Prejudice was pushed into my hands and I reluctantly read it.
After that, it was a slippery slope to falling into Dickens (which, I admit, I have partially introduced myself to through BBC's miniseries), the Brontes, Tolstoy, Trollope, Gaskell and others.
The classics, man.  They're not just for boring literature classes!

Science Fiction
Yes, I read Ender's Game in college.  Yes, I enjoyed it.  But it didn't trigger the "I must read more of what this genre has to offer" reaction that a true Gateway Book will.
Yes, dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction technically fall under the Science Fiction umbrella.  (Hello, Hunger Games!)
The real "What else have I been missing" moment came late last year when I read Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach (aka Rachel Aaron).  From the tough-yet-feeling heroine (in her giant suit of space armor) to the adventure (in spaceships!) to men possessed by aliens (from outer space!) to invisible space monsters (!), this book made me desperately want to start cramming ALL THE SPACE OPERA into my face. 
Read this SPAAAACE.

Undiscovered Genres
If a book's premise sounds good, I will generally read anything once.  However, there are many genres that I feel comfortable saying "I don't really read that" because I have yet to have a really good hit of a Gateway Book from one of them.
  • Mystery.  This isn't to say that I haven't read a mystery book, or that I don't like mystery in my books. I just don't spend any time in the mystery shelves of my library or bookstores.  
  • Westerns.  My grandfather loved westerns the way I love fantasy or historical fiction.  I've just never really gotten into it.  I see the allure; it's just not for me.
  • Poetry. I have a tin ear for poetry.  I don't know or understand what makes poetry "good."
  • Biographies.  I love the idea of biographies, but with few exceptions I don't seek them out.
  • Steampunk.  Ah, the aesthetic without a purpose.  So many of the Steampunk books I've read are so similar it's hard to distinguish them from one another.  It's like this sub-genre is looking for a revolutionary to give it a direction.   
  • Horror.   In a way, I feel like Horror and Fantasy are cousins.  However, I generally enjoy sleeping at night and not being afraid of my own shadow.
 Any pointers for my next Gateway Book?  What were yours?

No comments:

Post a Comment