Beyond the (Literary) Pale

Like most young people, I had an aversion to reading. It was a bore, a drag. In short I didn’t see the value in it. I could persevere through school assignments but only with the diligence of a military man. I certainly would not, even if I were paid, read outside of school not recreationally. Seemed like a horror; I mean, I could use that valuable time to play video games instead!

Which is precisely why my transition to recreational reading was so strange- because it would not have transpired without video games. Let me explain: my first exposure to books outside the school praxis was a Warhammer 40,000 novel, the first in the Horus Heresy series which a friend of mine was so enthralled with. Edging me to read the book, and I lacking the spine to say no, I borrowed the book from him. While I didn’t not get past the first chapter what would leave an impression on me was the difficulty in the content. Just reading the first chapter gave me a headache as I tried to mentally imagine all of the fast paced action and narration splits which occurred; I was unskilled in following complex plots through text encompassing several hundred pages, so even though it was only a military sci-fi book (the genre which later would be easy beyond belief for me to read), at the moment it was nearly impenetrable for me to understand.

Time passed. I slugged through school and didn’t consider my attitudes towards reading any changed. This is where things get odd: when playing Halo 3, one day, I decided that in order to best prepare myself for completing the campaign on the Legendary difficulty I should fully immerse myself in the fictional universe, so as to provide a sense of progression and infusion with the story; I reasoned that this would give my some morale when the going got tough. Part of being fully immersed meant grabbing everything I could get my hands on: this included books.

At the time I didn’t not have much enjoyment for reading yet I thought that if I read something which directly connected to my “actual” recreational activities, a program which enhanced my primary enjoyment by means of fleshing out the world, then it would be a kind of reading which wasn’t dreadful. And you know, I was right; I enjoyed reading through the Halo books! I read every volume I could get my hands on. And when I had gone through all of the Halo books I turned to other video game novels; I found I enjoyed those as well: Gears of War, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and others, I all bought.

Eventually, however, I desired more action-y stories and so I delved back into the Warhammer universe by buying the Omnibuses to get through. While reading those stories often proved more difficult than the video game adaptations, I found it to be an immensely rewarding challenge to finish a honking 700+ page collection. Plus I found some of the volumes references to history and mythology to be a link to my other hobby: world war two history. So in this sense not only was my conservative patriotism fed but also my drive to incorporate sci-fi into what would otherwise be a boring re-telling of history. Both my imagination and political intrigue was fed and I was happy.

Of course, this was not the only reason why I started reading (though it was the most predominant). The final reason why I began reading in my free time was in order to experience a moving story. Previously I had played JRPGs for the engrossing plots. But as I played more and more of these games as time went on I grew more jaded at the endlessly re-hashed plots. Eventually I found little reason to play at all; the tired stereotypes, the tedious bosses with predictable weaknesses, the awful puzzles, and worn out stories predictable from the beginning, all drove me to quit. Nonetheless, it occurred to me that even though video games may be a (mostly) lost cause for stories, I am sure books are not; after all, books are just story, only without the tiring clichés.

So around the same time I was reading through the Warhammer omnibuses, I also bought some fantasy books. At this time I loved epic fantasy. So the author who stood out most was Tad Williams. The first novel I read by him was his Otherland tale, a four volume set of books about a cyber-realm ruled by a secret cabal dedicated to becoming immortal by stealing the minds of children. I loved every moment of it! The characters, setting, and unique concept and narration re-kindled my love for story-telling while refreshing my belief in the existence of genuinely unique stories yet to be told. After completing the final volume of Otherland I knew I had to continue this new found hobby of mine.

Truthfully it is very telling that I could only pick up a book if it connected to my life in some manner. It needed to either immerse me in a universe to propel me along a morale boosting objective, tell a fulfilling story, or it needed to speak to me love of political history. Above all, however, it needed to be exciting. I know that without the factors aligning the way they did I would never have started reading recreationally.

I felt the need to regal you with this story because in our current society where many people do not even read recreationally anymore, I think it is important to share the experiences which led to the world of literature. My case especially I think it indicative of the kind of path many people, especially the young people, are on: swimming as they are in the age of video games and reality television, many will only find the way to enjoyable reading through connecting it with a hobby which they excel at. I know many snobs see such sci-fi novels as “trash” literature, material not suitable to be read by anyone, let alone teenagers; in these people minds only the “classics” should be read. Yet this is killing the point. As I alluded to previously: America doesn’t read and (guess what), the classics are rather boring. Though they are hugely interesting once you gain a historical sense of their writing, before that moment they are boring, let’s be honest. A teenager isn’t going to willingly pick up Tess of the D’urbervilles and think, “oh yeah, this kicks ass!” No, just no. Any method which gets people reading should be encouraged. After all, eventually, with some kind words, maybe they will pick up the classics, if only there is someone there to link it to their lives in a meaningful manner.

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