In my creative writing class the other week, we had to respond to the prompt “Who is your ideal reader that you write for?” It was based off of Stephen King’s book “On Writing,” where he describes his ideal reader to be his wife and how he always seeks to impress her with his stories.
While in that essay, I described my general ideal reader to be nature (whether that means the trees or other humans or the chipmunk outside my squirrel – I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s a difference in any of it. Yet in this essay, my targeted reader is 12-year-old Rory who hid her fantasy books with the covers of more sophisticated stories. You know, like John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars.”
I’m not sure who is at fault for my feeling of shame for enjoying stories about dragons, magic, castles; whether it be myself for my confidence not fully taking shape until much (much) later down the road, or for the structures in place that franchise those sorts of hobbies as weird. Or lame. I do know that the 8-year-old girl I babysat wanted her copy of “Percy Jackson” on her Kindle so that kids wouldn’t see she was reading a “nerdy book.” This was the same girl with the most inventive games for us to play: concocting recipes out of her cabinets with bizarre ingredients that would create magical meals for us to eat as we sat in the fort she built. I say fort, but she and I both knew it was a palace overlooking a city of people.
Mackenzie reading exclusively on her Kindle reminded me of when I would tuck the cover of my book into my chest so that the cover of crowns and swords wouldn’t face my peers. There’s multiple forces at play here. For one, gender norms and how these sorts of books are expected for boys and that romance-driven books are intentioned for girls. An underdeveloped sense of confidence is also at fault, as with any middle schooler there sits a general dissatisfaction of the self.
Really though, I think this sort of embarrassment about the books we read commonly seeps into adulthood. There are the books that are expected of you: the classics, nonfiction, memoirs, anything that enriches the mind. And I do love these books; “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer is perhaps my favorite book of all time. Simultaneously I love fantasy stories, ones where I step out of my body and am able to live life through a lens I never would have imagined without the help of that author.
Not only is it a form of disengaging from reality, but it provides commentary on situations that do exist in our real world. They provide commentary on social hierarchies, class structures, the role of race in forming those structures, and how where you’re born dictates the resources at hand. It creates a bridge where people who originally might not have been receptive to ideas that contrast their own now suddenly empathize with struggles they never imagined.
It’s insane to me. It’s wonderful.
It’s important we know, especially our kids, how important it is for them to read these tales and learn about a life outside their own.