What kind of books do you like to read? Do you stick to one or two genres or do you like to hop around from genre to genre as your mood changes? Have you ever noticed your reading habits and preferences evolving over time? These are just some of the questions that Kriti considers today in this guest post! Kriti and I read a lot of books together, jumping across genres depending on how we’re feeling. She’s so skilled at reflecting on the books that we read and finding new ways to consider the story that I’ve never thought of.
It’s only natural that she’s able to do the same level of reflection when looking at the genres she’s read over time. Let’s see what Kriti has to say about weaving between genres and her relationship with fantasy books!
Recently, I picked up a childhood favourite series of mine. I grew up reading Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver, stories about a boy who lived in the Arctic Circle in a time when the world was still new compared to our current age. Six thousand years ago, after the Ice Age but before farming became widespread, humans still lived in smaller clans. Though the series has magic, a belief in natural spirits, omen and prophecies, picking it up again, more than a decade after I read the last book (the author started a new arc two years after the conclusion), I wondered what fantasy used to mean to me when I was younger. How has my relationship with fantasy changed? How have my reading habits evolved over the years? When Erynn asked me to do a guest post on her blog, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to pen down those questions and explore. I know her to be an avid reader and fantasy enthusiast from whom I have learned so much about magic and mythology and world building and know that she will likely enjoy this reader-side exploration of fantasy. I hope you will too. 🙂
We will start at Harry Potter. I was born in the 1990s so I was the right age when Harry Potter became a sensation. I was living in India and though I could work backwards and figure out how old I must have been, it does not matter. I was at a birthday party. It was my neighbours – they were two boys – one a year older than me and the other a few years younger. Not sure whose birthday it was but I went down the stairs to the basement and they had a big tv for that time and a movie was playing. It was the beginning of Harry Potter, the winter night when Dumbledore is switching off the lamps in Petunia’s street and waiting for Hagrid to show up with the bundle that is Harry Potter.
I don’t think I stayed long enough to watch the movie but when Papa sent me the first two books in one of his book packages, the connection clicked and I started to read. For the Harry Potter fans who became readers from reading Harry Potter, I am sorry, I am not that convert. I loved Harry Potter and spent many days and nights reading it, sometimes under the covers without lumus. But I was honestly just a reader. I read whatever came my way, which is to say whatever Papa picked for me. In India, I did not have the luxury of books. My dad had that in Canada and he continued to send books after books every 6 months and I continued to read.
I was never picky about genres. Like I said, I read whatever I could find and whatever I was given. I read the adult romances as a teenager even though my mom wasn’t for Danielle Steel at that point. I read Mills & Boons which she somehow did not object to and happily bought some for me. I read Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, Twilight, The Inheritance Cycle, Vampire Academy, classics, Nicholas Sparks, Nora Roberts, Jodi Picoult… one summer during my undergrad, I decided to read 50 books in 64 days and I did. It was fun and a bit of a blur now.
My point is I never thought about genre but Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, a series from my childhood that I didn’t know until recently was Fantasy made me think. When I was younger, I looked at authors and covers but it wasn’t until I moved to Canada in my early teens and I became the one buying books for myself that the world became a lot more interesting and confusing at the same time.
In our Indian book stores, books aren’t as organized as what you might find at Chapters or Barnes and Noble. The day I landed in Canada, I knew I was finally going to go to this place called Chapters where Papa found all my books. It was breathtaking. It was like a library that I could buy from. It was heavenly. But to find what I wanted to read, I had to ask myself what I wanted to read. Did I want magic or science? Did I want drama or thriller? Did I want romance or graphic novels?
I gravitated towards literary fiction. Then I discovered historical fiction and took a deep dive there.
Fast forward a few years and now I have a book blog and I couldn’t tell you how many genres and subgenres I know of. This knowledge has become such a part of me that when I hear a book name, I am instantly trying to categorize it. Sometimes, I reflect on the books I read in a month and think things like “Oh I read a lot of Fantasy this month,” and then the next month, I just won’t. I know lots of friends and family who gravitate towards genres, many with SFF, and I just cannot. I tried a Fantasy month a few years back when all I read was Fantasy and as fun as that was (Erynn and I read Strange the Dreamer duology that month, it was brilliant), I got a bit of a hangover and turned away from Fantasy. It just doesn’t appeal to me all the time. And that’s ok.
The advantage of growing up reading whatever comes my way is I can switch genres and still be very comfortable. I never have moments of “I should read more <insert genre>”.
If I could take back one thing, I would take back the categorization. There is an expectation that comes with labels, whether they are genres or age categories. If you know enough tropes in a genre then you are automatically thinking of which one might be played out. Or maybe it’s just me and my Data Analyst brain.
With Fantasy I am looking for amazing world building, an impressive system of magic and characters that either have agency or presence. When I picked up Viper’s Daughter from the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness – it didn’t matter. I got a reminder, from the past if you may, that stories don’t have to feel like the mainstream fantasy we see – Wheel of Time, The Witcher, Harry Potter, Twilight – to be grounded in our world and have something to learn from. We don’t have to visit stories for their genres. We can just go there for all sorts of other reasons including curiosity, a catchy cover, an invisible tug.
Moon of the Crusted Snow is a dystopia about an indigenous community in Northern Ontario that gets cuts from power and the South. They have to learn to survive on the land in the winter, and many winters to come. That book was so beautifully written and had so many connections to the land that it got me to pick up Viper’s Daughter because that was my childhood place of feeling like I was living with nature. The magic of animals that we see in our own world and the wisdom they possess, the care for nature and the respect for old ways, that can still be woven with magic into a story and make the magic feel like it is an undercurrent.
There is no evil dark one. There is no one power. There are no dragons. It is just life. Rooted in the world that is ours.
Fantasy does not have to take me through a magic portal into another land. Fantasy does not have to be about two kingdoms at war. Fantasy and magic are found in the characters as much as the world. That is actually one of my favourite aspects of The Sword of Truth series. While the protagonist Richard has powerful magic, he is untrained (he is a war wizard with both sides of magic and no one like him has existed in centuries) and has no way to access it until the moment he can. His mind and his compassion are what drive the story and convert people into his friends. There is magic, there is pain but Richard’s mind, in my humble opinion, is the key to that Fantasy tale.
Another one of my favourites is SK’s Children of the Nexus series. Similar to Strange the Dreamer, I just want to remember every word and recite them as bedtime. What makes that Stone Age-setting fantasy amazing? The characters! The magic is vast and manifests in many forms but there is religion, there are structures and there is injustice. There is a chance to glimpse our world in that world.
I read books for the stories. I grew up with bedtime stories, first my Amma telling them to me, and then me reading to myself from books. While genres are useful for marketing and, like I mentioned, many readers do read specific genres only, for me, I read for the story, no matter what the setting.
Do I read more Fantasy than I used to? Maybe. I didn’t track before and books weren’t labelled back then in my mind so I can’t say. But I definitely read Fantasy back then and I still do now.
One thing that did change though between then and now – When Papa used to buy books for me, there were some authors I always asked for. Those were the ones I knew and as I got older, those were my comfort corner. I read Georgette Heyer (regency romance), Agatha Christie (mystery), Jodi Picoult, Cecelia Ahern, Danielle Steel. And now, I don’t. I don’t have an automatic to-buy list. I loved Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor but I will not go out of my way to read her every book. If I come across it and it piques my interest, then sure.
I am on the hunt for unforgettable stories and no one genre or author has the claim to them.
Like always, Kriti offers a delightful examination of her reading habits that’s made me reflect on my reading choices, too. Right now I’m reading a YA fantasy novel, a historical literary novel, and I just finished a humour/sci-fi. But I also bounce between genres such as urban fantasy, high fantasy, romance, non-fiction, and really anything that catches my attention. I love fantasy and it’s my favourite genre, but I don’t stick to it by any means. Next month I’ll be working on a response to Kriti’s post, going into more detail about my thoughts about genre labels and genres!
In the meantime, check out Kriti on social media!
See you next time!