A lot of guys grow up thinking books are not for them, that they shouldn’t be lost in their own imaginations with the printed page lighting the way. But if you get the right book, at the right time, you see such bias for what it is: an illusion that might deny you some of the best adventures you’ll enjoy.
Outside of comic books, I wasn’t a big reader, but a few books completely blew the lid off the illusion that reading was lame.
The first was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. While I loved Star Wars and Star Trek, this was a different kind of cosmic adventure. The story was big. Really big. End of civilization as we know it BIG. And through a series of linked stories that tied together an adventure to save the universe over thousands of years, Asimov painted an epic story of smarts against vice and decay, all using a cosmic background. I’ve never been moved by any other Asimov stories, but as a young man, snowed-in and sick, the adventures of Hari Seldon and the mighty villain known as the Mule blew apart the lie I’d believed: that books couldn’t be wicked fun and smart at the same time.
Next was Lord of The Rings. This was a harder conversion to the faith of literature. I tried, three times, to get through the long, dull, plodding opening about hobbits, their histories, and whatever the heck pipe weed is, and gave up long before Bilbo’s birthday party came to a shocking end. Finally, my sister Jamie, who knew I would love it if I just kept going, gave me this piece of advice. “Once you meet Strider, the story takes off like a bullet. If you don’t like it after that, quit . . . if you can.”
I couldn’t. After Frodo and the Gang made to the Inn of the Prancing Pony, and meet up with Aragorn in hiding, Lord of the Rings finally delivered an adventure tale that beat, hands down, most of my attempts at Dungeons and Dragons (though not all).
And, lastly, the book that really convinced me that genre fiction was now part of my life for good, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. The novel ran like a virus through my family, and almost everyone read it, again, thanks to my sister Jamie who unleashed it on us when I was nineteen. The story of a kid with the potential to be the next Ghengis Khan, and humanity’s only hope, was drenched in emotional heartache from start to finish. Card showed me genre fiction could be about more than ideas, more than adventure. Genre fiction could also be about the human price of struggle, sacrifice, and strife. I’ve never read a book that fast in my life, and it made me late for work a few times, but it was worth the rush because when you’re hanging with a kid who is being shaped into a military monster, every time you let go of his hand, you don’t know what’s going to befall the poor bastard next.
These were the books that opened up the universe of literature for me. And it’s been an infinitely good quest for the next great book ever since. Hope they can do the same for you.
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