For many young adults, recreational reading severely declines after graduating from high school. Most are forced to set aside the pastime in order to fulfill their other obligations.
It’s hard to find the motivation to read when it’s something that’s not required of you. After being forced to read for most of our schooling, I think most students are relieved when that burden is finally lifted.
I’m no different. Once I got to college, the only reading I’d bother with was academic or what was required by my classes. I might have tried reading the books I like once or twice, but I’d trudge along, reading a few pages every few months during the semester until I lost interest.
“The Grapes of Wrath” probably took me a full calendar year to get through, and even then, it’s hard to remember what the book was about after reading it so slowly.
But I’ve found a new refuge in fantasy novels. As of writing, I’ve read three books this year alone, not counting the one I’m close to finishing right now. It might not sound like much to seasoned readers, but it means the world to me. I’m also aware of the fact that fantasy is extremely popular, and that my appreciation of the genre isn’t controversial whatsoever.
I’m just surprised, that’s all. I always felt that fantasy had this vain aloofness that made it undesirable. The stories, while unique and interesting, didn’t really mean much to me. Take away the magic powers and fire-breathing dragons, and most are just stories about good and evil, or at least they used to be.
I’d have a lot of fun reading them, but I’d walk away with nothing to think about, no morals to question and no answers to guide me. It’s similar to that “potato chip” feeling I discussed in my article about animation earlier this year. Perhaps I feel this way because the market is just so saturated with trashy novels that were made for mass appeal.
Either way, I never saw fantasy novels as an option. And then a friend recommended a novel by Brandon Sanderson. Apparently fantasy fans view Sanderson’s works as instant classics, and it’s easy to see why. He’s responsible for writing the final books in the immensely popular fantasy series “Wheel of Time,” a series that was recently adapted to television on Amazon Prime Video.
The novel my friend recommended was “Mistborn: The Final Empire.” At 541 pages, it would soon be the longest book I had ever read. Accordingly, it took me months to get through, with multiple restarts. At busy points in the semester, it collected dust on my shelf. When I did eventually pick it up, however, I was instantly enraptured. The book really is a page-turner, and I read through dozens of pages with each sitting.
It follows a thieving girl named Vin as she discovers her place within a world plagued by inequality and hardship. Those of noble blood are sometimes born with magical powers, or what Sanderson calls “allomancy.” After ingesting different types of metal, an “allomancer” can use it as fuel abilities such as super strength, enhanced senses and the ability to push or pull metal objects.
But what’s most interesting, in my opinion, is the political intrigue. Vin and her friends live under an oppressive regime that they hope to topple, and assassins lurk around every corner. In the sequel novels, this aspect is especially at the forefront, which is something I really enjoy.
It shattered my illusion that fantasy novels couldn’t be deep and thought-provoking. As with animation, the interesting stuff does, in fact, exist — you just have to know where to look.
After reading “Mistborn: The Final Empire,” I was open to reading like I never had been before. I revisited a book that another friend recommended called “The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin, and was blown away by its complexity. For the first time ever, I felt like a fantasy novel actually had something to say. It appears I’m just late to the party.
This is why I’d recommend fantasy novels to college students, or anyone who struggles with reading recreationally. They’re the perfect balance between thought-provoking, academic texts and fun, page-turning escapism. And if you’re looking for somewhere to start, consider giving “Mistborn” or “The Fifth Season” a try. You probably won’t regret it.