October 2, 2009

Fantasy 101 by Nymeth of things mean a lot

I am out of the country at my sister's wedding in India with a quick stop in London on the way back! While I am gone some lovely bloggers have stopped by with guest posts! Woohoo!

Today Ana (aka Nymeth) of the terrific blog things mean a lot shares with us how everyone can like fantasy books and gives some great recommendations for all kinds of readers. Thanks, Ana!

Fantasy 101

A few months ago, when I wrote a post on why I read fantasy, someone commented that what I’d written was more of a list of reasons not to reject fantasy than a list of reasons to read it. This was fair enough, and it got me thinking.

I suspect that one of the reasons why I've never given much thought to what makes fantasy distinctively appealing is the fact that I believe that genres are fluid. They're conventions that tell us more about how books are marketed, sold and perceived than about what books are. For me, the line between fantasy and non-fantasy is not nearly as well-defined as people tend to believe. This also means that I see the genre as a lot less formulaic and more diverse than what is generally thought. The word "genre" has become a tricky on: we've come to associate it with words like "samey", "limiting" or "narrow", which is a pity. Fantasy is varied enough that there's a book out there for every reader, even the proudest of literary snobs. (Case in point: Harold Bloom loved Little, Big by John Crowley, which is also one of my favourite fantasies.)

There are probably as many reasons to love fantasy as there are fantasy readers, so I thought that it might be useful to consider some of the things that might scare people away: the belief that fantasy characters are stereotypical or that fantasy novels are poorly written and leave no room for ambiguity are really non-issues, as reading a good fantasy or two will dispel these notions (which isn't to say, of course, that this isn't true of some fantasies, but there are bad books in every single corner of the bookstore). I know that some readers are put off by characters or worlds with strange names, by gigantic tomes with maps at the beginning, or by endless series. But worry not: there's much more to fantasy than that. The key to finding out what kind of fantasy you would like is to ask yourself what kind of book you like in general. So:

  • For the classics fan: Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrless
  • For the lover of beautiful language: Little, Big by John Crowley, Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente
  • For the fan of multicultural literature: The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson
  • For the reader of mysteries and thrillers: American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Thraxas by Martin Scott
  • For the sports fan: Summerland by Michael Chabon
  • For the Jane Austen lover: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • For those who love quiet, subtle and bittersweet ghost stories: A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle and One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak
  • For those interested in folklore: Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle, Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner
  • For fans of campus novels: Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
  • For the art history lover: Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand
  • For fans of historical fiction: Fudoki or The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson, The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers

    ...and I could be here all day. I hope some of you will find these recommendations useful. If you don't read fantasy, what is it that has kept you away? And if you do, what would you recommend to those interested in trying it for the first time?

    Thanks for sharing this with us, Ana! I am already putting Jonathan Strange, The Stress of Her Regard, and Little, Big on my list! And, of course, The Salt Roads will probably be the first fantasy book I pick up!

    Come back tomorrow for another fab guest post! See you soon!


    1. I really liked your Why I Read Fantasy post.
      I am bookmarking this post- more recommended books to look for.

    2. Nymeth,

      Brilliant comment: "...the fact that I believe that genres are fluid. They're conventions that tell us more about how books are marketed, sold and perceived than about what books are."

      So perceptive, and so well said!

    3. What a wonderful post! I love the way you offered segues into fantasy from other genres. And yes, genres are fluid, aren't they?

    4. Great post! And thank you so much for the recommendations.
      This is definitely bookmark-worthy. :)

    5. Thanks everyone! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post!

      And thanks again for having me, Rebecca! I hope you're having a wonderful trip.

    6. Great post Nymeth. I'm definitely going to have to look
      some of these books up. There are some there that I haven't heard of.

    7. My eyes were opened a little here -- I admit I tend to think of fantasy as unicorns and/or characters with made-up names.

      I loved "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell", and I didn't realize it could fit in the fantasy cagetory. As you made the good point, genres are sometimes fluid!

      Some of your suggestions look good, Nymeth!

    8. What a great post! I love your "primer" for fantasy newbies with picks directed to their own interests! Wonderful!

    9. Well. I consider myself a fantasy fan, and I don't think I've read ANY of these. Shame on me! Thanks for this great list!!

    10. Rebecca - Thanks for have Nymeth as a guest!

      Nymeth - Thanks for spreading the word about Little,Big. It is a treasure. So is John Crowley.

    11. A wonderful post :)

      I particularly enjoyed the recommendations (I being quite a fantasy lover) and I have added them all to my evergrowing list of books to find & read. I expect to like them all (or at least most of them) so thanks :)

    12. Hi, Ana!

      I loved your post. I don't think fantasy books are poorly written ~ I think the imaginations of most fantasy writers are the most vibrant.

      Thank you for the gr8 post :).

    13. Such a great post! Fantasy IS fluid, and that's the beauty of it. I am sometimes in awe of the way so many talented writers have taken fantasy and come up with something that's really totally different. The genre is constantly redefining itself, and it is such a pleasure to share in that evolution as a reader.

    14. I enjoyed the post, Ana! I love how you were able to categorize different fantasies to showcase how varied fantasy is, and how it is fluid. It covers everything in literature! REally well done. And I can't find a copy of Little, Big everywhere, now that I'm looking for it to read!

    15. Great post! It looks like I'll have to try both Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and A Fine and Private Place soon. Cheers!

    16. Thanks Nymeth for a great post. I just love fantasy period!

    17. Great post. In my teen years I cut my reading teeth on fantasy. Loved, loved, loved them. Fantasy is very fluid and has greatly changed over the years. Amazingly I haven't heard of a single book on your list, except I know who Gaiman is. I'm slowly getting back to my fantasy roots. Great post.

    18. "There are bad books in every corner of the book store" How true!!! thanks for pointing out what a varied genre (if we must stick to labeling things in genres) fantasy can be.

    19. I really enjoy the way you are able to pair book titles with a wide variety of book types, which is an excellent way to demonstrate, in just a few short lines, that fantasy really is for everyone. Labels are a blessing and a curse. I like having genres and classifications as it helps direct me to the sections of stores I want to look at first and foremost, but I hate that they can also put people off. I think we have a tendency to make lists, to classify, to categorize as humans and we would do it regardless of whether the publishers did it for us, so ultimately it is probably a moot point. I do appreciate it when people take the time to give a genre a chance, no matter what their preconceived ideas of it are.


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