Books are incredibly important to me. I have been reading intensively for all of my life and this has mainly focused on the genres of fantasy and science fiction. The focus has shifted back and forth between these genres over the years, but I get something meaningful from both of them.
I have tried at various times to try and expand my reading. Mainly out a feeling that my preferred genres are not very sophisticated and I should try and better myself: this never ends well. I like a lot of non-fiction but find it dry: not so good to read before bed and best left for a holiday. I have found few classics that I have got any real enjoyment or mind expansion from. There are of course exceptions. The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh is amazing and I loved Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.
I always come back to fantasy and science fiction though. Over the last few years I had been reading more and more science fiction, and feeling that fantasy was perhaps being left behind. There are few new fantasy stories that have intrigued me in the way that the explosion of quality sci-fi has. However something has happened which has changed that. For a while now the background and mythos of one particular author had been nagging at me. I had been thinking how interesting this series was, even though I had found it flawed. I wondered how a roleplay might work in that world. The work in question is Steven Eriksen's 10 book epic Malazan Book of the Fallen.
Steven and his friend Chris Esslemont developed the world in their own roleplay, and that result is mindblowingly original, diverse and deep. Chris has written some of his own novels that run in parallel, and I've read some of these. However it is the Malazan books that had been haunting me. Finally earlier this year I could take it no more and I began a re-read.
This was a development. When I was younger I eagerly read and re-read my favourite authors and series, finding new things each time. However I had begun to feel that as there was so much else out there I should not re-read, but try to always pick up new material. This re-read has thoroughly repudiated that approach. While I had remembered the first two books as excellent, I had felt that the later quality had somewhat tailed off. This time round no such thing! The writing in books 3, 4 and 5 has been astounding. I have gotten so much more of the repeated investment in time than I was expecting.
These books are seriously astounding. I have just started book 6 and cannot wait to continue the journey. This has all got me thinking whether there are other old faves I would similarly get more out of now that I'm a little older and more grizzled.
I think the main point of this post is that reading for any reason other than you have a pull towards a particular book is, for me, a mistake. You can read for the wrong reasons, and for me the worst reason is that I think I ought to be reading something else. We live in an age when more is written each year than ever before. No one can read a tiny percentage of what has and will ever be written, so follow your nose. While the great classics and intellectual masterpieces are rightly praised, they are also not for everyone. Why make something that can be the source of so much joy so painful?
I know that part of the reason I run (come on, you know I was going to talk about running right?) is for the sense of adventure. Nearly all of the stories I love are tales of adventure, whether swords and sorcery or robots and spaceships. Loping along a trail over the Ridgeway makes me feel part of something similar, as does camping out or visiting somewhere new. And when I got home, physically exhausted and hungry, there's nothing I like better than to curl up in front of a fire with a cracking bit of fiction, and journey on in my imagination.