Twice a year, I stock up on books. I tell myself that I’m getting everything that I’m going to read for the next six months, but something, a Brandon Sanderson or Jim Butcher book for example, always comes up. A lot of what I try to do is find things to read that will not only prove interesting, but also will help me become a better writer.
To pin down a specific type of book is almost impossible for me since I don’t often read similar books back to back. I try to seek out titles that I’ve heard are interesting and actually have some appeal just from the back cover and/or first few pages. Years ago, I picked up A Game Of Thrones, not because I’d heard good things about the series, but because the book sounded interesting. I didn’t read it until nearly six months later and was taken away with what I’d read.
Many times, I’ll have trouble seeing details with my mind’s eye, even in the best books. When I read books, the rooms are often bare, save for anything the author explicitly says on page. George R.R. Martin managed to make me see more than what he’d written, especially when it come to the first scenes involving the discovery of the direwolf pups. Later scenes, such as the King’s Road, appeared vast, creating miles upon miles between cities in Westros; Winterfell and King’s Landing are truly a continent apart, not just because of where they appear on a map.
I suppose, when I read, I’m wanting to be taken somewhere. It can be somewhere familiar or more strange than anything I could ever imagine. The story needs to be intriguing and written with at least an average amount of skill, though more skill is better. The beaten path, however, has little appeal to me. I’ve never been greatly drawn toward Shannara books, not because they aren’t capable or interesting, they’re just too much like Tolkien.
In many respects, too many things are like Tolkien. When I attended the Patrick Rothfuss Signing in March, he mentioned that most fantasy writing had become nothing more than a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of Tolkien. If we’re lucky.
Honestly, I’m not interesting in writing or reading another variation on fantasy tropes. I want to find something I can’t predict, something that I can be drawn in by and swept away with. I want to meet characters I will care about and watch them make decisions that will bring them adventure or possibly get their head stuck on pikes and mounted on the city walls. I want to read something new, not something old that’s been rehashed by a new writer. That’s why I like Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss. I think it’s also why people latch onto things like A Game of Thrones and Stephen King’s Dark Tower books.
Going different places and discovering different things is what fantasy should be about. I feel this needs to be expanded as well, not just to the farthest stretches of the fantasy genre, nor to its cousin science fiction. Doing different things, making new characters, and discovering different stories should be the goal of all storytellers, all publishers, and all writers. It would be a much more profitable enterprise, despite when the likes of James Patterson And might tell you.
I want to read something I can sink my thoughts into and surrender my dreams to. I want books that will be amazing for what they try to do, not just how popular they are when they do it. That’s why I was drawn to Maureen McHugh’s Nekropolis despite the fact that it was an out of print book that I picked up from a used rack. It was a good, bittersweet story in a somewhat realistic locale, even though it took place in a future society with technologies that are currently theoretical at best, all while keeping the story about the characters, not the so-called “splendor of the future,” like classic Star Trek. I want to read something as mind-bending as the movie Inception and as vivid as the anime Akira. Is that too much to ask, to find something unique and amazing?
Of course it is. That’s why its my job to write it. No one else is going to, so that leaves things up to me.