Book Talk: Genre Fiction Brings People Together

There's no shame in loving genre fiction

When I first meet people and we start talking about things we like to do, I always mention my love of sci-fi TV shows and fantasy books. There's always one of two reactions: 1) OMG I LOVE THEM TOO or 2) Aaaaaaaah I see (accompanied by eyes glazing over and a slightly vacant nod). I once had a friend tell me, "Oh, I don't read genre fiction anymore, it's too childish for me." It crushed me because I felt like I was being judged for enjoying what I did, and if I didn't have a taste for the more "refined" or "literary" works, did that make me a second-class reader? Is loving the emotional journey and entertainment value of a story somehow less valid than loving the intricacies of prose and metaphor?

To be completely honest, one reason I love genre fiction is that it's all about transporting you to another world, whether it's in the past or future or on a magical world we've never heard of. Even mystery books transport you to a little microcosm that's separate from your world, even if it takes place where you live. I embrace the escapism; life is hard sometimes and it's nice to have a break. But beyond that, genre fiction is what has made me grow as a person. I would go so far as to say genre fiction is going to be a huge force in our burgeoning discussion about diversity and inclusivity in media and in our daily lives.

Build Empathy, Save the World

Experiencing someone's story, especially when that character is very different from you, really increases your understanding and empathy. I'm slightly ashamed of this now, but back in high school I wasn't super comfortable with discussions about the LGBTQ community because I didn't understand what it was like to be queer.  I read Ash by Malinda Lo, an own-voice queer retelling of Cinderella, and that's when it clicked: It doesn't matter whether someone loves a man or a woman (or both! or neither!), any love between two people is a beautiful thing. And that understanding helped me be a much more supportive friend and ally when a few friends later came out to me. More recently, I read Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give, and I finally had context for what it was like specifically to be black in modern America. I haven't been shy about advocating for people of color here on the blog and in real life, but sharing that experience through Starr's eyes and voice hit home the idea that we all have very different experiences and struggles based on our intersectional identities. 

Genre fiction has been my hope during periods of my life when I've been depressed, anxious, or just very lonely. Seeing your favorite fantasy characters (Stormlight Archive, looking at you) overcome their own demons and battle with mental health issues makes you feel less alone, and sometimes gives you the strength to battle your own demons for another day. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman helped me understand what it was like to battle schizophrenia at a time in my life when a good friend was spiraling. Without these books, I would have felt incredibly lost and probably wouldn't have been able to help myself or friends who were dealing with various mental health issues.

Stories have power, they connect you to other people and give you the vocabulary and tools to empathize and understand where someone else is coming from. It's not about the delicacy of their adverb use or the high profile name of the author, it's about the characters that you connect with and the people in your life that you might grow to understand better because of that connection. A friend and I were talking about how important Black Panther was to us as people of color, because we felt like our voices finally had a platform. Although Black Panther was technically only about the African diaspora, the seeds it plants in people's brains (people of color can be heroes and role models, dark skin can be beautiful, women can be intelligent and powerful without being a "bitch") can bring people of all walks of life closer together.

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