This week, there was a quite a bit of family drama. Needless to say, my 15 year old daughter is, in her own words, “super-grounded.” I took her phone away from her. Life has been hell for her ever since. Cue the rolling eyes on my part.
Anyway, she has been at a loss as far as what can occupy her time, aside from continually scrolling up or down on her meme sites. The last few nights, as she was climbing the walls, I calmly suggested she do what people actually still do that don’t have an electronics addiction: read a damn book.
This achieved a lot of push back unfortunately. She informed me that while I was at work on Friday, she already looked through my bookshelves and could find NOTHING to read! This is highly doubtful, but I did get together with her and start looking through books for her to read. And unfortunately, I think she might have been a little bit right.
It’s a problem I find myself having a lot lately too. So many books on my shelf were either “important” literary works, a book in a lengthy series, or books that are frankly just not fun to read. Then I came across two series of books I loved when I was her age. The Guardians of the Flame series by Joel Rosenberg, which begins with “The Sleeping Dragon” and the extra light and fluffy series “Castle Perilous” which begins with “Castle Perilous” by John DeChancie.
The first series is one which got in early on the trope of role-playing gamers are sucked into the world they are gaming in. All sorts of stuff hits the fan. Out of the many books and stories of this kind, I think Rosenberg did it best. Especially with his character of the eternal smartass, Walter Slovatsky.
The second series is about the Castle Perilous, a nexus between worlds which houses 144,000 doorways into infinite worlds. The guests of the castle each are imbued with magical Talents. Anything from conjuring to being good at swordfighting, to teleportation. It has been at leasty 25 years since I read any of these books, but the one thing I do remember is just how much FUN they were.
You don’t see that a lot anymore. I could read a Castle Perilous book in a day or two, tops. The story began and ended. I laughed. I was enthralled. I bought the next book when it came out. Wash, rinse, repeat. The books weren’t graphic bloodbaths or sex-fueled exploitation series. There were no lengthy descriptions of chicken dinners and heraldry. The characters were not the most dynamic, but they were fun and relatable. They made me look forward to reading the next one. They didn’t talk down to their audience either. They weren’t marketed as YA or anything either, but as a kid, they were highly accessible. As an adult, my mom, an avid reader, got a kick out of them. They were the equivalent of a night in, a day home, or a long drive. Clocking in at under 200 pages each, the books were a quick and satisfying read.
That was before people stopped reading for fun, I guess. The years when people swarmed the bookstores for St. Oprah’s newest endorsement or when literary profs told us to avoid reading trash, or when trash was marketed in $16 trade paperbacks (I’m looking at you, “The Girl on the Train.”)
Anyway, my daughter, who hates everything, actually liked the book. For the first couple chapters at least. Her attention was captured by golfing velociraptors and a 30 something man with a PhD. in Liberal Arts who wasn’t good at pretty much anything as a protag.
Talking about these books helped remind me why I got into writing in the first place. To tell a fun story. Escapism. Adventure. The implausible right there on the page, actually unfolding before my eyes. Nothing super important. Nothing deep and provocative. And no, not even something HBO would buy (along with my soul) for a million dollars.
I had forgotten books like this existed.
Maybe it’s time people start making reading fun again. Whenever I read, I know it is going to be an investment of time I usually don’t have. Normally I get frustrated that a book starts to tank after the first few chapters. After all, they got the attention of an editor, and the publisher got my $20 investment in a story. There isn’t a lot of loyalty past that these days.
I think an author makes a contract with a reader when they tell a story, to always be interesting. So few books these days, in my opinion, honor that agreement anymore. And the ones that do already have TV shows or movies in the works for them. I have become cynical in my old age I guess. Reading is no longer a pleasure. It’s a chore.
I hope something can prove me wrong about that one of these days.