I’d like to say that I have eclectic tastes when it comes to reading, but the truth is, most of my reading falls along fairly conventional lines. I read a lot of fantasy, mystery, and historical romance, with a sprinkling of science fiction, historical fiction, contemporary romance/women’s fiction and romantic suspense, and with occasional forays into nonfiction areas that interest me, such as history, science, and psychology.
Recently I began wondering just why the fantasy, mystery, and romance genres appeal to me so, and what the other books I enjoy might have in common with them. Last night, the answer came to me as a single word: hope. The books I choose to read, and in particular the books I truly enjoy, are all marked by a certain optimism, a belief that the majority of people are good and that happiness, love, justice, peace, and a betterment of the human condition are achievable ends.
Face it, the world is full of tragic and worrisome things, and the 24-hour news media inundates us with examples from around the world, making bad news, from natural disaster to “man’s inhumanity to man”, seem more prevalent than it really is. Yet even when we filter out the news, bad things happen to ordinary people. We’ve all lost loved ones, some of them before their time, to illness or accident. We’ve all been through or near some sort of natural disaster, whether storm or drought or fire or earthquake. If we ourselves haven’t been a victim of a crime, we probably know someone who has. And which of us hasn’t been the recipient of rudeness, bullying, or prejudice at some stage in life?
I don’t read to reinforce the negative, cynical, despairing view of the world fostered by the news media or my own bad experiences. I read to counteract that view, to strengthen the optimism that still whispers in my heart, despite everything I hear or have experienced. I read to remind myself to hold on to hope, to believe in love that lasts forever, in peace that’s achievable, in endings where ordinary people triumph over adversity, where justice is served and where the good guys win. Because those things are just as real, just as true, and far more prevalent than the doom, gloom, and disaster reported and predicted by the media, or my own negative experiences.
So I gravitate toward fantasy and romance and mystery, genres which tend to have an optimistic worldview by nature. I choose books from other genres carefully, generally avoiding the cynical, gloomy, and despairing, seeking authors who believe in the best of the human spirit. That doesn’t mean they’re blind to the worst; often, they confront it head-on. But their books are infused with a spirit of hope.
I don’t think I’m the only one seeking hope and affirmation in fiction. We as a culture are hungry for hope, for optimism, for the chance to believe that good can triumph in the end. The enormous popularity of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings bears witness to that longing. Both are stories of relatively ordinary heroes confronting unspeakable and enormously powerful evil forces, aided only by a few loyal friends. Neither Harry nor Frodo should be able to succeed given the overwhelming odds against them, yet each is able, through love and determination, to triumph. And in each series, it’s the ordinary virtues of friendship, love, trust, perseverance, and even self-sacrifice that ultimately prove stronger than all the powers of hate and destruction.
That, in the end, is why I read the books I do: not just for escape (though they provide that, as well) but because they affirm and strengthen my belief in lasting love, enduring friendship, the triumph of good, and the possibility of happy endings.
I’d like to hear from you! What do you read, and what do your choices say about your own beliefs and interests?