At the end of high school, after I'd packed up my childhood bedroom and gone to live with my oldest sister in the outskirts of Sydney, I had the most splendid fifty-minute commute to attend a childcare course in the city. Most of the trip could be spent with my face in a book, pounding through chapter after chapter, and then a spark of blue would catch my eye and for one impossibly glorious minute or two, we crossed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, steel span above and glowing water below. It was a daily wonder that I still dream about, not just for the miraculousness of the view, but the uninterrupted reading time.
I quickly ran out of books to read on the daily commute.
Once I had reread my favourites, I would spend long moments staring at my librarian sister's shelves and stacks, head cocked and spine skimming, judging each book by its cover. Eventually she thrust a book in my hands and ordered me to read it. There were sorcerors and a castle on the cover and a boy holding up a sword. Really? "Just read it," she sighed at me.
And so I did.
And then I churned through the other four books in the series - the first series I'd read since I gave up The Babysitters' Club all those years ago. I'd forgotten the sugary sweet satisfaction of reaching the final pages and knowing there was more to come, and the itchy anticipation of waiting to get my hands on the next one. And then my sister pulled out the sequel series, another five books of magic and adventure and swords and weird and wonderful creatures. And then the thick companion novels. And the prequels. And that was it. I was hooked, not always on the stories themselves but the fat rows of matching novels stacked on the shelves and the promise that there's always an answer to "what happens next?".
There's a Neil Gaiman lecture doing the rounds about fiction being a gateway drug to reading. I linked to it way back when because it's awesome and curious and heartbreaking, all at the same time. David Eddings' Pawn of Prophecy was my gateway into fantasy. And science fiction and fantasy have been with me at some weird and wonderful moments in my life since. Reading fantasy was a stepping stone into Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying, which is how I met Lovely Husband (don't judge). And then later, Lovely Husband sent me spinning off into science fiction with David Weber's Honor Harrington series (Hornblower in space!) and Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series. I finished reading David Drake's 'In The Stormy Sky' moments before I went into labor with Dear Boy. Over the first six months of his life, I read The Hobbit aloud to him curled in my arm or stretched out beside me on the floor. I read The Lords of the Rings years earlier in white hair-net and gumboots, in the lunch room of the chicken factory.
There was a really interesting moment in Gaiman's lecture where he talks about the power of SciFi and Fantasy in particular:
"I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?
Someone had imagined a future with incredible technology and lives lived in space and these kids had been captivated by it, so much so they set out to create it themselves, to make reality what others could only imagine.It's simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls." (Gaiman 2013)
I'm very much looking forward to introducing Dear Boy to longer chapter books, to series we can read together all year long, to Harry Potter and a boy called Garion.
Are you a science fiction or fantasy reader?