fangirl: thinking about life, reading and escapism
In her acknowledgements to Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell notes that reading fanfiction was a transformative experience for her. I’m not sure if she is saying that it helped her think about her own emotions and personality, which, as an author, must be funneled through writing and reading. But I know that reading Fangirl has me thinking about these things. The main character Cath’s refusal to remove herself from the comfort of the familiar world created by another author (Cath is an author of fanfiction) is very much a refusal to confront her own world, her own self. This idea has given me pause over my love, not of a single world yes, but still mostly limited to young adult fiction. Why not push myself to read subject matter more directly gripping the world around me?
Comfort food is my first thought. For me, curling up with a good new YA (especially something light like Ali Carter’s Heist Society) does more wonders than a cup of chicken soup or a bowl of bubbling mac and cheese could ever. I think I need that; I think everyone needs that sometimes. As I write this, and as I read Fangirl, I have been dealing with a personal loss that has impacted
my life more thoroughly than I myself even understand. I’ll admit that I have been inhaling chick-lit-ish contemporary YAs, set within the familiarity of the real world but with lines that will not be crossed and safety nets to protect the characters, and me the reader. They have helped me push away a reality that is not very comfortable for me at the moment. Like Cath, my brain’s spiraling overdrive is best calmed by the easy distraction of a known quantity.
So now I wonder, have I always been seeking to lose myself in YA to push away the world around me? I think my answer is both yes and no, and overall I think I am okay with the balance that I strike. Even before this loss, my life has exposed me to realties less than pleasant. A YA web magazine contributor by night, by day my cape is a little different. I work in a field that constantly confronts me with harsh, biting truths that many of us find difficult to swallow. I don’t think I can intake that kind of information for leisure when I spend so much of the rest of my time attempting to understand and affect those issues. So, yes I think YA places a few restrictions on doom and gloom, and I think I seek that out. I prefer the feeling of hope underscoring most YA that allows even the most depressing dystopian battle for humanity to feel conquerable.
But I don’t think I am overly-limiting myself in the end. Unlike Cath, who refuses to leave a single world that she knows and understands, I have traditionally been open to any world—the more imaginative and unpredictable the better. Cath further protects herself by controlling the story herself, writing fanfiction that conforms with her own desires for the characters; in contrast, as a reader I am left exposed to the whims of the author who may twist my emotions without warning. Indeed, I unwittingly stumbled into some required introspection with this very read. I think this means that I have been open to different views of reality and human nature, and I hope this means I have been gleaning some of those views from what I read.
I am reminded of Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail) lamenting that so much of what she’s seen in life reminds her of what she’s read in a book, when really she wonders if it should be the other way around. Looking at my experiences, I think I am content with my personal-experience to knowledge-from-reading ratio (in fact, I think I might be comfortable with less personal experience). So I will continue to seek that pure curling-into-a-warm-bed feeling from time to time; I’ve recently realized how much I ask of my mind and body and so I may even allow myself that pleasure more often to grant my brain space to recharge. I think I will also remind myself not to get stuck in looking for only more of the same and to actually pick up some of those to-reads that I occasionally add on a whim. I hope to use YA to calm and to move forward both.
Perhaps these ideas of reading and escapism have been obvious to many of you. Somehow for me it took thirty years, a singular life event and Fangirl to help me put it together.