Who wouldn’t want to wave a magic wand and fix life’s problems? For many, escapist fiction is a way to put aside daily stresses and take a break from reality. Literature can help you explore the broader world, refresh your mind and provide time to regroup. Help your patrons escape with a good book and put a little distance between themselves and what’s causing them stress.
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Shannan Rosa [00:00:17] Welcome to Two Librarians and a Microphone, a podcast sponsored by Ingram. I'm Shannan Rosa, a Collection Development Librarian.
Beth Reinker [00:00:25] And I'm Beth Reinker, Manager of Collection Development for Adult Materials with Ingram Library Services.
Shannan Rosa [00:00:31] And we're talking about escapism. Who doesn't want to take a step back from reality and escape now and then? Many news and entertainment sources tout the benefits of slowing down, simplifying, unplugging, and escaping, whether literally or figuratively. One recommendation that is common among these sources is reading a book! Books take us away from our everyday stressful lives, to places full of adventure and wonder where anything is possible. How many other things in the world can deliver that at so little cost? Hello, thank you for joining me in the second installment of a series of podcasts discussing issues important to public librarians as we continue to try to serve our communities in a world with rapidly shifting needs and circumstances. I'm Shannan Rosa, a Collection Development Librarian here at Ingram. I'm joined today by Beth Reinker, who is Manager of Collection Development for Adult Materials for Ingram Library Services. We'll be tag-teaming the topic of escapist reading. Life is hard. Books can help. When the topic of escapist reading comes up, I always think of what C.S. Lewis said: "The only one who needs to be concerned about escapism is a jailer."
Beth Reinker [00:01:40] I think that everyone is under a lot of stress these days, for a variety of reasons, both personal and cultural. For many of us, reading is a way to put aside our daily stresses and inhabit another world for a while. It's a break from our reality, and Shannan and I want to talk more about how reading gives us and our patrons that break from our daily worries. When we started talking about escapist reading, I did the thing that any former English major who became a librarian would do. I looked up the term escapist. And then I got really annoyed. The Anthem Dictionary of Literary Terms and Theory says that, "In literary criticism, escapist describes anything that allows audiences to immerse themselves in a fictional world, and escape from reality." Popular entertainment, such as Hollywood movies, is often described and derided as escapist. In contrast, literature confronts truth and reality head on. I often hear escapist reading called a guilty pleasure, as if it's something that is not so good for us. To be fair, the definition does go on to say, "People approach culture in different ways and get different benefits from it and there's nothing wrong with that." But all of this made me start thinking about escapist reading and what it really does for the reader, which led the two of us to some interesting discussions about why readers need escapist fiction and nonfiction.
Shannan Rosa [00:03:00] Escapism allows us to put a little distance between ourselves and whatever might be causing us stress, or to get away from our day-to-day and explore the broader world. Escapist reading takes us to a place where we know that everything is going to be resolved. As Beth mentioned, the term escapist sometimes comes with a negative connotation of being a guilty pleasure, but we disagree. Sometimes we hear people say that the reader is putting his head in the sand, ignoring problems, or postponing them to be dealt with later. But it can allow time to regroup, to pause, and gather steam to push ahead later, make a fresh start, build courage. And there's a lot of great literature that wears a genre label.
Beth Reinker [00:03:38] As I think about it, I come back to the idea of why people read genres, and this is a subject that both Shannan and I are very passionate about as readers and as librarians.
Shannan Rosa [00:03:48] In genre fiction, a protagonist goes through some kind of ordeal, but things are okay in the end, and the reader can identify with that character and believe that things will turn out okay for himself or herself, too. It can be very psychologically satisfying when there's a happy ever after, the good guys win and the bad guys are defeated, and that's the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction. Different genres give the reader different experiences.
Beth Reinker [00:04:13] I love that concept. Romance is my favorite genre, but I also enjoy gory serial killer thrillers and urban fantasy. It just really depends on my mood.
Shannan Rosa [00:04:22] That makes sense because different genres give you the chance to explore different experiences, and where you are psychologically at a given moment may influence your choice of one genre over another.
Beth Reinker [00:04:33] The appeal of romance is that it's about women who win. The protagonist is assertive and makes decisions for herself, gets the relationship she wants, and usually accomplishes something else too, such as making peace with her family or killing all the demons.
Shannan Rosa [00:04:48] Yes, and someone who wants to read about men who win, might pick up an action adventure novel or a western that's about someone who is brave and gets things done, a hero who perhaps saves his community from a disaster or makes a positive change of some kind.
Beth Reinker [00:05:01] If a person is feeling powerless, he or she can identify with a fictional character who experiences success and help themselves gain courage.
Shannan Rosa [00:05:10] An outstanding action novel that is being published soon is Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell, about Shakespeare's younger brother, a character you might not think of as an action hero, but we're hearing good things about that book.
Beth Reinker [00:05:23] It's no secret that one of my favorite romance authors is Kristan Higgins, and her latest, called Now That You Mention It, is a little darker than her past work. The heroine goes through pain and trauma, but it's a romance and you know at the end, it's all going to be worth it.
Shannan Rosa [00:05:38] A Christian romance that many readers have been waiting for is by Francine Rivers. The Masterpiece is about broken people who find redemption and each other.
Beth Reinker [00:05:47] Moving on to mysteries. A crime happens and knocks the world out of balance, and the rest of the novel is about bringing the world back into balance. There's also the satisfaction of solving a puzzle.
Shannan Rosa [00:06:00] I think mysteries appeal to people who would like the world to make sense and for justice to prevail, because in our world that doesn't always happen. A couple mystery titles I'd like to mention are by favorite authors who are doing something a little different for them. Walter Mosley's latest is a standalone, or it could be the first of a new series, about a detective who's a former NYPD investigator, Down the River Unto the Sea. Lauren Willig has a standalone or series launch set in Gilded Age New York, The English Wife. Both of those are extraordinarily well-crafted mysteries and are highly recommended.
Beth Reinker [00:06:34] Horror is about facing things that are imaginary and that gives the reader a sense of control, because the scary things in the real world are usually outside our control, like death, poverty, and disease. Similarly, thrillers are about scary events that a protagonist is trying to prevent from happening.
Shannan Rosa [00:06:51] Fear is fun when it's in a controlled setting and can help the reader to master his or her fears in the real world. An upcoming horror novel that's astounding is Frankenstein in Baghdad by a debut author, Ahmed Saadawi. It's about an eccentric man in 2005 Baghdad who sews together body parts from bomb victims to make a corpse that becomes animated. A clear example of drawing on the supernatural to make sense of horrific events in the real world.
Beth Reinker [00:07:17] Wow!
Shannan Rosa [00:07:18] In the thriller category, one that's receiving a lot of buzz is by a debut author, AJ Finn, The Woman in the Window. It's based on that familiar theme of a person looking out a window, seeing something that wasn't intended for their eyes, and raising suspicion, but this novel is executed very well. If Scandinavian thrillers are popular in your library, Ragnar Jonasson is a debut author from Iceland you'll want to know about. His novel is called Nightblind, a quiet town, a killer's on the loose, and winter is coming, uh-oh! Another thriller we're looking forward to is Sunburn by Laura Lippman, a standalone that draws on noir classics by James M. Cain, who wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce. The early reads on that one are very, very good.
Beth Reinker [00:08:06] Science fiction is about taking an aspect of our world today and imagining what would happen if that were continued or exaggerated. Often, science fiction novels have a very optimistic view of the future. There are dystopian novels that are not so optimistic, but they usually have some ray of hope about the possibilities of survival. The escapist appeal is about thinking about a different future for humanity and for ourselves.
Shannan Rosa [00:08:31] We all need a ray of hope, right? An author I hadn't anticipated including in a science fiction list is Nora Roberts, but she's making a foray into dystopian fiction, called Year One, first in a trilogy about a small band of survivors after the collapse of civilization. Another dystopian novel that's getting attention is The Wolves of Winter by debut author Tyrell Johnson. Also, James Corey continues his series that has been made into the popular TV show, Expanse. It's called Persepolis Rising and his sales continue to grow. Fantasy is also for the reader who is thinking about possibilities, but the agent of change isn't science, it's magic. Fantasy can draw on history, mythology, fairy tales, the archetypes that Carl Jung wrote about.
Beth Reinker [00:09:17] There's usually some kind of quest and a battle between good and evil. Mythology is about trying to explain why things happen, giving a rational underpinning to a world that, on a human level, we can't understand. Fantasy explores themes that date back to humanity's earliest stories. The escapist appeal is in using imagination to make sense of the world.
Shannan Rosa [00:09:39] And who wouldn't want to wave a magic wand and fix everything?
Beth Reinker [00:09:42] I would.
Shannan Rosa [00:09:43] I'd like to call out a couple of second novels. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden was a LibraryReads pick, set in a magical version of medieval Russia. Fans will be looking for the sequel, The Girl in the Tower. Vic James made a splash with Gilded Cage about a dystopian Britain in which the "haves" use magic and the "have-not's" are everyone else, and the follow-up is called Tarnished City.
Beth Reinker [00:10:05] I like Gilded Cage a lot. I thought it was a really good book.
Shannan Rosa [00:10:09] Yay, there's a sequel! One fun thing about genres is that they can be mixed together and bent into new shapes, such as science fiction mysteries, for example. In Alastair Reynolds' forthcoming novel Elysium Fire, city-states orbiting the planet Yellowstone are experiencing unexplained malfunctions of some people's neural implants, causing their deaths, and a police detective has to find out why. In another science fiction mystery, a family is found murdered in Pennsylvania in 1997, but the dad is a US Navy SEAL who had served aboard a time-traveling spaceship, and a covert Naval investigator unravels the clues as to what happened. That's The Gone World by debut author Tom Sweterlitsch.
Beth Reinker [00:10:53] I read a great piece in the Chicago Tribune where author Ron Currie said, "The things I read were not escapism, but rather an intimate way to make sense, through narrative, of the seemingly random and capricious world around me." I think that follows exactly what you're saying. When we talk about what reading can do for us, I think it's also important to mention how reading can help us understand other people and places well outside of our daily lives. A recent study concluded that "readers of fiction tend to have better abilities of empathy and theory of mind." As the nonfiction librarian in the room, I would argue that’s true of nonfiction too! I think armchair travel is a great example of how nonfiction can help us escape our daily lives and also learn about new places and how other people live. I've never been to Italy, but Under the Tuscan Sun gives me pieces of that experience, and reading something that descriptive and specific certainly takes you out of your own life. I've never hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, and let's face it, I never will.
Shannan Rosa [00:11:56] Me either.
Beth Reinker [00:11:57] But Cheryl Strayed's Wild took me there. I know next to nothing about Alaska, but reading Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild gave me a new perspective on what it takes to survive in that kind of wilderness and how easy it is to make a small but lethal mistake.
Shannan Rosa [00:12:12] And it's not just the stories that take readers out of their own lives and into the dream of traveling to faraway places. Many travel books include stunning photography that sparks dreams of other places. One recent travel book that I loved is Lonely Planet's Secret Marvels of the World. This is no ordinary travel book! This book is filled with, we'll say unique locations around the world. Lonely Planet describes the contents as "perplexing, kitsch and downright bizarre sights" and they are not kidding. One of my favorite spreads is on Nebraska's Carhenge. Yes, you guessed it, they have recreated Stonehenge with vintage cars. Filled with full-color photos and the locations that defy the imagination, this is the perfect escape from the ordinary.
Beth Reinker [00:12:56] National Geographic's Timeless Journeys: Travels to the World's Legendary Places is a large format book featuring more than 50 locations from the Pyramids of Giza to Machu Picchu to less known places like El Mirador. Of course, it has the gorgeous photography that you expect from National Geographic. If anyone else out there was that kid that spent time in the library reading about other countries in the encyclopedia, this one's for you! When we talk about escapist reading, we often think of fiction, but reading good narrative nonfiction can really have the same effect of taking you away from your own day-to-day, while teaching you about people and places you haven't experienced yourself. Memoirs are a great example of narrative nonfiction that lets us leave behind our own lives and explore those of others. We can learn about different cultures or understand more about people who live near us, but have vastly different circumstances.
Shannan Rosa [00:13:51] I've really enjoyed talking about escapist reading today. I also now have an even bigger list of books that I want to read!
Beth Reinker [00:13:57] Me too.
Shannan Rosa [00:13:58] That TBR pile always gets ever higher. For those of you who are Ingram customers, we've created a list of the titles that we mentioned today and many others that we didn't have time to discuss. To find this list, go to Browse/High Interest Categories/Podcast Resources, or contact your Ingram sales rep if you need help locating it. And with that, I'd like to thank everyone for listening, please join us for the next episode as we discuss some of the innovative programs that are being held, or could be held, in public libraries across the country. Do you have suggestions for ways that your library has provided unique reader's advisory services to your readers? Tweet us @ingramcontent and use #thelibrarylife. We'd love to feature you!