Necessary Whimsy: Combatting Book Shame and the End of the World

Fellow fans of Whimsy—I hope you’re well, and not spending the rest of the summer hyperventilating in a cave somewhere, thanks to the latest news cycle. If you are, I hope the cave is tricked out and cozy, like a giant hug from the Earth itself.

As a person who grew up reading books with elves, vampires, wizards, and scantily clad ladies on the cover, I am well versed in book shame. I read voraciously and well above my level as a child, according to whatever arcane and mysterious forces that decide such things as reading levels. You would think that would be enough to make adults happy, but it never was, for some. Sure, I read, but I wasn’t reading the “right sort” of books. The funny fact was that the “right sort” differed wildly depending on the person doing the judging. I feel like all of you out there in Whimsy Land have probably found yourselves on the receiving end of this sentence:

“Sure, you read, but _____ isn’t real literature.”

Because here’s the thing—that blank? Sometimes it was filled with sci-fi, and sometimes fantasy, mystery, romance, graphic novels, young adult, middle grade…basically, every kind of book I actually liked. And that derision? Basically just made me dig in my heels harder and read whatever book I damn well pleased. The lovely bonus to the situation is that I now don’t have any shame at all when it comes to reading. If I want to eat my lunch and read a book with, say, a sexy vampire on the cover, I will hold the cover up for all to see as I aggressively make eye contact with all around me while eating my sandwich in a dainty fashion, because I am a lady.

While shame ceased to shape my reading choices, it left a cozy warm spot open for spite, and it turns out I am totally comfortable with spite reading. Once I graduated from college, I pretty much refused to read anything from the “literature” section out of spite. Here’s the thing, though, that whole breakdown of genres? It’s often pretty subjective. For example, the bookstore I work in puts Frankenstein in horror. Some bookstores would put it in fiction or classics. It depends on the staff and the store. I’ve worked in several bookstores—I know this. Yet my personal bias remained, even though I am a huge fan of reading what you want and outside your comfort zones. Or, as Gene Luen Yang, the current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature puts it, you should read without walls. Otherwise, you’re just missing out on cool books that you might actually like.

So as you might have guessed, this post is going to focus on books that don’t fall into our normal genre columns. I know—I’m scared, too. It’s going to be okay—I promise these books are still weird and funny and great, because why else would I read them?

 

Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next Series

So really, you could grab any of Jasper Fforde’s books and expect silly weirdness. It’s what he does best. I picked the Thursday Next series because it’s what he’s most known for and because it contains a lot of reader catnip. Why? Because the Thursday Next books feature a character, Thursday, who is a literary detective. The first book, the Eyre Affair, features a drag racing Miss Havisham, time travel, and a dodo named Pickwick. I mean, literary references abound. (I particularly like the running joke about her dad and Winston Churchill.) Feeling more like a Young Adult book? Then start with The Last Dragonslayer, which has plucky orphans, quark beasts, and wizards using magic to unclog drains.

 

Christopher Moore’s Bloodsucking Fiends

So again, you could really pick up any book by Moore and expect weird, silly, and occasionally (delightfully) vulgar stories. A lot of my friends loved Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. You could start with his first book, Practical Demonkeeping, which will introduce you to Pine Cove, a town Moore sets several stories in. For me, it’s a toss up between Coyote Blue and Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, which involves a chapter that is three sentences long and illustrates how spot on Moore’s comedic timing can be. Also, there’s turkey bowling, vampires, and two dogs named Bummer and Lazarus.

 

Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Field Guide to the End of the World

Okay, so I read distressingly little poetry. My friend, Abby Murray, who has a PhD in the stuff and happens to get my jaded sense of humor, is generally my go-to source for new poetry. She handed me Gailey’s book saying, “It’s Sci-Fi feminist poetry. I think you’ll like it.” She was absolutely spot-on with this one, because not only is the poetry right up my alley, it’s funny. The poem’s topics vary from teen vampires to zombies to snippets from cultural icons. Social commentary, humor, pop culture, and delightful imagery come together to create a really enjoyable poetry collection. In the poem “Martha Stewart’s Guide to the End Times,” we’re told “Now’s the time to get out your hurricane lamps! They create a lovely glow in these last days.” I can hear Marta Stewart’s voice as I read it and I laugh, even though deep down I’m unsettled about how close to now some of the poems actually feel.

 

Molly Harper’s Half-Moon Hollow and Naked Werewolf series

Remember what I said about no shame? I’d like to double down on that for books that fall into the romance category. If you don’t want to read it, that’s fine, but let’s not shame those that do…because honestly? On average romance readers read more than anyone else. They are voracious. Romance outsells all other genres. It’s a fact. They have a robust and enthusiastic readership, and yet they get shamed more than any other readership, which is why I’m including a romance series in this literary lineup even though it’s technically also genre fiction, as well. So now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to the second reason—Molly Harper is really, really funny. Like, choke-on-my-food and ugly laugh kind of funny. Her Half-Moon Hollow series follows a librarian, Jane, who gets turned into a vampire after she gets mistaken for a deer and shot on the side of the road. Her family has a hard time with her new “life choice” and her mom keeps trying to cure her vampirism with casseroles. Her werewolf series starts with female lead, Mo, escaping to Alaska to start a new life far from her very loving, but very overwhelming hippie parents. (Her mother keeps breaking into her house and exchanging her food with healthy, unprocessed foods, for example.) Harper excels at snappy banter, comedic situations, and creating funny and supportive friend groups that act as found families for the characters.

 

How about you out there in whimsy land? Any non-genre whimsy you’d like to share? (Or let’s face it, any funny titles at all. Who doesn’t love finding a new author to read?)

Pyromantic Lish McBrideLish McBride currently resides in Seattle, spending most of her time at her day job at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. The rest of her time is divided between writing, reading, and Twitter, where she either discusses her desire for a nap or her love for kittens. (Occasionally ponies.) Her debut novel, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer was named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and was a finalist for the YALSA William C. Morris Award. Her other works include Necromancing the Stone, Firebug, and Pyromantic.

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