I didn’t read in high school.
I hear this a lot from beleaguered parents who come into my bright little bookstore: my kid doesn’t like to read. I don’t know what happened—they used to love reading, and now they’re 14 and they stopped and I don’t know how to make them start again. It must be hard, I think, to be a parent and to walk into a store that has BOOKS ARE MAGIC emblazoned in pink and black and white on the wall outside, and tell one of its employees that your kid doesn’t like to read anymore. That maybe they never did. But I’ve always been glad that these parents come to me, because I tell them all the same thing: hey, that’s alright. I didn’t read when I was 14 either.
Lately I’ve been rethinking that, because it’s not entirely true. When I say I didn’t read in high school, what I mean is: I didn’t read books in high school. Not for fun. I read a lot of fanfiction: Harry Potter, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Supernatural. I read a lot of manga and webcomics: Library Wars, Alice in the Country of Hearts, Homestuck, Ava’s Demon. When I got home from school I played RPGs until I couldn’t keep my eyes open for even a moment longer, because I was so engrossed in their stories that I didn’t want to leave. Even now I go through dry periods where I don’t pick up a single book for months on end—but I’m still, in some way, consuming stories.
And isn’t story at the heart of it all?
Stories—both consuming and creating—are our lifeline. They might be 700-page novels about a guy in Dublin; they could be 20-hour video games about a college dropout reckoning with the slow economic demise of her hometown, and the mysterious cult dropping bodies left and right. Both are important. Both are critical to the way we engage with language, narrative, and characters; both can carry hefty themes that linger in the back of your mind long after you’ve finished. If we embrace the variety of mediums through which a story can effectively be told, the methods of expression available to us become more rich, more latent with potential. This translates into artistic and musical literacy in in addition to exposing ourselves to different styles and techniques of writing itself.
If you can’t come to this bustling Brooklyn neighborhood, this wonderful, magical bookstore, to hear it from me in person: here’s the truth.
You might not be reading “real books” right now, not for fun.
That doesn’t mean you’re not reading.
If you are or love a reluctant reader, here are five titles that may not be “real books”, but whose stories are real enough in all the ways that matter.
The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht
This slim, delicious little novella is in a traditional prose format, yes: but it’s unlike any traditional prose I’ve ever read. Giesbrecht’s writing is uniquely haunting and charged with a raw emotional intensity that left me hungry for more long after I finished the last page. The relationship between the monstrous stab-happy Johann and his vengeful, delicate master, Florian Leickenbloom, is so vicious and so volatile as to be world-ending. If you’re constantly picking things up, reading twenty pages, then promptly abandoning them: pick this up. I promise that Giesbrecht will masterfully carry you through to the all-too-swift end.
Monstress by Marjorie Liu, ill. Sana Takeda
Maika Halfwolf is a fighter: unyielding and uncompromising, even in the face of the brutal reality of life after war. In the tenuous beginnings of a ceasefire, Maika is hunting for the answers to the questions surrounding the mysteries of her life, her mother’s death, and the ancient, hungry creature that has newly made its home inside her. The worldbuilding is uniquely engrossing, and it’s truly one of the most gorgeous comics I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Liu and Takeda won a laundry list of awards for Monstress for a reason, folks. There are four volumes out now.
Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe, ill. Roc Upchurch
As someone who plays a lot of Dungeons & Dragons, I can attest that Rat Queens is the truest narrative representation of tabletop shenanigans that I’ve ever had the delight of stumbling across. The story follows the titular Rat Queens, a rough-and-tumble group of women adventurers-for-hire with better things to do than worry about than laws and propriety. In addition to being laugh-out-loud hilarious, the character arcs that develop and subsequently unravel throughout the six volumes that are currently available have radically changed the way I think about character development and the metanarrative. Also, dick jokes.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
I’m a big fan of short stories in general, but Emily Carroll knocks it out of the park with this collection of five graphic stories. Her art is gorgeously detailed, her palettes varied and vibrant and exquisitely matched with her skill for haunting, spine-tingling writing. Through the Woods includes the short graphic story “His Face All Red” (“This man is not my brother.”) which in itself could be a treatise on setting, pacing, and characterization. I pick this volume up and read it religiously at least once every October, plus whenever the mood for a good spook strikes me. (If you don’t typically have the stomach for horror, have no fear: Carroll’s specific brand of horror calls to mind the tradition of the Grimms’ brothers fairy tales. Which is to say: haunting, yes, but not necessarily nightmare-inducing. Sleep well.)
Moonstruck by Grace Ellis, ill. Shae Beagle
If, like me, you love a slice of life with your fantasy, you’re going to wholeheartedly adore Moonstruck. It’s essentially the coffee shop AU setting of your wildest dreams brought to gleeful reality. The two volumes currently available follow the hijinks and drama of werewolf barista Julie, her new werewolf girlfriend Selena, and their magical menagerie of rambunctious friends as they tumble in and out of various escapades. It’s a delightful, warm, caring narrative, comforting in the way of a mug of hot cocoa on a chilly fall morning.
Abby Rauscher is the children’s buyer and manager at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, NY. She owns a pair of thigh high leather boots, three machetes, and two Keyblades. Though she has a tough Slytherin exterior, she’s gooey Puff gold all the way through. Follow her on Twitter at @abbmasterpro.