The Limits of My Imagination or Why I Read What I Read

Posted on March 15, 2017 «
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After three years of blogging I have discovered what I like and what I don’t like when it comes to books. Sure, every once in awhile I’ll give a book outside my comfort zone a shot, but for the most part I stick with urban science fiction/fantasy, and historical fiction. Throw a dash of time travel in either one of these and I’m one happy camper. The stories I read need to be real, but not too real (I’m not a fan of contemporary fiction or non-fiction.)

But why?

Simple. My imagination has limits.

Beware there may be spoilers ahead!

Case #1: Outlander. Jamie’s torture at the hands of Black Jack Randall.
I’ve read Outlander at least 5 times. I am a huge fan of the television series. As far as the adaptation goes, it is fairly close to the books (or at least the parts that I remember).

Towards the end of the first book in the series, Jamie is raped and tortured by Black Jack. Until I saw this scene in the show, my imagination failed to fully create the darkness of that moment. In fact, after I watched that episode, I was upset there wasn’t more outcry about Jamie’s treatment as it aired right around the same time as Sansa Stark’s marriage and wedding night Game of Thrones episode that caused so much outcry (Check out this article from Vanity Fair).

After visually seeing Black Jack assault and torture Jamie, I’m 100% certain the next time I re-read Outlander, my imagination will reference the show and add more color to those scenes and the subsequent recovery scenes (which were sadly truncated for TV) will be more powerful.

Case #2: The Game of Thrones (TV) and The Song of Ice and Fire series
I had never heard of George R.R. Martin before the advent of The Game of Thrones on HBO. Thanks to Netflix my husband and I were able to join in on the fun, albeit a always a season behind. At the shocking conclusion of season 1, I was determined to read the series.

Without the television show, I doubt I would have made it through The Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords. Westeros is a completely unknown world—nothing truly exists like in our reality—there are new races, cultures and languages. My imagination has no reference point for any of this and in my opinion, Martin is not great at describing things in a way I’m able to grasp easily. Without the show creating a structure for the people and places, my brain, when I listen to the audiobooks is able to focus on the game being played.

I tried listening to A Feast for Crows, but I’m at a dead stop. I’m totally lost. I have no point of reference for the new cast of secondary characters that Martin is throwing at me. (It also doesn’t help that the audiobook version I found had a completely DIFFERENT narrator than books two and three.)

Staying in My Reading Comfort Zone

I gravitate towards urban science fiction and fantasy and historical fiction novels. These stories are often rooted in the known world. Either the people look and talk like people I know or the setting is a known place that I can Google.

Epic fantasy novels and science fiction create whole new worlds and cultures. The best authors in these genres excel at transporting you to unknown spaces. When I read I want to keep one foot safely planned in a familiar space.

Contemporary fiction and non-fiction is sometimes too real for me. I read to escape. By imagining my world with a hint of magic or some new fangled technology or journeying back in time, I’m able to escape the drudgery of my day, but still have a connection to the space I call home.

Sure, once in awhile, I venture outside my comfort zone. It’s always a good challenge, as a reader and person, to do that. It’s how we discover new stories, ideas and people.

And while my imagination may be limited, I know what I can see and hear in my mind and I’m comfortable there and I don’t mind staying there with my kitty-babies, a cozy blanket and a nice cup of joe. I hope you’ll join me sometime. Perhaps we can chat about your favorite genres and learn a bit from each other.


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6 responses to “The Limits of My Imagination or Why I Read What I Read

  1. I’ve recently been realising I have similar problems from a different sort of angle — I have no visual imagination! So if a book includes a lot of physical descriptions or requires me to hold a sort of mental image in my head, it’s not going to work at all. I might as well not bother! Unfortunately, that’s harder to tell in advance than genre…

    • Oh, I suck at this too! Any books that include detailed fight scenes or battles make my eyes glaze over. I just can’t see it. I actually abandoned a book because I couldn’t make sense of how a girl tripped over a coffee table and cut her head. (The book had other issues, but when I got to that point I was so fixated on it, I gave up.)

  2. I read to escape\have fun, too, Terri. And book club at least gets me somewhat out of my comfort level. But I’d much rather read books I’m more likely to enjoy than those that I’m just not interested in.

  3. I like all sorts of worlds, odd and familiar, though for some reason I mostly only like contemps if they’re YA—now I’m thinking that maybe be because I like that escapism and stories about moms with kids just don’t do that for me, even though I should be able to relate to them really well.

    • I’m not a huge fan of contemporary novels. I rarely relate to the characters. In the adult novels everything is usually so bleak and in the YA ones, everything usually ends up way to perfect in the end. I like a bit of grit and escapism, but want a level of familiarity to keep me grounded. Probably why I continue to gravitate toward historical fiction and urban fantasy or steampunk.