My Sci-Fi Mea Culpa

Post Hunger Games, I'm coming clean—reading it was not only a wildly entertaining step into the genre, but prompted my very own fiction renaissance, just in time for prime beach reading season

Whenever I hear the phrase "beach read," visions of an oily Fabio splayed across the title Love’s Secret Sniper come to mind. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Mom.) But when it comes to packing my own seaside literature, I feel the term is a misnomer. Who says a beach read can’t be a classic? I’m not talking Great Gatsby here. When I say classic I mean cult.


All right, I confess. I’m obsessed with The Hunger Games.


For more than a year I heard whisperings about this dystopian fantasy series. Last summer’s interns at my office were mesmerized by them. Then my mom started emailing telling me she couldn’t get enough of Katniss. And finally, like a hot street drug, a friend pulled me aside at a party and covertly mentioned she could loan me her copies. But being a D.A.R.E graduate, I didn’t allow the peer pressure to get to me. Ever since I dated a Tolkien fanatic, I’ve been hesitant about the sci-fi genre. One day you’re a well-adjusted young adult and the next—and a reading of The Hobbit later—you’re ordering a reproduction Gandalf sword and speaking Elvish. It’s a slippery slope.


But with summer on the horizon and needing a mental vacation, I succumbed. A manila envelope arrived last week containing book number one (via mom). The paperback only made it to the beach for an hour and a half. I was finished by 10 p.m. the next day.


And so I say this: To every fantasy/sci-fi/romance fan I’ve ever teased, I’m sorry. I get it. Indulging in wildly imaginative fiction is hypnotizing. Perhaps my years spent obsessively reading first-person nonfiction such as War Reporting for Cowards, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and Julie Klausner’s I Don't Care About Your Band: What I Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, and Other Guys I've Dated, in hopes it might improve my own writing, was in vain.


Perhaps what I’ve needed all along was an adrenaline pulsing, teeth-gnashing, berry eating, fight to the death with only a drunken mentor and a lovesick puppy of a teammate to get me through. But what about Gale back in the forest? Damnit Katniss make up your mind!


I digress. My fixations on this trilogy about a girl in a cataclysmal world lead me to wonder what my brain was gaining from fiction as opposed to nonfiction. Incidentally, quite a lot.


According to a New York Times article, “Your Brain on Fiction”:

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction—with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions—offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.


Which is to say, I’m ditching my computer for a bow, grabbing Peeta Meelark, and Catching Fire at the beach.


Additional “beach read” suggestions:

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman:

My aunt-in-law who volunteers at a library sent me this read and it has all the makings of a short and sweet (somewhat stereotypical) Southern tale. Twelve-year-old CeeCee’s mother dies after suffering from insanity and the little girl is shuttled off to Savannah to live with her great aunt. In the process she meets a cast of characters and comes to terms with her grief. If you’re looking for uplifting, I recommend grabbing this book.


The Imperfectionists: A Novel by Tom Rachman:

This was hands down the best book I read in 2011. A multiple plot tale of a newspaper in Italy, in this novel Rachman manages to execute the personality profiles of about a dozen different characters, while maintaining the interwoven plotline that follows three generations of employees at the paper, with chapters that are heartbreaking and comical all at the same time.


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford:

Now I know this is an oldie—released in 2009, but if you haven’t had a chance to read it it’s a good one. It tells the tale of an often over looked piece of American history, the rounding up of Japanese Americans to internment camps during WWII, all told through the love affair of two teenagers. Note to reader: unless you’re okay with public displays of emotion, might want to skip reading the last two chapters beach-side—a lot of tears from this one.


Happy reading.