Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The joys of fiction

Cady Gray's kindergarten teacher has worked hard to find chapter books that will challenge her. The latest book sent home in her backpack is a Boxcar Children installment called The Pizza Mystery. Usually Noel handles Cady Gray bedtime reading duties while I take Archer, but for the last couple of nights, for various reasons, I've been listening to Cady Gray read about the Boxcar Children.

Now, I know nothing about the Boxcar Children. And I came into the book midway. But I was struck by how quickly I became curious about what was going on. In last night's chapter, a young woman was hired by pizza parlor owners the Piccolos, and tonight the Alden children are getting tired of being yelled at by her. They also saw the woman leafing through Mrs. Piccolo's secret recipe book. And mysterious customers are ordering pizzas they don't want and causing the store to lose money.

I'm genuinely concerned about this situation. And it was interesting to see how animated Cady Gray's reading became as the chapter went on and the problems deepened. Both of us were caught up in this simple conflict, and the open-endedness of it created a desire to know more.

Now that I'm on the downslope of the semester, I have more time to read for pleasure. I've started going back to the gym just to give myself a half-hour reading window. For a long time I've been wanting to give Elizabeth Moon's science fiction another try; she's the author of my favorite fantasy series, The Deed Of Paksenarrion, but in the past I haven't been grabbed by her sci-fi work.

Maybe it's a sign that I have a different relationship to fiction these days -- a far less critical relationship, perhaps -- that I was grabbed this time, immediately. I had just finished Oath of Fealty, the latest book in the Paksenarrion series, and was absolutely riveted by its careful delineation of political and military maneuvering in Paks' world. Much of what I've always loved about Moon's work, I realized, is the interest in organizational detail. And so I immediately recognized those elements in Trading in Danger, the first volume of the Vatta's War series, which reminded me more of Charles Stross's Merchant Princes books than the military sci-fi that I had been expecting. It was as much a primer in the shipping business as it was a tale of adventure. I just started book two, and I wish I had more than an hour a day to devote to it.

Why am I so easily captivated by fiction these days? Have I been lucky enough to have only really good books come my way lately? Or is my interest in the fate of the Boxcar Children an indication that I'm a sucker for any story?

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