Musings of a Reader: The Handmaid’s Tale and Why Dystopian Fiction is Necessary

Published in Zau magazine in March 2015

Up until quite recently, I used to be one of those literary snobs. You know the ones I’m talking about – those who turn up their noses on “genre” fiction, pooh-poohing at the intricately-built worlds of fantasy or the implausibility and outlandishness of the crazy science of sci-fi. “What do those books have to do with the real world,” I would say to myself derisively, as I devoured book after book of “realistic” fiction. (The irony of the fact that the worlds of the realistic fiction I loved so much were every bit as constructed as the worlds of fantasy or sci-fi was, of course, completely lost on me.) It seemed to me a lazy escapist move to lose yourself in worlds that are so far removed from “reality” – from the social order and the issues within this social order that “realistic” fiction, I felt, explored and critiqued. What was fantasy or sci-fi or dystopian fiction if not a bunch of characters having wacky adventures in a world nothing like our own? Then, something happened that made me reconsider my (ignorant) position on at least one of these genres: I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

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Musings of a Reader: The Wonderful World of YA Fiction

Honestly, I thought this column would be a breeze to write. Like I mentioned the last time, talking about books is one of my top favorite things to do. But it’s turning out to be surprisingly difficult. See, when reading books is such an integral part of your existence, it’s hard to know where to start or what books to talk about. Should I start at the beginning, from the books my mom would read to me before I could read myself? The Dr Seuss books, with cats in hats and the fox wearing socks, and Ibn-e-Insha’s Billo Ka Basta poems which I memorized and would recite to my parents during long car rides? Or is it better to talk about the books I read more recently, the works of writers like Italo Calvino and Julian Barnes, which make me marvel at the mind-blowing narrative techniques or clever turns of phrases? In the end, I have decided to talk about some books which I personally really love and which offer some great writing and wonderful stories, but often don’t get talked about or worse, get dismissed entirely. I’m referring to young adult or YA fiction.

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Musings of a Reader: The Beginning

Talking about books is one of my top favourite things to do. It’s right up there with eating French fries and, you know, actually reading the books I love talking about. This was why I refused to study literature as an academic subject for a long time. “You mean you get to discuss books at length? And you get graded for it? That seems too much fun to be real. There must be a catch.”  Thankfully I got over it, and was ecstatic to discover, in one of my first literature classes, that I could gush about the many qualities of Mr Darcy and it would count as my assignment. The joy! The point being, talking about literature, to me is just plain fun.

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