Browsing the Aisles: My Fatal Flaw


…or why I, for some strange reason, almost never buy fantasy titles at the bookstore (unless I’m going there specifically to do that).

Going to the bookstore is one of my favorite things to do. In fact, I almost never want to go shopping unless I know I’m going to get to go to a bookstore or two in the process. Book shopping is far more entertaining that shopping for anything else and I imagine everyone but my girlfriend hates to shop for books with me because I am a purely calculated book shopper, and, as a result, I take forever to get done. Most of my friends are done after fifteen minutes, but I’ll be there for another forty-five, or maybe even an hour. But I’ve noticed something about how I shop for books: I almost always buy science fiction over anything else.
Now, I know that I personally am an SF nut. I love SF in all its forms (for the most part) and eat it up like candy. But I also love fantasy. Some folks seem to think that I dislike fantasy because I tend to be heavy handed on the subject of cliches and fantasy tropes. Granted,
fantasy tends to be highly unoriginal more often than not, but a good writer can make me fall in love with the characters regardless. I’ve read many books that weren’t exactly doing anything new, but that were so entertaining it didn’t matter. The problem for me, however, is that fantasy is really hard to sell to me in the book store. Every time I go I look at the covers and read the backs and see the same thing being repeated over and over. Now, of course, most of those books probably are adding new things to the genre (or at least some of them), but how the hell am I supposed to know when everything looks and, from the summary, sounds the same?
SF almost never does this for me. Granted, some of the covers do look similar, but when I pick up a book and read the back there are always new and fascinating ideas being presented. The more I pick up, the more I find that I want, and sooner or later I have three or more SF titles in hand and no fantasy titles (with exception to the occasional YA title, because I love YA for some reason). I know this is not a good thing, especially since I do love fantasy and enjoy it very much, but I can’t help it. For me, it feels like SF doesn’t have to work hard, but fantasy does. SF has the ideas right there out in the open: space ships and interesting aliens, space battles, technology, etc. Certainly, these are cliches, but you can do so much with such things and present new ideas within the summary. But the fantasy stuff is either a dragon or the typical fantasy-looking guys standing someplace that looks relatively generic. Don’t get me wrong, such covers are beautiful, but when you see the same thing over and over it’s hard to really differentiate. Then the story is almost always something about some guy who is a nobody who now must become somebody to save the world from something evil that was locked up or thought destroyed from a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away…wait, okay so that last bit was wrong. Point is, the themes in the summaries all sound the same to me and if you can’t entertain me past that point, I won’t even look inside (it goes back on the shelf). Is there some magical trick to finding the good fantasy in a wall of stuff that looks the same (not considering here, of course, those few titles that try to break out of this mold)?
Does anyone else have a similar problem when browsing? Setting aside authors you already read, do you find that finding new and fascinating fantasy titles is relatively easy for you?

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

3 thoughts on “Browsing the Aisles: My Fatal Flaw

  1. It’s because you’re prejudiced against the genre. Or maybe you look at the wrong stuff. I browse the shelves for fantasy and only fantasy because I’m just like that, and while I see some stuff that sounds generic (Robert Jordan et al) I don’t see it everywhere. I do see a lot of books that just have really dull-sounding blurbs.

    As for the covers, I just don’t judge them by them. Duh. Covers can catch my eye if they’re good, but I won’t ignore a book because of its cover.

    Mostly I read on recommendation, or find stuff via the ‘you might like’ links on Amazon. Far more reliable than blurbs.

  2. I am not prejudiced against the damned genre. I read a lot of fantasy and enjoy it very much. A lot of the reviews I’ve done have been for fantasy novels and have enjoyed the vast majority of them. It has nothing to do with not liking the genre; it has to do with how the genre is represented on the shelf.

  3. 2 Funny with the fantasy & sci-fi book choices … ironically I like both genres & mystery thrown in there. I tend to choose by recommendations on-line & reading the inside covers at the store.

    oh have you heard of this site:
    I stumbled upon it & thought ya may enjoy it 🙂

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