- There is one trick to successful mental health in this awful, exhausting time: escapist, engrossing fantasy literature.
- The Hickey System will have this winter sail by, because instead of ruminating on a moribund present you’ll be reading Wheel of Time or something.
- Do not try to read contemporary fiction or fiction with a realistic setting.
- Do not read Game of Thrones, the uncertain possibility of an ending is already a pretty defining vibe of COVID-19 times.
- I covered the election and the only reason I haven’t had a breakdown is I’m reading the Wheel of Time series.
- Television shows are great, but they’re over in 10 hours, and there are 3,000 hours between now and the end of March.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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This winter is going to be miserable. A cocktail of a tumultuous holiday season, a resurgent pandemic, a need to limit social interaction despite the fundamental bummer of winter means that the next four months are going to be bad.
To get through this, we have to look at the techniques that got us through the rough bits of 2020 so far and take stock of the best ways to manage these dark times. In my own life one positive method of handling the pandemic has become abundantly clear: start a gigantic book series you always kind of meant to get into but never really got around to. It’s time.
Some of our other strategies are beginning to fall apart: maybe you’ve watched all there is to watch on Netflix. There is no forthcoming Animal Crossing on the horizon. You are probably not going to get the PS5. There are approximately 3,000 hours between today and the end of March, and The Mandalorian will fill merely 16 of them. It’s time to think bigger.
For any number of reasons 2020 has been a pretty rough go, but I’ve been able to escape into some from fun through the fourteen-book epic fantasy series Wheel of Time by the late Robert Jordan. I’m seven books in and it’s been an escapist delight with no bearing on the real world, no real locations in it that I am not able to travel, no real activities I cannot do, and – no spoilers, people who’ve read it – no out of control plague (yet) consuming the populace.
So here’s my advice:
- Find a large science fiction or fantasy series, at absolute minimum three books.
- The series must be complete, and it ideally has little to no clear connection to the world of 2020.
That’s it. It’s pretty simple but since you may have a few questions, here are some answers.
Oh, cool! I’ve been meaning to read Game of Thrones, is that a good choice?
Absolutely not. The key here is that the series, must have an end. There can’t be a dangling “to be determined,” we’ve had enough of that during the pandemic. You want to read “Game of Thrones?” If you want disappointment and a lack of closure with constant speculation about the health and longevity of a beloved elder, 2020 should have had you covered!
No “Game of Thrones,” no Kingkiller Chronicle, no “Saga.” It’s got to have a page that says “The End.” You can read the Mistborn trilogy, but don’t you dare start Wax and Wayne sequel series.
What about this contemporary fiction series I want to read?
No. The last thing you need right now is to read a book where, for instance, the protagonist goes on a vacation to New Orleans. That will make you remember how fun New Orleans is and then you’ll get all bummed out because you can’t go to New Orleans until next summer at earliest. For this reason I’d say don’t even do “American Gods,” which is set in contemporary United States, involves a lot of travel, and frankly is disqualified on that count as well as not actually being a series.
How about these romance novels?
If you’re in a relationship, sure, but if you can’t tell the main point of this exercise is eliminating FOMO and that can’t be what you’re looking for here. Thousands of pages about people that don’t exist in places that don’t exist is the best way to get through a rough situation in a place that does exist, like America this winter.
Since there’s now a sequel, does The Handmaid’s Tale count as a science fiction series?
Escapist. We’re going for escapist.
I’m not really into fantasy, honestly?
Science fiction definitely counts! Read Ann Leckie’s “Ancillary Justice” and its sequels, or Liu Cixin’s “Three-Body Problem,” or Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Hainish Cycle,” whatever does the trick.
Great, I love Harry Potter!
Too contemporary. Also, there are other books.
Do comics or graphic novels count?
It really depends! I’d avoid anything too contemporary, and since the entire Marvel Universe is set in New York and Gotham City looks like most of New Jersey, you need to either hit the archives of the big two or go for independent press.
My friend/partner/boss is really into Robert Caro, does his stuff count?
The incomplete LBJ biography does not, but “The Power Broker” is about a clever man who rises from nothing to accumulate a vast amount of power in a corrupt political system, doing some stuff in the process that now seems pretty racist, and that sounds like an Orson Scott Card protagonist to me! Not to mention that it’s set in a fanciful, magical city where it was possible for someone to fix the subway, so yeah technically speaking it’s fantasy, go for it.
What if the author didn’t finish it, but their child/their protege/Brandon Sanderson did?
Still counts! If you’re eventually going to read “The Silmarillion” or “Dune” in your life, and you don’t read it this winter, when will you?
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