From Garbage-Muncher to Feeling Junkie
By Sean Thomason

I guess I grew up on trash. The novels that made up the vast majority of my adolescent pleasure-reading fell into one of three categories: science-fiction, fantasy, or horror. In saying this, I donít mean to condemn these genres in their entirety Ė each of them contains some books that even the harshest critics would consider ďof worth.Ē Itís just that most of the books I read within these genres were trash. Science fiction adventures which repeated the same sagas of intergalactic war time and time again, complete with scantily clad frightened females on the cover, epic fantasy series that just weakened and regurgitated Tolkien, and pages upon pages of Stephen King and a few of his imitators. Though I call these books trash now, I still fondly remember the delight I found in reading them at the time, and donít regret having spent so much time with them Ė I doubt that Iíd be a much happier or enriched person if Iíd used my pre-teen and teenage years to work my way through a list of the classics, especially since my attention span for stories that didnít involve unnecessarily convoluted and epic plots with lots of violence was extraordinarily short.
But, for some reason, this era passed. I donít recall it being a gradual shift, either, it seems as if my turn toward a different sort of fiction in my pleasure-reading was relatively sudden. It occurred around senior year in high school. I started to spend my leisure time reading books set in the contemporary, ordinary world, as opposed to distant galaxies, hackish fantasy realms, and sleepy New England towns with dark supernatural secrets. I can imagine a few sensible reasons for this shift, most of them centering upon a strong AP English teacher who changed the way I thought about writing, yet the clearest and most definite cause is simply that I no longer drew excitement from those books. Excitement was the key source of pleasure I had found in them, in breathtaking battle sequences and drawn-out moments of suspense Ė but this effect had faded. These novels no longer did it for me, and I realized that reading them had just become a tedious, though still comfortable process of going through the motions.
The new fuel for the fire of reading enjoyment came from somewhere else, and, upon reflection, I think the new source was simply feeling. The books Iíve come to enjoy since the shift are all bound together by their basic ability to make me feel something genuine, whether good, bad, or even a neutrality that can be powerful in its hollowness (a good example of a book that brought on this remarkable hollow feeling is Camusí The Stranger). These days, if Iím reading a book and I havenít felt anything significant by the end of the first one hundred pages or so, Iíll probably set it aside and look for something else.
Another characteristic that I look for in a book is a comic edge. I appreciate humor, either light-hearted or dark, deeply ironic or goofy, in books of any genre, from any period. Itís hard to tell whether a novel is funny by examining its exterior, however Ė I donít trust the critical blurbs, even when they promise that a book is ďHILARIOUS!Ē or ďAN ABSOLUTE RIOT!Ē Ė Iíve found that the best sources for evaluations of a bookís humor content are friends and family members. In fact, word-of-mouth has become my most relied-upon indicator of what to read next. Both the book Iím finishing now, Michael Chabonís The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and the next book Iíll read for pleasure (which might not come until this summer, depending on how my schoolwork this semester goes), Dave Eggersí A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, were recommended by friends. I trust that both will provide me with plenty of laughter and feeling Ė if not, Iíll go read some piece of trash I missed on the first go-around to clear my brain.