The Draw Toward Reading the Unknown

Chelsea Ryan


I was always reading books as a small child. Books and music were mediums that my mother intentionally wove into my day-to-day life as a young child, perhaps spurred on by the parenting books that ensured a smart child would spawn from this exposure to culture.

Regardless, I have always felt immense gratitude to my mother for exposing me to the arts from a young age, and have felt an abundance in my life due to it. I loved being able to fold myself into new worlds filled with magic and enchantment, fascinated by the impossibility of sorcery, dystopia and glamour. On a dreary winter’s day, all I would have to do is flip a page and let myself be enveloped by the spellbinding nature of worlds being built around me. I would revel in the stories of strong female protagonists and captivating characters. Even as a child I was aware of the impossibility of it all and found myself in awe of an author’s ability to pour their imagination onto a blank page.

Despite this ingrained love for literature, I stopped reading around the age of eleven. It was at this time that I got caught up in the whirlwind of trying to make friends and ended up hanging around girls who were more interested in making up dance routines and dipping into their mother’s eyeshadow palettes than they were in the dusty pages of a library book. I quickly learned that watching movies was a lot cooler than sitting down to read a fantasy novel, and decided reading was going to have to take a back seat if I wanted to survive school. It wasn’t until a couple of years later, when I sat at the back of my year seven classroom and opened the first page of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games that I rediscovered my love for reading. I read fervently over the next few days, and finished the book before the weekend. I flipped through the pages expeditiously; I read at the dinner table, under my sheets late at night, I’d even finish my classwork early so I could sit and devour words on the page. Looking back through a writer’s lens now, I realise it wasn’t that The Hunger Games itself was a masterpiece by any means, but what made me rediscover my love for reading was the feeling that the book ignited in me. It whisked me away into another world completely. With my head buried in the musty pages of the borrowed library novel, I was invited into a dystopian world that I truly felt a part of. I continued to reach for fantasy and Sci-Fi novels, scrambling for the escapism that world-building provided me with. As a writer now, I can identify that this type of escapism isn’t just provided strictly by Sci-Fi and fantasy novels, but can also be found through poetry, literary works and everything within the realm of fiction.

What intrigues me most is the urge to consume the unknown. Fictional genres tend to create a sense of disbelief and surrealism for the reader, allowing them to exist in a world that feels far removed from ordinary life. While there are most definitely parallels found in novels and most writers actively take on the challenge of tackling real-world questions and themes, fiction allows for a sense of impossibility and most of the time, an escape from the reality we live in. While stories can’t replace tangible experiences, they can assist us in making sense of the world; to exist in a world other than our own; and to answer questions that we may not have known to ask in the first place. Whether these questions are of political, gendered, emotional or cultural nature, it is clear that for writers, the best way to tackle big issues is to disguise them in fiction.

Of course, the desire to consume fictional works is not primarily to have existential questions answered (or maybe it is for some), but it is rooted, more so, in the need to escape from normality. Authors are consistently building worlds and characters that emerge in heroic and inconceivable ways, and it is this paradoxical nature of fiction writing that draws audiences in closer; as seen in the cult following of franchises such as Marvel and J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter. As a young girl I battled with loneliness and self-doubt much like many others, and reading books like Cassandra Clare’s Shadow Hunters series or Veronica Roth’s Divergent series showed me a world where female protagonists could be strong and thrive in a world that was – yes, very different to mine – but also drew subtle parallels to modern-day society. I think for writers this is where the real magic lies; in being able to create a world where readers can explore and reflect on their own experiences in a safe and meaningful way. While fiction (particularly Sci-Fi and fantasy genres) is an invaluable and irreplicable form of escapism, it’s also a vessel for profound discussion, understanding, and real-world reflection. There is something quite radical about a young child picking up a book that will both transport them to another world while simultaneously allowing them to make sense of their own.

Author: Chelsea Ryan is a third-year Bachelor of Fine Arts student. She writes to explore the complexities of human nature, whilst focusing on relationship dynamics. She explores her own thoughts and beliefs through creative writing and usually does this through fiction, however, is enjoying experimenting with memoir.

Artist: Steph Blinco is a third-year Bachelor of Fine Arts student. A local Brisbane emerging artist, her practice makes statements about everyday life through collaged imagery. Intertwining psychedelic patterns to create collisions of colour and era, Steph draws influences from autobiographical contexts, ranging from her childhood to her experiences now as a young adult. You can find her on Instagram @stephblincoart.