I love Contemporary fiction. That should be a given. I'm hosting a month long event devoted entirely to Contemporary and I talk about it. All the time. So telling you why it is that I love Contemporary should be easy, right? A no brainer? When something is your favorite, you should be able to talk about why, right?
And yet... I find myself unable to really put my finger on exactly why it is that I love Contemporary so much. I've tried before and everything I've said is true. For me, Contemporary is more emotional, it's more connective and more believable. But really, when it comes right down to it — I don't really have a specific reason I can lay out for you. I just... like it better.
I read books because I love them. And a large part of why I love to read is because they make me feel. And Contemporary makes me feel more than any other genre. But more than that, what it makes me feel is more real. When I read an intense dystopian, I'm horrified, my heart pounds and you get that 'peek through the fingers' feeling. But when I put the book down, I know that this is a world created by an author to taunt and torment and terrify and I take comfort that no matter how screwed up my world is, at least it's not there yet. It's the same with a fantasy novel. Voldemort loses his ability to incite terror once I've put the book down and remember that nasty snake things can't actually be reborn from the blood of their magical enemies.
But with Contemporary, I don't have that. I'm not offered that way out, because a truly well written Contemporary is writing about real life. It might not be your real life, but on some level, it's life for some of us and it could be life for one of us. Kids get abducted, abused, hurt, bullied and tormented every single day. I can't take brush off the sad/mad/righteous rage/wrath/vengeful madness that comes after reading a Contemporary book about a parent hurting their children because it's 'only happening in a book' because it isn't only happening in a book. The horrors of drug addiction, manipulation, death eating disorders, low self worth, suicide don't go away just because I set the book down. They are part of our world, whether we like it or not and that means that the feelings I get while reading those books stick around, long after the book has been put away.
But it's not just the sad, hurtful or angry emotions that linger either. There are some books out there so incredibly full of love and life and light and hope that it simply fills my whole being. Most of those books have suffering or problems in them too. And that's okay. That's life. Everyone has suffered something at some point, at many points. But the struggles and the hurts aren't always the focal point of the story. Some of these books where love is the overwhelming emotion just slay me. And I'm not even talking romantic love (although that has it's place too).
Contemporary is just... more. Often, the fantasy or dystopian novels are more intense, more pulse racing, heart bounding, flip through the pages so fast because you are holding your breath until you know what happens next and you are running out of oxygen and OHMYGOODNESS just let me find out what happens next!!!! And I love that feeling. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE it. But there is something more to a story where your heart just stops because you can't believe a kid so young would have to go through something like that, where you can't breathe because your lungs have forgotten how to pull in oxygen because you hurt for these characters so much.
And let me tell you — When you find that book, when you find that book that pulls you so deeply into the lives and stories of these characters that you wonder why you aren't meeting up with them for lunch every Tuesday, it does something to you. I think that's part of why Harry Potter has been so incredibly successful — By setting the story in a Contemporary world that simply has magic hidden under the surface, Harry, Ron and Hermione really could become your new best friends.
Let me try to illustrate exactly what I mean — When I was a kid, I read Where the Red Fern Grows a hundred million times (alright, so I'm exaggerating, it was probably closer to 45). I'm sure you all know how this story ends, but it broke me. Seriously, broke me into pieces. It's been my favorite book for forever, because it was the first book to ever hit me like that. When Billy realizes that Old Dan is seriously injured, he sinks his axe blade deep into the trunk of a tree, hangs his lantern off the blade and picks up his dog so he can carry him home. At the very end of the story of that summer, Billy and his family move from the mountains into town and Billy, now reminiscing from 50 years down the road has never been back, but he wonders if now he could return and find that old rusty lantern and the blade of that axe, since the wooden handle would have rotted long ago. I honestly and truly used to believe that I could go to the Ozarks for Billy and find his axe, that I could walk the trails, somehow figure out exactly where he had lived and I could stumble across that axe and lantern. I knew it was a story. I knew it wasn't real, that Billy had never actually been a real person and Old Dan and Little Ann never hunted anywhere except an old man's imagination. But that didn't matter. I just knew that if I could get there, I would find that axe.
I have never, in all my years of reading had a paranormal, fantasy, dystopian or science fiction (etc and etc) novel hit me that hard, move me that much. But it happens to me again and again with Contemporary. I no longer believe that I could walk into the setting of the novel and meet the characters, but a small part of me weeps every time I finish a book like this, because I realize that they will only ever exist on paper.
And that is what Contemporary does to me. That is why I love it above all other genres. And that is why I will work my hardest to introduce others to Contemporary. Because going through life, never connecting that deeply to a story? Well it's a crying shame.