Reading Fantasy Shaped My Career

This is a guest post from Anna Boisen. Anna is a violinist and lifelong book lover. A non-native Virginian currently attending graduate school in New York, her hobbies include thrifting, drawing, looking for her glasses, and wishing she was at the beach. She reads mostly sci-fi and fantasy but harbors a strong affection for Jane Austen novels, sequels, retellings, and other Jane-themed stories.


Fantasy has been my favorite genre since I was young. As a kid I fell in love with stories by Gail Carson Levine, J.K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett and Robin McKinley, and as an adult I added works by N.K. Jemisin, Lev Grossman and Robin McKinley to my favorites (I reread McKinley’s Beauty TWICE in 2017 alone, along with Rose Daughter and The Hero and the Crown. She gets to be on both lists). For a long time I thought I would become an author when I grew up, writing stories about dragons and witches and girls that threw fire and radiated light and stepped on air to reach the clouds.

I became a violinist.

Do you see the connection? Neither did I, not until I read The Magicians by Lev Grossman, and even then not until I read it for the second time as a college student. Magic in the Magicians trilogy comes with an enormous and intricate set of rules. Every time a character conjugated a verb in a foreign language, calculated the position of the moon, or altered a hand gesture by a millimeter to achieve the desired spell, I saw myself drilling scales, puzzling over why and for goodness sakes HOW Bach made that weird chord sound good, and, yes, altering my hand position by millimetres to produce the desired in-tune pitch. For me, playing Beethoven’s Spring Sonata is like watching a flower blossom in the palm of your hand, and the opening of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto is the closest I will ever come to summoning a blizzard out of thin air.

Since then music and magic have become inextricably linked in my mind. Both exist in a multitude of styles and traditions, with unique aspects for every author and composer. Both present their practitioners with a difficult and beautiful way to interact with and interpret the world around them, and both inspire a sense of wonder at what people are capable of. There are a lot of reasons I love fantasy—for the chance to imagine a new and different universe, or for the opportunity to examine and recontextualize real world issues—but the link to music is a big one. Okay, so maybe it’s a little early to claim that reading fantasy shaped my entire career. I’m only a grad student, and I have a long way to go. That being said, my career, my choices, and my life are all shaped by who I am, and who I am is shaped in a very real way by what I read.

Good thing I read about dragons, right?

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