Last summer when I turned 25, I reflected on being a quarter-century old — what’s changed and stayed the same in my life. The answer was, a lot has changed. I live far from the town where I grew up, and it’s been years since I’ve visited. I’m married. I’ve worked longer at my current job than the time my undergraduate degree took. And having come into my own as an adult during the pandemic, I feel a sense of gravity about life I didn’t before.
But though I’ve gotten older and my life has changed in many ways, my hobbies overall have not. Fandom, in particular, is still a large part of my life — something I didn’t expect.
One of my earlier memories is of my parents watching The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King DVD at home. I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t at least familiar with Tolkien’s work. We moved away from my hometown when I was young, and I found comfort in reading The Hobbit — hoping that, like Bilbo, I could adapt to a new and strange environment. As I said goodbye to old friends and met new ones, the fictional characters and worlds I found in series like Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes, and Discworld offered a sense of familiarity.
I’m not a teenager anymore. I understand myself better than I did when I was younger, and I’ve found methods of coping with uncertainty that I didn’t know then. Yet fandom is still a strong part of my life. I spend my free time listening to Tolkien podcasts and reading books or papers that analyze his work. My husband indulges me in rewatching Star Trek even though he has only a mild interest in it. And one of my most anticipated parts of 2023 is getting to see Aziraphale and Crowley’s story continue in Good Omens season 2.
Sometimes I’ve caught myself feeling guilty about this, like thinking about fictional worlds is somehow frivolous or selfish. Was there something immature about me, that I hadn’t grown out of it when a lot of my friends had (or at least seemed to)? Then I found a memoir that grappled with similar questions.
This is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch explores author Tabitha Carvan’s realization as a new parent that as people grow up, they’re often expected to give up interests that are seen as “silly” or “unimportant.” As a teenager, she loved boy bands. But she felt that part of growing up meant putting away interests that didn’t have a purpose or help others in some way.
Until, decades later, she developed a new passion: this time, for British actor Benedict Cumberbatch. At first, she felt ashamed about it. Watching BBC Sherlock and Marvel movies didn’t serve a greater purpose. All it did was make her happy, and she wasn’t even sure why.
As adults, we’re often pressured to find a hobby that benefits others in some way. Knitting or learning to code, for example, produces something that others can use. But, as Carvan writes, hobbies that don’t do much besides make you happy are still creating a worthwhile thing — happiness.
Though our interests differ — I was more of a Martin Freeman fan than a Benedict Cumberbatch fan when I watched BBC Sherlock — her memoir shaped the way I looked at hobbies I once considered silly. Sure, listening to my Tolkien podcasts don’t result in anything useful for others or a transferable work skill (unless attempting to understand The Silmarillion is a skill), but they bring me joy and comfort when life is hard. And I think that’s something everyone deserves.
In a way, it’s like a geekier version of the line from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”: “You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
Whether that’s rereading old favorites, making art for art’s sake, or simply appreciating moments for what they are, I hope we can all find time for simple joys. They’re some of the best parts of life.