The Fantasy Novel of Conferences

A number of years ago – oh, let’s say…20 – in that blissful period of my life that came after I was married but before any kids arrived on the scene (and yet I still thought I was sooooo busy. What innocent times.), my wife had a job managing a youth choir that involved a tour and concert series in Eugene, OR. I went along as a chaperone and to provide a helping hand with one of my few areas of expertise — picking up moderately heavy objects and setting them back down again in a different location. I also played basketball during my free time with the three boys who were in the choir. It wasn’t a very hard job and I was paid accordingly (exactly $0)

One afternoon, the group took a side trip to a massive bookstore near the University of Oregon campus. Anyone who knows me at all knows that visiting a new bookstore is definitely my jam and this one did not disappoint (No, I don’t remember the name of it. No, it’s not Powell’s. I said I don’t remember, leave me alone.). On our return trip to the dorm where we were staying, two junior high school-aged girls sitting in front of me on the bus were chattering away about the books they bought and how much they loved reading fantasy & science fiction novels. They went on and on about it.

Eventually, one of them looked back and saw me leafing through my recent purchases. She asked what I had bought at the store and I showed her my new copies of The Claw of the Conciliator and The Sword of the Lictor from Gene Wolfe’s epic The Book of the New Sun series. She looked surprised when I showed her and blurted out, “Wait – you like reading fantasy novels, too??”

I do, yes. I like reading lots of different genres and her question legitimately confused me. I responded honestly and asked why she was surprised that I did.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “Most grown-ups think fantasy books are silly.”

Ay, there’s the rub. Most grown-ups think fantasy books are silly. It was a few years later when I finally read-up on the literary fiction versus genre fiction debate and learned that “book shaming” was a thing. In a nutshell, serious adults should read literary fiction with complex themes and obtuse plots while genre fiction, with its detectives and spaceships and dragons is, well, silly.

It turns out that I like silly things. I like silly things because they are fun, but I also like silly things because they can present complex ideas in creative ways. At CMEpalooza, we fully support trying silly things, like a CME version of The Masked Singer, or a whiskey-swilling detective dedicated to maintaining accreditation compliance, or an 80’s movies themed Outcomes session, or a trivia competition combining CME and pop culture facts.

Outwardly, these may seem like purely silly ideas, but there is always a purpose and reason behind the formats we choose. We try these ideas because when something really clicks, it can be a sublime leaning experience for participants. We realize that not every format is going to click with every learner and that’s OK. If you are not enjoying the format of a particular session, it’s OK to turn it off. It won’t hurt our feelings. When we try new formats, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It is interesting, though, how often the sessions that receive the most complaints are also the sessions that receive the most compliments.

We hope to be announcing the agenda for CMEpalooza Fall relatively soon and, yes, we will once again be trying a new idea or two. We don’t know how well they will work, but we hope you won’t judge these fantasy books by their cover and give them a try.

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainty.”

Erich Fromm

2 thoughts on “The Fantasy Novel of Conferences

  1. Speaking of creative formats, maybe CMEpalooza could put together an escape room, like radiologists have done (see the latest Alliance Almanac).

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