I recently got an email from a blog I follow (Grasping for the Wind) soliciting responses to the question: What fantasy world do you want to live in? This is a rather hard question, because I would like very much to live in a world where a girl can read, and has access to books--"Oh, all right, I'll come help you save the world--just let me finish this chapter..." (I also would like to live in a world where I wasn't in immanent danger of difficult deaths, demonic possession, zombies oozing guck onto the pages of my book, etc., which narrows it down somewhat).
So I have been casting my mind through the fantasy books I can remember, looking for girls who read. Here's what I have come up with.
Paula, in Cybele's Secret, by Juliette Marillier. This sequel to Wildwood Dancing features a smart, book-learned and intellectually curious girl (and it's a great mystery/adventure/coming of age story). The medieval setting, however, means that light fiction is not an option.
Beauty, in Robin Mckinley's book of the same name. This is a tempting one, as inside the Beast's castle there is a library that includes books not yet written. Lots to read! But do they all vanish when the enchantment ends? That would stink.
Ash, in Malinda Lo's book of the same name. Ash doesn't have many books, but she does have her favorite book of fairy tales, that she loves and re-reads...There's also a library in the town house she lives in, so it's clear this world has publishers. And it appears to be in general a civilized place, with a nice whaft of magic around the edges--a possibility.
Nepenthe, in Alphabet of Thorn, by Patricia McKillip. Here's a girl who was raised by librarians, and who works as a translator...it's a fine library, but rather scholarly, so little chance that she's reading fantasy. McKillip's Riddle Master series also seems like a world in which a girl can read, but I can't recall any girls doing so.
Haly, in Libyrinth, by Pearl North. I'm just starting this one, but it begins with Haly mourning for the loss of Charlotte's Web. Of course, the reason she's mourning it is that a nasty anti-book mob has demanded that it be burned, so this is a bad world for a reader...
Rhis, from A Posse of Princesses, by Sherwood Smith. She has a tower room, in which there is "a small case containing all her favorite books." This sounds hopeful--the implication being that there are lots of other books in her world that aren't her favorites. Also there are no zombies in her world, reducing the chances of unpleasant stains.
That's all I can think of right now--any more fantasy books with girls who read? I feel that there are several others, lurking on the edge of my mind.
Edited to add: Indeed, I left out quite a few.
Deva Fagan suggests Inkheart, and also
"Hermione, but she mostly reads non-fiction from what we see. But she certainly loves books!
Lireal (Garth Nix) is a reader and librarian.
Flora Segunda reads the sensational accounts of her heroes, if I recall, though that's not exactly novels." (I am rather ashamed to say that I haven't read Inkheart, any of the books about Lireal, or Flora...).
Becky reminded me of Charmain Baker, of Diana Wynne Jones' House of Many Ways, who "loved books more than anything else in the world" (page 8) and who wrote the following letter: "Your Majesty, Ever since I was a small child and first heard of your great collection of books and manuscripts, I have longed to work in your library" (page 7). Of course, Charmain's world comes with giant predatory supernatural insecty things, which I could do without...but it would be rather fun to bump into Howl.
And Penthe reminded me of a book I truly love--"Voices by Ursula le Guin, where reading and books are both beloved, and also help to save the day. Memer loves to read in her grandfather's hidden library." I knew there was a Le Guin I wanted to remember!
Els (aka Librarian Mom) suggests "the oldest sister in The Secret World of Og, by Pierre Berton, who reads a series of books about daring adventurer Lucy Lawless [not to be confused with the real-life actor Lucy Lawless of Xena Warrior Princess fame...] [and Og is Canadian and almost unknown in the U.S. but it's still in print & I highly recommend it!]" Sadly, Og isn't in the Rhode Island Library system...
Memory adds "Talia, the main character in Mercedes Lackey's ARROWS OF THE QUEEN, steals time away from her chores so she can read purloined novels. And both the female and male characters in Anne Bishop's Black Jewels books kick back with romances and mysteries."
Please let me know of any other examples of reading girls in fantasy; I'll keep adding to the list (which is now rather longer than I thought it would be) as needed.
And for the advanced challenge, are there any fantasy worlds that have good used bookstores?
In general, though, it seems strange to me that books, which one presumes were written for readers, don't actually show people reading much at all. Here's what I am waiting for--books that show people reading their kindle-like thingys in space, and wondering what paper is. Although this may have already happened. It sure would have solved the problem in The Green Book, by Jill Paton Walsh, in which a family moves to a colony world--the children can only take one book each, and are sad about this. As well they might be.