Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reading Rules

What is good about books about writing is that they keep a writer company. For that purpose, they're very useful. -Martha Grimes

I'm reading a Martha Grimes mystery at the moment. It's the 14th in the Detective Richard Jury series, called The Case Has Altered. I've always been a mystery fan, ever since I was 7 or 8 and got my hands on my aunt's old, yellow-spined Nancy Drew books that my grandmother had kept. Must be something I inherited from Aunt Tonia, since she also introduced me a few years later to Agatha Christie's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. There are a gazillion mysteries out there, and frankly most of them seem pretty silly - the cat ones, the food ones, the scrapbook ones, things of that ilk. I don't want funny mysteries, really, and I don't want supernatural ones either. I want solid, intelligent, well-written, realistic, but not overly graphic mysteries. And if they're set in the UK then that's a huge plus too. I admit, I've become quite the Anglophile over the years. (Must have been all that listening to The Smiths, The Cure, and U2 in high school!)

Sometimes when I'm in the middle of one of these Jury novels I wonder, why in the heck am I still reading them? When there are SO MANY good books out there I've yet to read, why continue marching my way, slowly, through this series, or the other British mystery writer I enjoy, Ruth Rendell's, works? I suppose it's the same reason I continue to watch every episode of "Bones," even when the writing is uneven and frustrating. It's the characters! I've invested so much emotionally in the characters of Grimes's books - charming, sad Detective Jury, his good friend, amateur detective/man of means Melrose Plant, all the quirky characters in the town of Long Piddleton where Plant lives. They're practically old friends, and it's a pleasant respite to visit with them. Jury and Plant are both spectacularly unlucky in love, and there is usually some subplot about one or the other of them trying and failing to sustain relationships. I continue to hope that in the end (if there is an end?) at least one of them will find true love. (Hmmm, sounds sort of like "Bones" again, doesn't it?)

I can't devour a whole series in its entirety like some readers can. I'll read one and not pick up the next one for a couple of months, at least, so I can prolong the experience. (I do that with other authors' works too, not just mystery series.) That's one of my "reading rules." Everybody has them, I think, if they read habitually. My other hard and fast rule is this: Unless the book is a Book Group pick, then I give it 60-70 pages. If it fails to sustain my interest, or the characters are too annoying, then I turn it back in. Life is too short to read crappy books!

I don't know if I'd call this a rule, per se, but it's definitely a tendency of mine. I have a hard time reading books that everyone and their brother raves about. There are certain books that people who don't make a habit of reading somehow hear about and want.* The Twilight books, the Left Behind books, Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, Tuesdays With Morrie, anything by Nicholas Sparks... all of these come to mind in this category. There are also literary fiction offerings that everyone says you "have" to read: for example, The Kite Runner, The Help, Three Cups of Tea, Memoirs of a Geisha. Haven't read any of these. Okay, you're right, I DID read the Da Vinci Code, but only because my then-boyfriend raved about it and I was young and stupid and would have done just about anything he suggested, okay?

When too many people tell me I "should" read something, my internal bull starts snorting and stamping its feet on the ground. Resistance rears its stubborn head. They may be the best damn books in the world and I may be a ninny for refusing to read them, but I just don't care. Refer to Reading Rule Number 1: Life is too short to read crappy books! And crappy, like beauty, is most definitely in the eye of the beholder.

So what are your reading rules? I'm always interested in why people read what they read.

(*And I admit, even though I know better and all I really care about is that people read and use their public library system, that I'm a terrible book snob.)

1 comment:

  1. My husband hated school and reading--I know. When we were first married, I would read aloud to him before bed. At first, it was "manly" books that I thought he would stay interested in, like 'The Hot Zone'. Then, funny books that he had seen movies to like, 'The Princess Bride'. I had scores of books picked out and stacked on our nightstands. Then, I realized that he had completely missed out on jr fiction! We still read to each other and we're still reading jr fiction books together. This fits our quirky relationship perfectly. Original/creative, humorous, and relatively a quick read. The "rules" are different for what I read on my time though...