Naturally, we all have particular reading tastes and one can hardly be expected to enjoy all genres or subjects, but sometimes I feel as if I’m in a reading rut. Ten mystery novels in a row? Five books on natural history? Perhaps it is time to branch out, to be more catholic in my reading choices.
I try this every few years by making scouting forays into those sections of the bookstore where I rarely venture . This year I decided to find just one book from each row of the “general” fiction area at my favorite local independent bookstore, Third Place Books. It was tough going. Even though each row contained around 5,000 books, it was a struggle to find one book that I wanted to read.
One book I found was a sheer delight, though: A Guide to the Birds of East Africa (yes, it’s a novel) by Nicolas Drayson, so I felt encouraged to persevere. I found The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery) which was mostly fun, though flawed, and I found The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet (Reif Larsen) which was even more fun (and less flawed). Still, it took me many hours to sift through those thousands of books to find those few, and though I enjoyed them, when I was finished with them I must admit that all I wanted to do was read another mystery novel.
I’d say that about 80% of my fiction reading is mysteries, and 20% middle-grade children’s novels. I did read a lot of sci-fi/fantasy from my teens through my early 30s, but have since lost interest in that genre (with rare exceptions). I also plowed through a lot of “classic” literature in college days – Homer, the Greek playwrights, the Roman satirists, Shakespeare, Swift, Defoe, Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, Eliot (George),Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Mann, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Joyce, Camus, and so on and so forth and there isn’t a lot left there unread of great interest.
Mysteries, though – I’ve read them since I was a wee lass, starting with Nancy Drew, the Hardy boys, Trixie Belden. By age 11 or so, I moved up to adult mysteries of the “classic puzzle” type (Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie). In college I had a penchant for both U.S. and U.K. police procedurals, and after 10 or so years of that, swung to amateur sleuths in mostly non-urban settings with a light touch. All of the other fiction genres I’ve read have come and gone but mysteries stay the course. I never grow tired of detectives solving crimes, and of enjoying the ride as they do so.
Over the decades, I’ve read quite widely, and found what I like, so feeling as if I’m in a reading rut is probably just plain silly. Perhaps I shouldn’t think of reading endless mystery novels as being stuck in a rut. Maybe it’s better to think: A rut is simply a well-worn track, made deep by many journeys because it is the best possible route to take.