Monday, June 7, 2010

Comfort food

Sometimes after a tiring crime-filled day at the office all I want to do a mystery novel. Much to my surprise, I've finally had to admit that there is something very comforting about them. When I was growing up, my mother always used to read murder mysteries (and still does); I always found this confusing. Why would she want to read about dead people? Over and over again? And why do so many people--like my roommate, like my sister--watch Law & Order all the time, even when they have seen the episode before?

I seem to have found the answer, or at least an answer. After reading and writing so much at work that is disjointed, after reading so many poems and literary works where form is such an integral part of the experience, it's a welcome change to read a narrative driven by the Russian-doll intracacies of plot. Each novel is self-contained: crime set-up, investigation, resolution (even if, as in the most recent case, the resolution is anything but triumphant). It's nice, too, to commit to a series, to learn a little bit more about the characters and their familiar habits each time you crack open the next installment. To give a couple of specific examples: Ever since A.-- lent me the first Commissario Brunetti novel last fall, I've been working my way through the series, and have just finished the twelfth book. Donna Leon's evocations of the sights and sounds and tastes of Venice--and her depiction of the corruption that lurks within this beautiful touristy city (that I, for one, would like to visit)--are fascinating, absorbing, and even occasionally humorous, despite the darkness of the mysteries themselves. And I love the somewhat less long-established series of Detective Jack Leightner novels by Gabriel Cohen--in these, the pleasure of reading about an exotic-to-me locale is transposed into my own familiar Brooklyn, where I can effortlessly imagine Leightner striding around Prospect Park or checking into police headquarters near Coney Island. And of course there's the previously mentioned ambivalence-inducing thrill of Stieg Larsson's Girl series. What a relief to put yourself in the hands of someone else's plot for a while. And to temporarily visit a world where murders and rapes and assaults are only fictional (unlike the very real reports sitting on my desk).

How about you, readers? What do you read to relax (besides my wonderful blog of course)? Chick lit? Sci fi? Or do you prefer--heavens forfend!--television? Perhaps you only read serious works of Literature. If so, my copy of Borges's Collected Fictions, to name but one of my as-yet-unfinished companions, and I surely salute you...


  1. My current mystery series of choice is The Dresden Files, though that's becoming less noir mystery and more fantasy epic with each passing book. They're still all reassuringly smooth reads, though.

    Oh, and the Discworld 'Watch' books. Ah, Sam Vimes.

  2. Oh, I liked the Watch book I read. But I still feel like I've overdosed on Terry Pratchett a bit...

  3. I only read SERIOUS WORKS OF LITERATURE. Picture books. Lay 'em on me. Picture books for life.