Day 13 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Why do we read mysteries?! I don't actually read very many mysteries, but I notice that lots of people do, and that I eventually see some very popular mysteries after they are made into movies!
People come into Babbitt's Books and go straight to the mystery aisle and walk out with stacks of books. Sometimes they bring lists, so they won't buy the same book again, and sometimes they don't bring lists and do buy the same book twice. Which leads me back to the why question above. If the mystery was so forgettable, why the urge to repeat the experience? But maybe that is the answer in itself, and relates to my earlier comment about eating short stories. Do some of us read mysteries because it is like eating something we enjoy eating? We could then extend the metapor to nutritious food vs. comfort food that is not always nutritious and literary vs genre fiction, but I am not an elitist like that, I see the wonderful blurrings and blendings of such categories, and I mostly see categories as a way of organizing knowledge and bookshelves/bookstore aisles--that is, I see categories as practical, not definitive nor evaluative. Even in science, the categories (species, planets, etc.) do not hold exactly--there are new definitions, changes, blurrings. So, feh.
Specifically, why do we read murder mysteries? Is it to expose human evil, human motives?
Earlier this morning, about 5ish, I mused on Shakespeare. Macbeth seems clearly designed to show us the inadvisability of committing a murder to 1) impress the wife or 2) get ahead in life. Likewise, Hamlet invites us to question the urge for revenge played out as murder. Is the urge to avenge someone else's death just our own evil, similarly exposed, or really a messenger from God or the return of the Furies? Is revenge really about justice at all? Hamlet has a hard time deciding on this re: his father's ghost. Further, he has a hard time deciding whether it is a human's place at all to exact revenge, to take another human life. Shakespeare shows us it is probably not our place, as look at all this senseless violence, waste of life, etc. Something is rotten.... Fortinbras, please set things right!
Also, why, in some murder mysteries, is murder the solution to the murderer's problem (money, sex, ambition, revenge) in the first place? Why is human life so disposable to him/her? How are we to understand this?
So here are some of the mysteries people are reading:
Laura is about to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, the first in a trilogy by a Swedish writer who died in 2004 from a heart attack. A guy came into Babbitt's the other day looking for the Swedish mysteries. I didn't realize at the time that the book I'd tucked onto my own hold shelf, Laura's book, was probably what he wanted! Robert is also reading the Larsson trilogy, which includes The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest and The Girl Who Played with Fire. These are described by readers and reviewers as page-turners that are very literary. They seem less like the "forgettable" titles one might swallow too quickly.
Phyllis is about to read Whose Body by Dorothy Sayers, and Robert, Julie, and Tom all raved about Sayers's Gaudy Night, as well. (We have lots of Sayers fans at Babbitt's, too!) I would like to hear more about the appeal of these books, and why these particular mysteries are so compelling. Phyllis is reading Sayers in the context of her Mystery Book Club.
To pursue genre blurring and human motive a bit more, I'll mention that Susan is reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, which seems to be an intricate look at evil as well as a detective story and a bunch of other things.
So, tell me, why do you read murder mysteries?
(And P.S., speaking of Hamlet, here is a different ending for Ophelia, thanks to her sassy gay friend, Second City Network, and Kevin Loomis!!)