That heading is, in fact, literally true – but that’s only peripherally where this post is going.
There’s a radio show over here in the UK called I’ve Never Seen Star Wars. It briefly became a TV show as well, with exactly the same premise.
A well-known person, usually a rather more interesting one than the average D-list celeb, is asked to name three things s/he has never done – and then is asked to do them, and provide his/her reaction in each case. Nothing dangerous, or even off the wall: just ordinary activities which they’ve sidestepped over the years.
Those reactions are predictably mixed. One magazine editor had never made a cake; he did so, with some success, and his kids enjoyed it. One actress had never eaten lobster; she did, and discovered there were sound reasons for avoiding it.
One TV presenter had never read The da Vinci Code, citing an acute aversion to over-hyped bestsellers as his reason; he read it, and gratifyingly, reacted pretty much as I did, which could be why I remember that episode so vividly. He said he couldn’t stop reading; it was a terrific page-turner. But after he’d finished it, he felt very uncomfortable about having devoted so many hours to such... yes, well, I’ll leave you to fill in your own description.
And there endeth the preamble. Now you can see where this is going, can’t you?
There are lots of crime writers whose work I’ve never read. Lots whose work I have read too, witnessed by the fact that husband is, at this very moment, ordering a new wall-full of flatpack bookshelves to accommodate the overspill which has been accumulating for weeks. But probably far more I’ve never even sampled.
And quite a few I’ve dipped into, and dipped straight out again.
This isn’t take-a-pop-at-authors-I-don’t-like time, any more than the radio show is about pouring scorn on popular films. I know it’s all a matter of taste.
But try as I might, I can’t work out why I’m fine with some renditions of blood, gore and excessive violence and not with others.
Or why, since I can’t connect with Scandinavian or Italian cops, it was love at first reading with a French one the other week, and I’m instantly at home with most things American.
And why it is that, though character comes first with me, and watching a series character grow, develop and have a life is my greatest reading pleasure – I just adore Jack Reacher, who goes from book to book, adventure to adventure, unchanged and never moves on in any sense other than geographical.
I try to give every book I pick up the 50-page test, but when the first 30 contain two brutal murders, a lot of graphic bad-guy-induced agony and a pointless car chase that wreaks havoc through the middle of a small, peaceful town I don’t always make it. On the other hand, an elaborate reconstruction of a mediaeval torture instrument used to wreak a terrible revenge held me riveted.
I really did try with Sweden and Sicily, but nothing struck any chords.
And Jack. I was hooked from the outset, and I didn’t even start with the first in the series.
These are just examples, of course. I must have said many times right here in this blog that I’m a sucker for great writing, but as long as the prose doesn’t clunk along at snail’s pace or contain so many glitches or clumsinesses that I can’t see anything else – neither of which happens often, since commissioning editors are mostly as picky as I am – I don’t usually have a problem getting into the story. And as I said the other week, a gripping story is half of what it’s about for me. For much the same reason vis à vis commissioning editors, there’s usually a character I can empathize with, which takes care of my other main reading criterion.
So why some books and not others?
Now, that really is a mystery.