Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why I Don't Like Reading Mysteries

At the end of my post "Mini Lessons From My Summer Reading," I said that reading THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET had clarified for me why I don't generally like reading mysteries.

It seems to me that in a mystery, the author and the detective character are working together to solve the mystery. As the reader, I'm in on lots of the clues, but often, I doesn't have access to all of the clues that it takes to solve the mystery. It frustrates me to no end when the mystery gets solved with information I never had access to.  Because I know that the author will make it impossible (or nearly so) for me to solve the mystery based on the clues provided in the book, I don't really try. I disengage as a reader. For me, reading a mystery is like watching a movie -- I'm on the outside looking in, an observer but not a participant.

In a novel like JACOB DE ZOET, it feels like the author is working directly with me, the reader, to make sense of the story. Every (non-mystery) novel is still a kind of a mystery because the author gives me all the clues or information I will need to make sense of the story.  However, I'm working with the author because it's up to me to pay attention to the clues s/he gives me, to follow the bread crumbs that are dropped for me to follow so that I can construct the story together with the author.  The author trusts me, the reader, to be clever enough and observant enough to make sense of it all.  I like the kind of book where I collaborate with the author to make meaning and solve the puzzle of the story s/he is telling.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Is there some joy in reading mysteries that I'm missing?


  1. I have to say I would have agreed with you until I read Gollywhopper Games to my class. They loved it and were with me the whole time. We had to work together to keep track of the clues. i also just finished reading Andrew Clements first book in his new series called
    We the Children (Keepers of the School). The story was good but the ending hooked me to keep reading. I think it would be great book to introduce students to a new series.

  2. I agree with you that the key element to an enjoyable mystery is the ability to solve the mystery based on clues given by the author for the reader to discover along with the sleuth. I'm not a huge fan of mysteries either; however, when they are done *well* they are great fun for me, for that same sense of discovery that you wrote about. The problem, in my opinion, is that so many mysteries are not well written, and a few bad experiences cause us to avoid them!

  3. When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. I guess I don't mind if the author plays with me a bit. I can be a little disappointed if I figure things out too easily.

    I'll have to look at that book Maria mentions (Gollywhopper Games) -- it has a great title!

  4. I guess that's why we have so much choice! Me... not a science fiction reader... nor mysteries! I'm a homespun, personal narrative kind of reader (or great nonfiction).

    But, I do have a daughter who is quite the opposite. She rereads (as do several of my students) often to "see what I missed the first time." I love that!


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