Kate Flora: When I was young, readily immersing myself in dark films like Bergman’s and dark, twisty mysteries like Minette Walters, or cold ones like those from the brilliant P.D. James, I used to wonder at those in my parents’ generation who expressed a reluctance to read dark books or view dark films because they were too depressing. If the past week is any indicator, I am joining their generation.
Maybe it is simply because the world feels so precarious. So full of violence and uncertainty. Politics. Ukraine. The devastation from Hurricane Ian. The world doesn’t feel like a benign place right now. This is so even though the trees are doing their best to put on a vibrant display, despite a summer of drought. This is so even though there have been such gorgeous blue skies and the ocean is such a lovely dark blue and my gardens are still dancing with color. This is so even though it is excellent walking weather, enticing me to leave my desk and come outside even though I am trying to write at least two thousand words a day.
I’ve been trying to decide whether I am becoming a wimp. With darkness coming on earlier, I am trying to do more reading, and finding books I want to read is a challenge. This week I scrolled through books I’ve downloaded on my kindle and started Tommy Orange’s book, There There. After several pages of graphic and disturbing descriptions of the horrific things that early American settlers did to the Native Americans, I gave up. Despite the great reviews the book got, it was just too awful for some casual evening reading. It’s probably fair to say that I wimped out.
What does one do when a particular books doesn’t seem like a good choice? Move on, of course. There is always another book. We don’t all share the same taste which is why there is such a variety of books to choose from. I will return to Orange’s book another time when I am not so daunted by the opening. I moved on to the next book chosen by my book group, Charles Blow’s memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Alas for me, a wimp looking for something compelling to read yet not so dark. The book immediately opens with a rape. Not graph or dwelled up, but there it was. Something I wasn’t up to spending time with right now.
Okay. There is always another book, right? So I picked up the book I had wanted my book group to read, Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. Liked the character, the voice. Could relate to the dilemma of a women chemist in all-male labs in the early sixties. And then—another rape.
I am considering going back to my usual refuge when I have to read but nothing seems to be working: gardening books, including the Monty Don book I got for my birthday. I am happy to be advised about the steps I need to take in order to put my gardens to bed for the winter, even though that advice may generate a list of things to get at the local garden store. Safer to spray the plants before I bring them in. Some enriched potting soil to top dress some of the pots before they came in. Cuttings from some of annuals to cheer up pots for the winter, including cuttings from several members of the plectranthus family. I only recently met this family and enjoy their company very much.
There are also cookbooks. While I await the arrival of the two I’ve just ordered: Ottolenghi’s Simple and The Cookbook, I’m diving back into The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook and The Silver Palate.
I will also, of course, dip back into my kindle library to look for something a bit lighter while I brace myself for reading those “I don’t wanna” books that will be improving, enlightening, and in the end, I am sure, entertaining.
I will also note this irony here: I sometimes write very dark books. I am writing one right now, the eighth Joe Burgess police procedural, Such a Good Man. Before that, it was the “medium boiled” Death Sends a Message, book eleven in my Thea Kozak series. And last summer, I went more light-hearted with Unleashed Love, my attempt at a romance with readers tell me is women’s fiction. Maybe my need for lighter reading is precisely because I already spend so much time in the dark world of criminals and crime.
My question for my fellow readers in this: Do you sometimes wimp out and reject the books you should be reading? Do have a type of book you take refuge in? Or are you the disciplined reader who believes in finishing what you start and that sometimes we read the books because they improve our knowledge of the world?