Looking for Light as the Dark Season Approaches

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?

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16 Responses to Looking for Light as the Dark Season Approaches

  1. Dru says:

    I read what I want to read and my preferred genre is cozies which are light reads. I will read a darker book, but that is far and few. I read to escape the world.

  2. John Clark says:

    I must have inherited the family’s dark loving DNA. I’m more likely to bail on a YA book that’s got too much sweetness and return to another dystopian tale.

  3. Monica says:

    Total wimp. I am now my mother. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t read certain books or watch some movies. I don’t watch any movies now and my reading list is basically from the Golden Age of mystery fiction. Or, Jeeves and Wooster. Or, Mapp and Lucia.

    • I think I should have titled this post: I have become my mother. More like my mother-in-law. My mother was quite intrepid. But then…when she was in her eighties, she complained to the local library that she was tired of mysteries that were too gory, so the librarian said, “if you don’t like what the Vose Library has to offer, why don’t you go home and write one?” So she did. She published The Maine Mulch Murder at age 83.


  4. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    Oh, Kate. The need for diversion and escape is totally understandable. I too used to insist on being “moved” (i.e. depressed) by books and movies. No longer. I’m not completely fluff-headed, but getting close. Richard Osman and Elly Griffiths write excellent mysteries with real-ish people and problems, yet manage to not make one want to throw oneself in the ocean accompanied by a large rock. And watching Monty Don should be equivalent to blood pressure medication–very soothing. I just finished his Adriatic gardens series. He’s a treasure.

  5. Judy Alter says:

    I so identify with your book-skipping. I go through spells where nothing grabs me. My refuge is what I call outrageous cozies–books by Lois Winston or Julie Mulhern or the Finley series by Elle Cosimano. They require lots of willing suspense of disbelief, but they make me laugh out loud, something I think all of us need often.

  6. Shelley Burbank says:

    Yes! I am feeling the same way. Part of it is the state of the world, for sure. The other part is I’m reading so many crime novels right now, digging deep into the genre, that I’m on a bit of violence overload.

    It’s always a little ironic to me that light, cozy mysteries are built around death and murder. (When I wrote my first mystery, I chose fraud as my crime, not murder. Since then, I’ve learned that readers expect a dead body, so I’m writing a novella prequel with a murder at the beginning. Still, I think fraud is equally fascinating. I mean, hello! How many people watched the Anna Delvey biopic? But I digress.)

    What I LOVE about cozies, though, are the village settings and the quirky characters. Since the murders take place off stage, they don’t hit my psyche in the way darker mysteries and thrillers do. Other novels seem horrific to me right now.

    Not just crime novels, either! For book club, we chose a novel by a writer I admire. A particularly vivid description of an act of domestic violence left me feeling sick to my stomach and, like you, I thought: this isn’t what I need right now.

    With all the bad stuff happening in the world and on the page, I’m left feeling a little bit tired and wondering: can we write something uplifting, inspiring, and less murderous and still find an audience these days? Can’t we write mysteries about something other than physical violence once in awhile?

    Next thing I work on is going to be a rom-com I started over a year ago. Yes, there is a little mystery in there, but no murder. Just an attempt. And some sabotage. But mostly it’s a love story. I need the break. I think readers might need it, too.

  7. Judy Moore says:

    Wimp out at violence because it is hard to forget.

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