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Monday, August 02, 2010

Books I don't love

The erstwhile editor-in-chief of Newsweek, Jon Meacham, wrote a spirited defense of the thriller and mystery genres in the magazine's annual book issue this week. He could have been addressing me, rather than his unnamed friend, who dismisses the books, "leaving no room for argument." He invited responses, so this is the one I sent:

I'm afraid I'm with Jon's hapless/faithless friend - I'm yet another person who is not a fan of the thriller or mystery genres.

I read a bunch of Rex Stout when I was younger and I don't regret any of the time I spend on those books. And I'm a huge fan of Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko stories. My favorite is Havana Bay, where Renko actually attempts suicide, so weary is he of the disappointing world. Smith's careful research is evident in every book, so they are less pulpy than most in the genre.

I have many friends and relatives who adore these books, and I've tried many times to join in their enthusiasm, but I just can't get there.

One of my biggest complaints about the mystery genre is that every story begins with a murder, often described in loving detail. I just don't need that in a literary experience. And thrillers often have a questionable morality that I find quite off-putting. Jingoism and American exceptionalism are prevelant and a general attitude that might makes right or the ends justify the means. It taints otherwise interesting stories.

I appreciate Jon's spirited defense of books that he loves. But I'm sorry to report that his passion does not sway me.


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