Comments from a reader

by Woodstock

(Hi all. I’m on vacation with the family this week and invited a devoted suspense reader to guest blog. "Woodstock" is the pen name for a retired tax acountant who lives and reads in the suburbs of Colorado’s Front Range communities. Give her a warm welcome. PNT)

I’ve always been a reader, and suspense fiction has been my first choice since I was about 9 years old and read THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK — Nancy Drew, of course. With my current day in, day out, level of responsibility, I read at the rate of 2-3 books/week. At least two members of a book discussion group I used to attend thought I was strange because I read so much! Believe me, I’d read even more if I could.

Many people have observed that there are only a few general plot lines. I agree. The action in a book, while certainly important to holding my interest, is not the first thing I think of when I ponder what makes a "good read." How a character acts and/or reacts is what will hold my interest and bring me back to that author when another book appears.

Suspense fiction has it all. Do you like romance? The title character in T. Jefferson Parker’s SILENT JOE planned the first date to end all first dates. What about humor? Janet Evanovich had me wiping tears of laughter from my eyes when Stephanie Plum delivered a chocolate pie to the wrong face in FOUR TO SCORE. Would you enjoy a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions? Pick up Kent Harrington’s DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, Ken Bruen’s DRAMATIST, or Chuck Hogan’s PRINCE OF THIEVES. Is a tightly woven plot more your style? I’d recommend Stephen Booth’s BLACK DOG or IMPULSE by Frederick Ramsay. Do you enjoy a strong sense of place? Check out Donis Casey, Adrea Camilleri, James Lee Burke, the Scudder or Bernie Rhodenbarr series by Lawrence Block, and books by Donna Leon, Daniel Silva or Tony Hillerman. If you are interested in history, there are dozens of mysteries set in other times and in other places. I usually don’t pick up "historicals" but have enjoyed Rebecca Pawel’s series set in Spain in the 1940s.

I could probably keep going for billions of bytes of bandwidth, but I think you get the idea. I find in suspense fiction more variety than I can begin to catalog.

The biggest change in bookselling I notice now as a customer is the huge increase in author appearances, booksigning events, poetry readings and the like. In the few months I worked at an independent store one Christmas season, a signing occurred perhaps once or twice a month. Now, that same store’s weekly newspaper ads list an event almost every day of the week, and sometimes two or three on the same night, in each of the three store locations. This means that more and more authors have the opportunity to meet more and more readers, and I regard that as a very good development.

Another change which impacts my life almost daily is the role of the Internet in creating readers’ communities, connecting these communities with other similar groups, and providing word of mouth recommendations to those who like to read.

Websites maintained by authors can be treasure troves of interesting information and sources of community as well. A website given only sporadic attention by an author or a publicist can be a huge disappointment and can limit my interest in that author. Do it right, or don’t do it at all, would be my advice.

Because of my participation in a couple of Internet based reading groups, I learned about book conventions. I’ve been an eager participant in every Bouchercon since 2000. Left Coast Crime will be held near my home in 2008, and I regularly cast longing eyes over the schedules for Mayhem in the Midlands, Thrillerfest, Magna Cum Murder, Love is Murder and The Great Manhattan Mystery Conference in Manhattan, KS which is held annually less than a day’s drive from my home. I really wish I had the resources to attend every convention I can find. Alas, not just yet.

Conventions have introduced me to new authors, given me face-to-face contact with people I knew through Internet communications, and raised my confidence as a participant in what is truly a world-wide community.

I could not support my reading addiction without a public library. I’m fortunate to live in a lively, well funded, expanding district. Keep in mind that library patrons sell books, too. I have filled out a form at more than one library indicating interest in a specific title, and my libraries have purchased at least one copy. Librarians tell me that word of mouth for books like THE KITE RUNNER  or THE BOOKSELLER OF KABUL sends them off to the wholesaler to order more copies and keep up with demand. And the guys who used to run the small press Uglytown told me one time, "We don’t get remainders back from libraries." When a library buys a book, it stays sold.

If I could have one wish granted for those of us who read, write and publicize suspense fiction, it would be to dissolve the divide between "literary" works and "genre fiction."

I’m not sure where and how the divide was created. For a reader like me, who will read just about anything, the distinction doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I don’t have an easy answer, or any answer at all for that matter. But that would be my wish.

Thanks for the invitation to join you. Happy reading to you all!

Woodstock (read reviews here)

9 thoughts on “Comments from a reader

  1. B.G. Ritts

    Hey, Woodstock, it’s wonderful to see you here on Murderati! (I’m one of the people she’s had ‘face-to-face contact with’ at conventions, and it’s always interesting conversations we fall into.) In reference to your ‘dissolve the divide,’ on Saturday, you blogged about the MYSTERIOUS MATTERS ‘Celebrating Intelligence’ entry of July 10. Have you also read Ursula Le Guin’s essay ( ) in response to Ruth Franklin’s May 8 SLATE comment about genre fiction?

  2. Louise Ure

    Woodstock, you live in rarefied air. You must be in the top 1% of readers involved in crime fiction if you’re attending conventions, reading 2-3 books a week, and participating in library, bookstore and online author events.I wish there were a million more of you!

    It’s interesting to note that you describe much of this reading as “suspense fiction” rather than mysteries or crime fiction. I agree with you that the best literary works have to involve that same kind of suspense. We have to care about what happens to the characters, not matter which sub-genre we’re reading.

  3. Naomi


    Thanks for guest-blogging. Your comment about author websites surprised me–that an outdated website could limit your interest–wow. That’s good to remember for all of us.

  4. Woodstock

    Re author websites – I’ve read at least two books by an author I enjoy very much, I don’t think it’s necessary to mention by name. I noticed on the book jacket of the latest release (early 2007) that you could find out more at the website, and listed the URL. So I navigated over there. There was a breathless paragraph about the “latest book!” publication date early 2004, at least a couple of titles in the past. And a second breathless paragraph with info on the “author tour!” Also early 2004. Someone, somewhere is still paying at least a few bucks for ISP server access. So why is this so outdated? Clearly, since several new books have arrived on the scene, the author is alive and well and continuing to write. If the author is paying a publicist for this, it’s wasted money. If the author never checks in person, it’s a wasted effort as well as wasted money.

    And Louise – “rarefied air.” I think I like it! And rarefied it may be, however voracious reading seems “normal” to me, always has. And this connects with one of the joys of online reading communities. Although we may be the 1% of readers, my online friends understand this “rarefied air” and we’re all comfortable here!

  5. Patricia

    I am also one of those people that have met Woodstock face to face at conventions because of our online communities and I wholeheartedly agree about the “labeling” of the whole mystery is frustrating and subjective when browsing bookstore shelves to find one author in general fiction/literature and others in mystery. I also have a thing for authors websites that are not current…even if there is no news to be put on the site that little tag line at the bottom says it all “this site was last updated -fillintheblank-” this at least indicates whether someone monitors the site or not.


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