Add plenty of variety.
Make sure your reading diet contains a variety of books. Even if you’re seriously addicted to crime fiction, there’s still plenty of variety in the genre. So how do you choose a varied reading diet? Well, there are lots of wonderful challenges to choose from that allow you to experience crime fiction from all over the world. There’s the 2011 Global Reading Challenge, the 2011 Ireland Reading Challenge, the 2011 Alphabet in Crime Fiction community meme, the 2011 Nordic Challenge, the 2011 Vintage Mystery Challenge and the 2011 Aussie Author Challenge among many others. Of course, challenges are not for everyone, but you may want to consider at least sampling some of the delicious international crime fiction cuisine out there. Even if you prefer “home cookin’,” sampling something you haven’t tried before can awaken your literary tastebuds and make it fun to stay on your reading diet.
Look for nutritionally complete reading.
Nutrition is essential for a healthy reading diet, just as it is for a healthy eating diet. So as you plan your reading, check to make sure your choices have all sorts of nutritive value. How do you do that? Check for the basics and you’ll probably be fine. For instance, you’ll want to be sure you get plenty of character development. You can find that in works by many crime fiction authors. Some of the authors who I think do character development quite well are Michael Connelly, Ngaio Marsh, Elly Griffiths and Henning Mankell. Of course that’s just my opinion and there are many, many other authors I haven’t mentioned whose characters are memorable. Choose carefully and you’ll find authors whose characters you like.
And while you’re looking for solid literary nutrition, don’t forget plot. Agatha Christie, Jo Nesbø and Michael Robotham have created memorable plots that keep the reader on the edge of the seat, so to speak. Again, those are only a few examples of authors who do plots quite well (in my opinion, of course). Whatever your taste in plots is, make sure you choose your crime fiction diet to include plenty of plot.
Avoid too much fat.
A little literary fat is important for the reading diet, just as we humans need a certain amount of fats in our food diets. But too much “fat” – too much padding, detail and extraneous plot threads – leave the reader bloated and lethargic. That is not a healthy state of affairs. So choose authors whose books have a healthy amount of literary “fat;” enough detail to tell the reader what’s going on in the story, but not so much that the details outweigh that oh-so-important-and-nutritionally-necessary plot. Now of course, everyone’s different, and everyone requires a slightly different amount of literary “fat,” so everyone’s taste will vary. That said though, I’ve found that authors such as Håkan Nesser, Maj Sjöwall and Per Whalöö, Megan Abbott and Benjamin Black tell stories that give readers important information without adding too much unnecessary verbiage.
Keep it light.
Murder is a horrible thing, so sometimes, well-written crime fiction can be dark. Very dark. There’s nothing wrong with reading a dark story sometimes, just as there’s nothing wrong with eating the occasional heavy meal. But a healthy reading diet shouldn’t be too heavy. Otherwise, there’s a tendency to feel the weight of the world, so to speak, when one reads, instead of experiencing it as the pleasure it can be.
So make sure you keep your reading diet light enough to be healthy. How do you do that? Especially when you consider how grim murder really is. There are plenty of authors (Colin Cotterill, Andrea Camilleri, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir come to my mind) who can weave humour and light touches into their novels. These authors are able to tell a realistic story, which includes just how sad murder can be, without dragging the reader down into a morass of depression. I recommend regular doses of these light touches.
Keep it natural.
Too many artificial ingredients can be toxic, whether one eats them or reads them. So be sure to choose books that are realistic, believable and authentic. For example, coincidences do happen in real life, but too many of them in a novel end up being artificial and contrived. It’s fun to escape when we read, but don’t forget that reading also tells us about realistic people who behave and speak in realistic ways. That’s the source of a healthy, natural diet of reading.
There are far too many authors whose work is realistic for me to mention them here. I’ll just say this: to judge whether you’ve chosen a “natural” book or too artificial a story, ask yourself if you’re ever tempted to say, “Oh, now come on!” as you read. If you are, then you’ve probably chosen a book that has too many artificial additives.
Of course it’s the ingredients of a good book that make it a healthy addition to your diet. But the reality is, a good book is just as much a feast for the eyes, so to speak, as is a good meal. People don’t want to eat food that doesn’t look and smell tasty. People don’t want to read books that don’t seem “tasty.” So consider choosing books that present the story attractively. That means strong writing. How do you know the writing’s strong? Well, if you can remember snatches of the dialogue or paragraphs of description after you’ve finished reading, then you’ve chosen a book with good presentation. There are lots of different attractive ways to present a literary “meal,” of course. I’m sure you’ve got your own taste in the way you like such things to be presented. A few authors who I think do this well are Adrian Hyland, Peter Temple, James Lee Burke and Deborah Crombie. Of course, that’s my opinion; you may prefer other presentations. But do consider the value of an attractively-presented story as you choose your reading diet.
You see? A healthy reading diet needn’t be tedious or tiresome. And if you choose wisely, you’ll be surprised at how good you’ll feel! I hope these tips are helpful as you consider your 2011 reading diet. Have you any tips you’d like to share? Now, if you’ll excuse me, Dr. Margot’s ;-) consulting hours are over ;-).