Monday, April 05, 2010

Re: How We Choose Which Crime/Westerns/Science Fiction to Read


I am always amazed at the number of books unfamiliar to me that get reviewed on Friday's Forgotten Books. Oh, yes that's the point of it, but still....

Where were these books when I began reading crime fiction? I started reading it at the end of the sixties as a teenager, and despite reading two or so crime fiction novels a week, I've never read most of the ones mentioned here.

What I read was entirely influenced by what my local libraries bought until fairly recently. I couldn't afford to buy books-first my husband was a student, then we had two children on his small salary. So I read what my librarians bought-which were not Gold Medal crime books-or anything released in paperback at all. They also steered clear of noirish books. Mainstream mysteries.

So while most of the FFB reviewers were reading writers who often show up on Fridays, I was reading another group entirely. What my local library bought formed my reading tastes. What formed yours? What drew you to the first books you read?

38 comments:

Cullen Gallagher said...

I get exactly what my library doesn't have. When I come across an author or title that intrigues me, I look to see if they have it -- and, usually, they don't. I guess NYU isn't so interested in Goodis or Fredric Brown. Though I've gotten a couple things through inter-library loan.

Growing up, I didn't hear ANYTHING about the books I'm reading now, or the ones mentioned in FFB. So, when I first discovered Spillane in vintage Signet editions in college, it was like there was a whole world of books that had been left out of history books and anthologies. I'm still learning new things every day, and I'm sure I will be for a lot longer.

Thanks, Patti, for organizing FFB -- a weekly education that is priceless. So many good recommendations.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Quite a list after two years. No chance of getting to most of them sadly.

James Reasoner said...

Once I started reading adult crime fiction (which overlapped with my Hardy Boys phase), the library books I had access to were the biggest influence. The bookmobile that came out to our little town from the county seat had Brett Halliday and A.A. Fair books. The junior high library had Agatha Christie. When our own local library opened, somebody donated a bunch of Saint books by Leslie Charteris. I became big fans of all of them. It wasn't long after that I started hitting the used bookstores (although I had to pester someone into taking me, since I couldn't drive yet) and picking up Gold Medals and Dell mapbacks. The drugstore across the highway from where I lived had a spinner rack full of those great Sixties paperbacks. There were always plenty of books to read, everywhere I looked. It was wonderful.

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Hey Patti,

My biggest influence was what I found at used bookstores and library sales. "Fill a bag of books for a dollar."

I picked up my first Richard S. Prather when when I saw it (Paperbacks - 10 cents) at the hospital where I was visiting my mother. Actually, that's where I might also have seen my first Donald Hamilton.

Stephen

pattinase (abbott) said...

There must have been bookstores in my little corner of Philly but I never saw one nor went into one. My mom had a shelf full off Ellery Queen and Perry Mason but that was it. It was strictly what the fussy librarians deemed "good" literature so it was all classic hard cover mystery writers. Nothing too steamy or violent.

George said...

Libraries didn't buy comic books or paperbacks when I was a kid. So I had to buy them. I frequented the Library on a weekly basis, but the cool books were on the spinners in the stores on the way to school: ACE Doubles, books with Robert McGinnis covers, and mystery novels by authors other than Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The only thing I noticed was Archie Comic Books apparently.

Fleur Bradley said...

I thought about this for a while, and realized many of my favorite books were gifts.
When I go to the library, I mostly request specific books.

FFB lists mostly books I hadn't heard of, which is fun.

Loren Eaton said...

I remember how a local bookseller steered me into cyberpunk, which largely informed my love of SF. And I hadn't read any crime writing for ages until I stumbled across Detectives Beyond Borders.

Randy Johnson said...

School libraries first fueled my reading addiction. Fortunately they had all the juvenile series for boys and girls(Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, and others), not to mention Heinlein.

My small town's first public library was one room, about thirty by forty, but, Lord, was it crammed with books.

As others mention, I hung out in places that had spinner racks for both paperbacks and comics(they may still be around, but I haven't seen one in years).

There was one place that used to have old paperbacks for sale. I didn't understand back then why the covers had all been torn off them, but they were cheap and I had little ready cash(what I wasn't saving from my paper routes).

A saying I heard years later might fit me. With my money, I buy books. If there's anything left, I buy food and clothes. or something like that.

Yes, thanks Patti for FFB. I see books every week I want and, as back then, I still don't have enough money, or the time to read them, to get them all.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My first library was a mobile library and she was very fussy about what she let children read. Then a large library opened and the very kind librarian there steered me toward many good books. It was when I entered the adult section at age 12, I only found "mysteries" by Tey, Rendell, Sayers-those sorts of books. I had books handed down to me from neighbors but they tended to always be fairy tales. There was a series of book with colors like the blue book of fairy tales or something like that. Never liked fairy tales. Wanted real people even if they were Dick and Jane.

Chris said...

I started out with the library as well -- I remember my third grade teacher let me check books out of the "older kids" section, which was cool. She later became my junior high teacher as well, and was a big influence on me. She recommended books to my parents that I might like around Christmas time (Chronicles of Narnia, the Dune trilogy), and things like that.

About junior high is when I discovered Dungeons and Dragons as well. The first edition Dungeon Masters Guide had a list of books that had influenced the game; stuff by people like Moorcock, Leiber, etc. I devoured that list as well. That's probably what got me started the most, reading those books, then ones like them.

I'm very new to crime fiction, so blogs and things are where I'm finding the stuff to read now. I'm pretty excited to find a whole new world of fiction at my ripe old age (just turned 43 yesterday, in fact).

Charles Gramlich said...

My entire first life as a reader was controlled by the library. I apprecaite whoever it was that did the selecting, but man i'd like to have had some other stuff that I found out about only much later.

Scott Parker said...

The irony of my discovery of my books was that my parents didn't influence me a lot. My mom read mysteries so that might explain why I started The Three Investigators and the Hardy Boys but I never went and started reading her books. My granddad liked westerns but I never read one until a couple of years ago. My dad like SF classics (Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, etc.) but I never read his, favoring Star Wars comics and SF books published post-1980.

My voyage was one of self-discovery. I forged my own path, partly from the library but mostly from books I bought. Even before the internet, if I found a book or was recommended one, if I liked it, I'd learn more about the author and blaze my own trail. The internet just made it easier. My education about crime fiction has been greatly influenced by FFB and, before that, Hard Case Crime. Lots of reading comes to me now by recommendation.

Richard R. said...

As I read through the previous comments, it struck me how different the experience has been depending on age. My discovering books years were in the early to mid 1950s, which meant it was pretty different than a lot of the others here.

Our house was full of books, my mother was very much a reader, as had been her mother. My dad read rarely, then non-fiction, but my mother and my much older brother always had a book going.

I was read to from a very early age, and that moved into my reading the children's books myself, then older boy's books. The Hardy Boys really got me going, and the Winston science fiction series which the library had.

Then my older brother was the big influence. He read SF and had a lot of SF Book Club books which I read, he also subscribed to Astounding Science Fiction (later Analog) and I read those, under his supervision, carefully, reverently.

After the Hardy Boys books, I didn't return to mystery reading until I was in my late twenties and read an Agatha Christie novel. I liked it and read a ton more of her books and those of similar writers. Discovering Chandler led me into hard-boiled and noir. The library didn't lay a part in what I read after I was about 12, I read what was on hand or later when I had some allowance money, bought paperbacks, many of which I still have.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Even today, despite more than one hundred books on the TBR pile, I am likely to be reading a library book. I don't know why. Maybe the plastic they cover it with feels familiar.

Iren said...

A lot of what I read had to do with other media-- films, TV, and music. I hear about something or someone and I would check it out. When I was in high school I had a Monday ritual to head out to a local book shop at lunch time. It was about 4 blocks away, and I would look over the new releases, often times spending $2.95 of my $5.00 lunch money on some paperback. There were also local used book shops near by, and I could find some things there. The local Library was on the other side of the block from the book shop, but for some reason I didn't check out books-- looking back I wish that I had saved that money and checked books out, but a lot of the mass market stuff I was reading wasn't carried by the library.

pattinase (abbott) said...

First there were few bookstores, then there were so many, and now...I don't need to say it.

Todd Mason said...

The Free Library of Philadelphia seemingly didn't serve you as well as it should've, Patti...and, of course, Rendell is no more "mainstream" a mystery writer than was Spillane...clearly, Spillane had the greater "mainstream" success (even if your bookmobiler didn't approve).

I'm startled you missed the big painted sign in Center City Philadelphia for ReadMore Books, faded to bare visibility on the bricks in the '90s as that store faded into senescence...though they were probably always a bit off-trail even in their '40s-'60s heyday.

I was read to and read back to my parents, who were both at least fairly engaged readers (in Alaska in the '60s, television was heavily laden with local ads till the satellites were set up for live transmission, making reading not only a safely indoors activity but also one less boring and irritating than wading through truly endless ads), who always had an odd asortment of books about (even if they lost their pre-1967 library to the Fairbanks flood from the Cheena River)...and, like James, it seemed books were everywhere, and I picked them up whereever I could find them, including the public libraries that even had back issues of ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, among much else in the 1970s (not nearly so snobbishly nor puritanically stocked or doled out), the library sales, the newsstands for comics and more, the chain bookstores (Walden and B. Dalton, mostly) and the still-thriving independents, Scholastic Book Services in the classrooms (and the occasional competitor, as well), the school libraries, particularly the excellent one at my second high school in Honolulu.

I chose my CF, SF, and westerns the same way I chose everything else...what I heard was good, what looked good, what else was written by those writers whom I'd already read...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Todd-you are assuming that a girl living in Mt. Airy in the sixties got into Center City very often when her parents both worked long hours. I was an urban peasant-only partaking of my neighborhood fare for the most part.
To get to Center City was a bus and subway ride and took more than an hour. I did it to go to the movies as a teenager once in a while, but other than that I was a hostage to Mt Airy offerings.
You were much more cosmopolitan in Hawaii and Ct. I think.

Travis Erwin said...

Originally I read books library books as well. I've gone through lots of phases. Westerns. Mysteries, biographies, but these days most of what I read is either longtime favorite authors such as Richard Russo, Christopher Moore, John Irving, Kent Haruf, or books I discover through the many blogs I read. and of course those of authors I am blog pals with.

Todd Mason said...

I was perhaps luckier...in Enfield, Connecticut, and on Oahu, everything was centralized, and in CT I could ride my bike to the good newsstand (and my folks didn't mind, oddly, dropping me off at the library for an all-day Saturday or Sunday date...how on Earth does anyone think that closing libraries on Sunday is a good idea?)...when in Honolulu and in Kailua, I was used to hourlong bus rides, having to make one everyday back and forth to Punahou. The three years in New Hampshire were definitely, as with James, dependent on persuading the folks to give me a lift into Derry for the good bookstore or into Nashua for the good library.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Our library is open Sundays but there is never a student in there. I talked with the head librarian last week and she said they do all their work online now. When I used to take my kids on a Sunday, they'd be lucky to get at a table. Now they could stretch out on them.
Travis-that's about half of what I read too although the name Moore is new to me. I'll check him out.

Martin Edwards said...

In my early days, having started with Christie, I tried to find others like her. Later, my choices were sometimes influenced by books favoured in Julian Symons' masterly Bloody Murder.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thank you for reminding me, Martin. I used reference books to guide me for many years.

Dorte H said...

"What I read was entirely influenced by what my local libraries bought until fairly recently." I could have said exactly the same. And if a crime novel was not translated into Danish, I would hardly realize it existed.

Libraries are still indispensable to Danes who are not millionaires as our books are indecently expensive so I am happy that I read in English and can order second-hand books from UK. And how I choose them? From all the tempting reviews I read on my daily blog round.

James Reasoner said...

Speaking of libraries, the last time Livia and I were in the local one, the parking lot was full, but we were the only ones looking at books. Everybody else was on the computers.

Richard R. said...

I forgot to mention where SHERLOCK HOLMES came into all this. I read and really loved those stories (the novels less so) when I was in high school (maybe freshman year of college, who can remember after all this time?). I was captivated. But there didn't seem anywhere to go from there, so I went back to SF and fantasy.

James - yep, on the computers and in the "activity areas" just hanging out.

R. T. said...

One always ought to rely upon the kindness of strangers (which is close to something a Tennessee Williams' character once said), so I find it best to rely upon the advice (recommendations, reviews, and disquisitions, and ramblings) offered by bloggers with reputations for knowing what they are talking about--which, Patti, includes you and most of your "audience." My second source is awards lists, though I've learned to be somewhat skeptical of those. And my last resort--which I never consult--would be best-seller lists. After all, borrowing from painters to cite an example, Van Gogh sold almost nothing when he was alive; borrowing from literature, Herman Melville had few buyers for that big whale tale; and plenty of #1 titles on prominent publications' best-seller lists are often destined to collect dust on buyers' shelves rather than readers.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I rely on consensus for most books, movies, restaurants and other things. You may not trust any one person, but a larger group carries some weight.

Todd Mason said...

The problem is, depending on the consensus you consult, you might be steered toward McDonald's or TITANIC, or even P. D. James's ridiculous THE CHILDREN OF MEN or Cormac McCarthy's apparently overblown (haven't cracked it yet) THE ROAD.

Lotsa consesnsing on how there's No Good TV or No Good TV Not on Cable, and where would that leave THE GOOD WIFE (and here's a gentle kick in the teeth, the simultaneous scheduling of TGW, PARENTHOOD [looks good, haven't taken the time to watch an episode yet], SOUTHLAND and JUSTIFIED...happily, they are also either repeated or repeatable, but stacking them up can't help any, particularly PARENTHOOD on a bcast net and up against THE GOOD WIFE, which is stomping in its timeslot). Perhaps not quite as enervating as inferior CSIs encouraging their nets to kick JOURNEYMAN, THE MIDDLEMAN and EASTWICK off the schedules, but certainly close enough.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Re: the networks have to begin rerunning their shows to compete with the ready availability of the cable network shows. Tuesday night takes a lot of concentration. Parenthood is way too sweet and epiphany-oriented so far. They give a kid autism then have him succeed at everything he tries. And the Gilmore Girl is playing the exact same part here. Maura Tierney would have been better. She doesn't need to be loved as much.

Kent Morgan said...

The library was where I started, but I also read Big Little Books and books that I received for birthdays and Christmas. Still have Dick Prescott at West Point and Dave Dawson at Navy lost somewhere in my basement. However, my reading habits changed when I was in grade 5 and my father was transferred to a town of 4,500 in northern Canada. There was no town library and the school had a very, very small one. The only books I remember are the Tom Swift series. The local tobacco store had a large magazine rack and brought in paperback mysteries, westerns and Harlequin romances. My father bought mysteries by George Harmon Coxe, Brett Halliday, Erle Stanley Gardner and A.A. Fair so that's what I read along with any sports PBS such as Lucky to be a Yankee and Bat Boy of the Giants that showed up in that store.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have Lucky to Be a Yankee somewhere around. Having a parent who reads really sets the tone.

Todd Mason said...

Yuck...sorry to read that about PARENTHOOD, but unsurprising. Broadcast nets also cheap like cable, with all the Saturday and Friday repeats....

Anonymous said...

First books? Can't really remember for sure, but as mentioned my mother subscribed to Readers Sigest Condensed Books and I picked a few that interested me.

Even as a kid I wanted to read the books based on movies I'd seen, whether the book or movie came first. I remember reading BEN-HUR and WEST SIDE STORY, along with things like JOHNNY TREMAIN and OLD YELLER.

I've been turned on to books (and off, for that matter) by reviews that make it sound interesting and by reviewers I know and respect. I must admit that sometimes a lot of hype will push me away from reading something, like THE NAME OF THE ROSE or DA VINCI CODE or THE LOVELY BONES. If interested I might try them later, after the hype has died down (though I never did finish any of the three mentioned).

I used to go to the library and look through the 'new books' sections but these days I'm more likely to just reserve books online and pick them up when they get there.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yeah, I reserve online too. But I am always surprised at how many books I would think were on waiting lists, sit there. I didn't finish any of those either, Jeff.

Todd Mason said...

Well, THE LOVELY BONES is poorly executed. Perhaps the film is goofy, as I gather it is, because of that.