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Do you read books outside your usual interest? For example, do you read award-winning books out of curiosity, even if they aren’t your usual type of book? If you usually read thrillers, would you try a cozy if it was highly recommended? And vice versa?
A book is more about the quality of the writing than its label or genre. While I read a lot of crime fiction, I won’t say no to something dystopian if its in the caliber of Margaret Atwood or George Orwell. Or historical fiction like The Color Purple by Alice Walker, or Beloved by Toni Morrison. Or classic thrillers like Ken Follett’s The Eye of the Needle or The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.
Some fiction crosses genre lines, like the hardboiled sci-fi thriller Gun, with Occasional Music by Johnathan Lethem. And there’s Stephen King who often slips past the edges of one genre into another while scaring the hell out of us in the most wonderful of ways.
Some books win awards, some become best sellers, some were published over a hundred years ago, some are true stories, some are pure fiction, some are a bit of both, but one thing a book has to have — it’s got to grab me because of its quality and originality. An engaging story that takes hold and won’t let go, one that keeps me thinking about it long after I’ve turned the last page.
I don’t pick award-winners, nor do I avoid them. Sometimes I pick up a book on a friend’s recommendation, or a critic’s review. Other times I’m intrigued by a title, a familiar author’s name, or a striking cover design, and I stand and peruse a few pages at a favorite book store, and sometimes online, in hopes of finding something that hooks me. Here are a few I’ve read over the past couple of months that did just that for me, all highly recommended:
The novella Typhoon, by Joseph Conrad, is a classic seafaring tale first published in 1902 — one that has stood the test of time.
The Road Back by Erich Maria Remarque, originally published in 1931, is the classic anti-war story, a follow-up to the remarkable All Quiet on the Western Front.
Quichotte, published in 2019, is a literary masterpiece about moral and spiritual decay, another great one from Salman Rushdie.
The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow, published in 1953, another literary classic about self-searching.
Nightwoods by Charles Frazier, first published in 2011, is a tight, suspenseful novel written in a timeless style of prose that’s as poetic as it is gritty.
Hollywood Hills by Joseph Wambaugh is the fourth in the Hollywood Station Series, and it dishes up some riveting crime fiction.
Mexican Hat by Michael McGarrity, the second in the Kevin Kerney series, has the ex-Santa Fe chief of detectives tackling a tough case. McGarrity has a great voice and a knack for keeping a story moving.
And I’ve also been catching up on the backlist of one of my favorite crime fiction authors, James Lee Burke, a master of the genre. I recently read Cimarron Rose, the first in the Billy Bob Holland series; the third and fourth in the Robicheaux series, Black Cherry Blues, A Morning for Flamingos; as well as the standalone The Lost Get-Back Boogie. All of them are fantastic and told in Burke’s rich literary style.
I don’t know about you, but I always feel better when I have several promising books on the stack, just waiting to be read.