Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why Reading Mysteries Is So Much Fun

Today, I opened my newspaper to discover that P. D. James has written a new mystery. What a thrill, and just in time to be a Christmas present.

When I was a child, my fun reading ran the gamut from science fiction to mysteries to adventure stories, with my overall favorite being fantasy. Why? Because from birth, it seems, I have wanted to make the world a better place, and in fantasy books I was vicariously able to do that. I battled and defeated evil in the forms of villainous foes and monsters of all types. At the end of each fantasy novel or series, all was right with the world, good had defeated evil, and peace and love reigned over the land. This was the perfect genre for a child growing up in the cold war era, where the "evil" communists threatened on a daily basis.

But, as I grew older and learned the world is full of ambiguity, and sadly realized that I could not make the world a better place by myself, at least not in the big picture, I began to consume mystery novels. One day, a friend asked me why I was reading mysteries instead of new fantasy novels (Confession: I still re-read my childhood favorites about Narnia and Prydain as well as A Wrinkle in Time). I thought a moment, fascinated by the question, and then replied, "In mysteries, you vicariously solve a problem and make the world better in the small picture. That is something that seems possible in the real world too." It was a revelation, an 'Oh, I understand" moment as the lightbulb in my brain lit up. Mysteries do not solve BIG problems, they solve small, handleable problems. Mysteries empower me; they make me think I can solve the problem too, as I follow the clues along with the protagonist.

These feelings of accomplishment and power that come from reading mysteries help me feel better able to tackle my own everyday challenges. I don't feel so overwhelmed. I know that if I can just figure out this one bit here, then I can figure out that one bit there. I may not be able to make the whole world a better place, but mysteries help me believe that I can make my own little corner of the world better. So, bring on the new P. D. James mystery for Christmas!

Take care,

Kate

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