Following up on yesterday’s post, I’m going to prove that I do know how to have fun by talking about my favorite reading material, the mystery novel. So this is for all of you “whodunit” fans.
I first discovered Agatha Christie hiding out in a no longer used cold frame in the woods behind my grandfather’s house. I loved that secret place. A cold frame, for those who don’t know, is a miniature greenhouse, a place for protecting plants in the cold seasons. It was wooden on all four sides but had a hinged glass top that would allow the sunlight to come in. You could lift the top to move plants in and out. Over the years it had become more of a storage area, holding old tools and whatnot. Inside where some of the old tools my grandfather has used to build his house, a log cabin in the Allegheny mountains of Pennsylvania.
Dear old Agatha. She was, and still is, the reigning queen of mystery writing. I found a yellowed paperback there in my secret place. I forget now which one of her mystery stories it was, having read all of them many times over by this point in my life. The book had my mother’s maiden name written inside. This was astounding to me for two reasons. I had never seen my mother read a book. Ever. In my childhood home we had a set of Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia that had been published after the first World War (slightly out of date as I was born after the second of those epic wars) and a set of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. For those not native to the US, Reader’s Digest was a popular magazine which also published a series of “condensed books”, each volume containing several current best-selling novels in abridged form. Reader’s Digest had just started the series and they were all the rage. When I was growing up, every household had Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and the National Geographic magazine. For all of that, I had never known my mother to do anything with those books other than to dust them. They resided in the living room as part of the decor.
The other reason that little mystery novel astounded me was that I had never imagined my mother as anything other than the vicious woman she had become as an adult. She had a sharp tongue and an even sharper slap of her hand to my head. I once asked my siblings if they could think of anything nice our mother had ever done for them. My brother said he’d have to think about it and would get back to me. It’s been five years and I’m still waiting. My sister said that mother had once made her Tang when she was sick. So it came as a shock to me to imagine my mother as a teenager who read a book.
Seeking to unlock the mystery of my mother, I jumped into the book. Agatha Christie was a great story teller and innovator as a novelist. Her characters came alive, and I could escape into her English countryside. For as much as I enjoy Hercule Poirot, my favorite was always Miss Jane Marple. I loved the idea of a female protagonist catching the bad guys.
From there I found other favorites. Rex Stout and his Nero Wolfe series taught me to love orchids. I wanted to possess Archie Goodwin’s ability to remember every conversation word for word and I taught myself to do the same thing. Ngaio Marsh became a favorite, too. I explored different types of crime novels, and worked my way through “The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time“. Yes, there is such a list. Actually, there are two, one British and one American.
Why do I enjoy mysteries so much? I don’t know. Maybe because character portrayal, good dialogue and come-to-life story details are the essence of a mystery novel. A good writer has to be able to put you smack dab into the story, but as an observer. You can stay detached and observe, a favorite activity of introverts. Maybe it’s because a good solver of mysteries needs imagination, intelligence, and an interest in the human condition, qualities I value in people. Maybe it’s because I like order in my world and someone to set things right.
So there you have it. See, I can be fun! Now I’m off to cook something new for our cooking blog. Have a wonderful day.
Please share your introverted idea of having fun. Extroverts are welcome to reply, too.
Chris also contributes to the new food blog Three’s Cooking, learning to cook from the heart, for the soul.