I grew up reading murder mysteries and especially Agatha Christie. My mother, instead of being happy to have a daughter that would bother to crack open a book, something that a lot of parents would find thrilling, and instead of encouraging my reading by getting me some age appropriate books, would only scold me for reading nothing but mystery novels and even openly teased me when I tried a teen romance novel, like it was the worst kind of trash – a genre I would not pick up again until I became an adult.
The book selection at home was not small but consisted mostly of science fiction, a genre I tried and didn’t take to, and some classics – Jules Verne, Tolstoi, Victor Hugo, some Dickens probably, and other stuff I just couldn’t stomach at 10 or 12. If there was some Jane Austen around I might have had better luck. I read a couple of Einlein books but the violence put me off – things like fairies with sharp teeth and claws in ‘The Girl from Mars’ or the main character in ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ being stoned to death were just not my idea of fun. I tried reading Jules Verne and found it utterly dull, so I just decided my mother had no idea what she was talking about and kept reading mystery novels. I borrowed them from my favorite aunt who had a large collection, since they were her chosen summer read, and I felt justified by having an adult I admired with the same taste in books as me. I liked Miss Marple more than Poirot because of the atmosphere of the small english town. It seemed pretty and peaceful, something I longed for even then, living as I did surrounded by constant bickering. Of the Poirot book, the one that sticks out the most is ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ because the narrator turns out to be the murdered and you feel a complete fool to be taken in.
Books were a form of entertainment and a way to escape into a different world, so I didn’t see the point of reading something that felt like work. And since I’m a bit of a collector, when I like something I must have the whole set. Once I’m finished and there’s no more to read, watch, whatever, I will move on to the next thing, but until then I persevere.
Because of the nature of mystery books, I got used to finishing things – you don’t know who the murderer is until you get to the end, after all. This has been very helpful in some respects but detrimental in others. I get a little obsessive about finishing things, even if halfway through I already know I’m not going to like the result – in books, movies or work. Once or twice I’ve left a book unfinished and i can still name the titles because somewhere in my mind I feel almost duty bound to pick them up again some day. If it’s not finished I cannot put it completely out of my mind and move on. Maybe I should see a shrink about that.
Because of all this, for a long time, getting to the end was the whole point. I remember how a lot of books end but don’t remember much of the middle because I was in such a hurry to get past it. The ones I truly love I’ve gone back and read again, this time being able to enjoy the whole journey. As the years go by I’m learning to just go with it and not care so much how it ends.
But the tendency to remember the end of a story over the rest is something that I picked up from movies and TV shows as well. The ones I remeber most from when I was growing up have the famous ‘end twist’ that make it impossible to watch a second time in the same mind frame. To enjoy these you need complete ignorance of the story and a single sentence can change the whole thing. The best examples are ‘it’s a cook book’ (from the Twilight Zone’ episode ‘To serve man’) and, off course, ‘soylent green is people’. The other movie that made a mark was ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’. I watched the 1978 version, with Donald Sutherland and the end felt like such a betrayal 🙂
These days there is so much information it seems almost impossible to watch a movie with no previous knowledge so this kind of movie doesn’t get made as much. In recent years, Shyamalan is one director who seems to have enjoyed bringing back the end twist, but after a couple of movies people started expecting it and felt disappointed when there wasn’t one, which I find ridiculous. After all, if you expect a twist there is no point in having one.
I continue to read mysteries and have become a huge fan of Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford but I’ve also started reading other things – Jane Austen is a favorite in the non-mystery world and I read a lot more fantasy and romance. I still prefer female writers but have some favorite males as well, like Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry. I still like to escape into other worlds, some better, some worse than the one I inhabit. I’ve learned to accept it when horrible things happen to the characters and not take it personally (I wanted to smack Peter Carey for a long time after reading Oscar and Lucinda) but prefer stories with a happy or at least hopeful end.
I have no idea what is the point of this post. I just felt like writing it. Sorry about that. I’m no good at endings.