I read two books last week. Not unusual. But as I read–one contemporary, one historical–I kept having to stop each book and pick up the other. Over and over and over again! It wasn’t that either story didn’t hold my complete attention. They did. So much so that I felt jittery with stress over the situation of the characters. So I had to switch to the other story.
I’ve generally shied away from suspense novels, though I do read a few a year. The historical I was reading definitely fell into that category. The lives of the characters were in grave danger. The stress of their physical safety made me take reading breaks before I could engage with the story again. On the other hand, the contemporary fell into the women’s fiction category. Not usually a stressful genre for me, but the subject matter upped the ante in my mind. I didn’t want the character to compromise her marriage. That’s a very important issue to me. So as a reader, her stakes were quite high in my mind. Maybe higher than to other readers. And because the emotional state and situation of the main character made me fear she would make a devastating choice out of her pain, I stressed over it to the point that I had to take reading breaks before I could engage with the story again. Apparently physical or emotional peril doesn’t seem to matter for me. If I perceive a character’s situation as dangerous, I have to take reading breaks!
I realize not all readers are like this. When I mentioned it to my sister, she laughed. The greater the danger to the characters, the faster she reads! I think many, many readers identify with that. I, too, want tension in the stories I read. I want upped stakes in the lives of the characters. But I want them to build more slowly. And when the most stressful part of the story arrives, I want it resolved more quickly. Like hiking up a mountain path versus scaling the rock straight up. I suspect this quirk is why I prefer mystery over suspense. Both have a (usually) murder to be solved, but in a mystery, there is a more cerebral approach–collecting clues, making connections, finding answers, culminating in a climactic scene that might find the main character in mortal danger. But then it’s over. Solved. Whereas suspense involves an ever-increasing set of physical dangers with very little recovery time in between that push toward the final confrontation and solution. I’ll pick the mystery almost every time!
But back to the two books that started this revelation. Whether you are a reader like me or opposite me, I do recommend them both:
So what kind of reader are you? Do you prefer a slower build to a shorter climax or a heart-pumping series of ever-increasing dangers and difficulties?