The discussion about "must reads" and the subsequent thread drift into talking about classifications--"cozy", "noir/hardboiled", "traditional mysteries," etc.-- reminded me of an experience I had right after Bouchercon 2005.

At the time, you must understand, I was a horrible noir snob. If it wasn't Bruen, or Crumley, or Guthrie, or someone like them, I didn't want to hear about it. (Actually, I snuck a few historicals in there, but I didn't tell any of my friends.) So when William Kent Krueger's Blood Hollow won the Best Novel Anthony, beating out Bruen's The Killing of the Tinkers, I was outraged. "Damn bunch of bourgeois old ladies," I fumed, "they just want some safe, non offensive formulaic stuff you can buy off the rack at the supermarket! They don't comprehend real genius!"

Then I noticed that Blood Hollow was one of the books in the goody bag. I took it on the plane home with me, ready to sneer.

And it knocked my socks off. It was riveting. I couldn't put it down. In a word, Kent Krueger rocks. And I'm damned if I know how to categorize him. Dark? Certainly. Hardboiled? Please. He's from Minnesota, for chrissakes. The only word I can use to describe it is "excellent."

So thanks, Kent. Your writing saved me from noir snobbery. Oh, I still love my Thompson, My Starr, My Swierczynski. But I also love my Krueger, my Lippman, my Margaret Maron.

So what book outside your usual genre preference have you loved beyond your expectations?

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"Light" books... hmm. I can honestly say you'd have to drag me kicking and screaming toward chick lit. I mean, I'm sure the top ones are very well-written. But I'm not a chick. I hate shopping, my shoes work rather than play, and I was a one-date wonder through college until I met my husband (OK, there was one "starter" relationship in there). I just don't see myself relating to Bridget Jones! But maybe I'm wrong. Anyone want to disabuse me of my notions?
OK, I'm not a chick either, but I loved Bridgit Jones. Occasionally I need funny books like Terry Pratchett.

Oh, and is "one-date wonder" code for something? :)
That's an interesting question about books light in tone. I tend to focus on the dark stuff. Especially the funny dark stuff. Give me a head in a duffel bag and you own me. I loved Gun Monkeys and Very Bad Things was goddamn hysterical. The hooker on the hook. Now that was funny.

I think the quality of the writing can stand independently of the genre. No matter what, though, there's going to be some darkness somewhere. Otherwise, where do you get the conflict? It might be more off white than dark black, but still.

Christopher Moore is one excellent writer whose work I would call life affirming. Granted, it's life affirming in ways where people die horrible deaths (Practical Demonkeeping) or involve ghosts and vampires (Island of The Sequined Love Nun, Bloodsucking Fiends), but he's always struck me as having a positive message.

I wonder if maybe I have a problem with books that don't t have a dark side because I think everyone has some darkness in them, just like everyone has their own kink. Not including it feels false and rings hollow to me.

I would agree that horror, noir and dark SF are just variations on a theme. The darkness is a quality that you can throw into any genre. Some genres just take to it better than others, or at the very least they have conventions that fit into many reader's expectations.

Personally, I enjoy dark novels that throw the darkness into places that don't necessarily evoke it. The dark undercurrents of suburbia, hard-boiled noir in a knitting circle. I like being surprised.
OK, Ellison is an asshole, but a good majority of his stuff is great. Plus, he wrote the best episode of Star Trek ever - The Trouble with Tribbles.
I can't decide if you people are giving me hope or depressing the living hell out of me. What I've written is comedic / caper. She blows things up (inadvertently), she can outshoot any sniper (there's a reason for that) and she's so fucking pissed off and destructive, the governor begs people to take her out of the state. Is there such a thing as dark comedic? I don't know what the hell to call it. The pub's going with 'mainstream' so I guess we'll see.
I think the book that showed me that "literary" didn't mean "ivory tower bullshit" was actually a literary/commercial crossover by Andre Dubus III, a National Book Award finalist called House of Sand and Fog. His characterizations were exquisite and it's a book I went back to a lot as I was writing my own. I found the same of The Lovely Bones. Although, admittedly, there were good amounts of crime in both books....

I've jumped outside genre a few times in the last couple of years and I have to say, it is harder work. Which I guess means I'm lazy! I read The World According to Garp and while I can't say I "enjoyed" it - it didn't transport me to a different time or place - periodically the characters and events pop into my mind, so obviously it stayed with me.

Thanks to those who mentioned F. Scott Fitzgerald - I forgot how much I enjoyed him, going to have to go back and reread. I've also been curious about Mark Haddon's work. And Rupert Thomson. And P.D. James' Children of Men.

I think my biggest problem of late is the desire to lose myself in good reading, rather than to analyze the reading (I prefer to learn by osmosis ;) ). I'm trying not to stress about that, though, because I know where I am right now with the two littles won't last forever. So I'm tending toward things I know I can easily "escape" into rather than things I'll have to work at... you know?
I loved Garp so much I named one of my children after one of his.
When I started reading mysteries, I devoured anything I could find, completely ignorant about sub-genres. Gradually, I drifted into the darker stuff, but not before enjoying a lot of Agatha Christie, and PD James.

I know I'm a snob about SF. And I'm a snob about Romance. But I've read a little of both and there are some classic SF that I thought were terrific, but it's still not what I'd pack for that desert island. I've yet to read a decent romance, and although I'm certain they exist, I'm just not interested. Life is too short and the TBR stack is too tall.

Outside of my genre I'm a fool for Patrick O'Brian's sea adventures. I even bought a copy of The Oxford Guide to Ships and the Sea so I would know what the hell he means when he talks about mousing the horses. I also loved Lethem's Fortress of Solitude, Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and Gore Vidal's Burr.

Nonfiction, aside from reading for research, I've enjoyed The Assasin's Gate, Fiasco, Charlie Wilson's War, Fastfood Nation and Blackhawk Down. There are many more, but it's still early and the titles escape me.

And I'm so glad someone mentioned Andre Dubus. His stories are so goddamn good it makes you want to throw all your shit in the yard. A Father's Story has got to be one of the most powerful things I've ever read and I can't recommend it highly enough.
I can't remember the last time I read something "light" or "lighter in tone." Even the so-called literary stuff has dark or otherwise unfortunate undertones.

On the other hand, and somewhat related, I recently saw Sidney Gilliat's British WWII-era whodunit "Green For Danger." Far from film noir, but pretty damn good.
similarly to David, I started reading Agatha Christie, and other more traditional crime writers, then graduated onto the "noir" side via Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, Minette Walters etc.

Moving away from the crime genre my big discovery has been books by Phil Rickman, a writer with an interest in the paranormal, whose books fascinatingly straddle the paranormal/pagan and crime barriers, and who has a series featuring a female exorcist vicar in the welsh border country.

Further away from the crime genre, I have really enjoyed Small Island by Andrea Levy and Brick Lane by Monica Ali, both accounts of the British immigrant experience, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday, a political satire about a UK fisheries scientist who is strong-armed by his political seniors into helping a wealthy yemeni Sheik introduce salmon fishing to the Yemen.

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