Reading Thrillers, a Reflection

When I first got back into reading I made a few rules for myself. It was the summer of 2018, and the book that got me back into reading (there had been a couple of books I read for fun over that time period. Two, I think: We Are Okay by Nina Lacour and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.) was We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson. If you don’t know, it’s a contemporary with a science fiction twist about a grieving gay teen who is visited by aliens and given the choice to let the world end or save it. I cannot tell you were I first heard of this book. I cannot tell you what drew me to this book. I was 17 at the time, preparing to turn 18 in the fall, and I hadn’t read much at all since the 2014-2015 school year.

I read it. I loved it. I decided I wanted to read more books. From July to December 2018, I read a total of 31 books. But our story starts in September 2018. Despite having already gotten in Paperbackdream’s and BooksandLala’s content, two booktubers increasing known for reading thrillers and horror books, I had sworn off thrillers. I had no real reason for this. As a child, I consumed crime shows more than any child should’ve been allowed to. I liked the more realistic ones, the ones that moved slowly and lacked the melodrama of other shows. But I loved the melodramatic ones. I loved the thrills and the suspense and the safe place they allowed me to work through the anxiety about the world (I say the world but know, Reader, that it was men, for the most part.) that haunted me.

But despite that, I was sure that thrillers, in literary form, would be too much for me. There’s a very intimate quality to reading books. My TV and movie watching habits have always trended on the passive side. I would check my phone. Or I would write. Or I have an existential crisis. Or really any number of things. The point is that my full attention was awarded to very few movies or shows. With books, I could never do that. They required all my attention. And, at that, they required an incredibly intense form of attention. That attention requirement and the basic fact that reading requires existing in a fictitious mind or world, it was all too intimate for me.

I imagined thrillers would, for lack of a better phrase, mess me up. I would care too much about the characters destined for horrible fates. I would find the borders between the reality my mind knew and the fictitious reality crafted by the author blurred. I would be left an anxious mess. So, I swore them off.

That didn’t last long. I made it a whopping three months before I caved and picked up Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. About a journalist who goes back to her hometown to report on the disappearances of local girls and, while there, deals with the strained relationship she has with her mother, it was perhaps my perfect book, at least at the time I read it. I had (still have) a thing for messy women, for women who do the wrong thing, for women who are horrible and allowed to be horrible in the narrative. I also enjoy the exploration of messed up relationships between parent and child.

I didn’t really start reading thrillers right then and there. I read two more that year. But after that, there was nothing incredibly notable. I can tell you I read some thrillers I liked in 2019 and 2020: My Lovely Wife, The Wife Between Us, an Anonymous Girl, Lock Every Door, the Need. But I cannot tell you that those books, with the expectation of Lock Every Door and the Need, left me anymore or less in love with the genre. And, I think, that is part of my issue: the fact that I haven’t been able to find many thrillers I truly love.

There have been thrillers I have hated since them. I hated Final Girls with it’s portrayal of a woman who reduced her own survival down to who she slept with and the fact that she slept with the man who killed her friends, manipulated and lied to her, and later tried to murder her (note: I hate these things because of who they were written by, not because I do not think these should be in fiction.). I hated the Wives with it’s use of mental health as a plot device and it’s demonization of those who struggle with psychosis. I hated Recursion and Dark Matter with their reduction women in little more than props. I hated I Killed Zoe Spanos with how the momentum drained from the book with every minute I listened to the audiobook.

There have been thrillers I simply don’t care about. One by One entertained me immensely until it tried to make a point and undermined it within the next chapter. The Inheritance Games was so strong until the tension of the thriller was lost in exchange for focusing on the romance.

But I can’t really name many that I loved.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not done reading thrillers. There are more I want to read, more than I am excited to start reading. I’ve just found myself not being able to read them anyone without the lingering thought in my mind that they are going to leave a sour taste in my mouth like many of the thrillers that came before them. In the very least, I know I probably won’t be disappointed by many thrillers in the near future.

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