Retreating into reading: The refuge of older books

Lately, I have been turning to older novels for my reading, as a means of escape from the stresses of being alive, here, in 2017. Older books offer a unique form of immersion in another time and place, as actually lived by the writer, rather than as imagined by a writer conjuring up a historical time or a fantasy world.

I have been most attracted to mid-twentieth-century novels of suspense by women. There is no shortage of good writers to choose from, and burrowing into these books feels like sinking into a very long Hitchcock movie, where everyone was well dressed, and their madnesses were kept just simmering beneath the surface, rather than on display for all to see. These novels offer plenty to disturb and horrify, but the horror feels once removed, and therefore safer, I think, than trying to tackle a dystopia or apocalypse that might shade too close to real life right now.

Here is a short reading list, although anything you might pick up by these grandes dames is bound to satisfy you:

  • Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca, The Scapegoat
  • Patricia Highsmith: The Blunderer, Deep Water
  • Dorothy B. Hughes: The Blackbirder, The Expendable Man
  • Shirley Jackson: The Bird’s Nest, Hangsaman
  • Margaret Millar: A Stranger in My Grave

Recommended Reading: Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives

9780143122548

In the introduction to the short story collection Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives that she edited, Sarah Weinman laments that “an entire generation of female crime writers…have faded from view.” Many of these writers, popular and lauded in their day, have been forgotten over time. Weinman has selected stories by fourteen of them, ranging in publication date from the early 1940s through the mid-1970s, to represent these forgotten grand dames of noir, who no doubt inspired today’s popular writers like Gillian Flynn and Tana French.

The collection, neither too short nor too long, is something of an awakening. Some of the authors, such as Patricia Highsmith and Shirley Jackson, will already be familiar to many readers, but here are many more terrific authors of dark suspense fiction just waiting to be discovered. Each story is excellent, well-crafted, and compelling, with an appropriately noirish mood, and each story stands apart, examining and exposing the underside of mid-century domestic coziness. I savored these stories like a box of fine chocolates.

Fortunately for us, this is the digital age, and a perusal of Amazon reveals that many of the contributors’ longer works have been revived in electronic form for the Kindle–at reasonable prices, too. I foresee many hours of happy reading time ahead, inspired by the authors included in this terrific collection.