"Don't read down."
Those were the words of best-selling novelist Elizabeth George during a panel at New England Crime Bake, a mystery writers conference I attended earlier this month in the Boston area.
Those were the words that set me free.
The moment I heard them, my muscles and my mind relaxed, releasing a tension I hadn't known existed.
It didn't take long to figure out why.
With my gradual immersion in the mystery/thriller genre over the past decade came a feeling of obligation, a need to read novels published by authors I'd met, or novels beloved by other writers more successful than I in the business.
I wasn't choosing for myself anymore.
I was letting obligation dictate my reading list while sneaking in a few fictional "treats" on the side.
While I discovered some wonderful works among that obligatory pile, I also wasted a lot of time pushing through pages that didn't hold my attention.
Part of that disinterest might have been personal preference. Sometimes best-sellers just don't click with me, despite all the five-star reviews. Other times, I recommend books that turn other people off. That happens.
But many of those novels were simply not that good.
I was reading down.
When I returned from Crime Bake, I looked over the books on our shelves that remain unread, books that I had scheduled for the months of December or January or February. Most of them I know nothing about. I bought them out of obligation.
So here's my plan.
I'll give each book a few chapters.
I did pay for them, after all.
But I'll give myself permission to close the cover if they don't keep my attention beyond that. I will no longer waste time reading down when the direction I want to travel in is up
Thank you, Elizabeth George.