Where Are the New Mystery Fans?

I had occasion to go to the book store yesterday. The local Barnes & Noble was having a clearance sale on children’s books, and being the clever shopper, I thought it might be an opportunity to pick up a few early holiday presents. That didn’t pan out, I’m sorry to say (the selection of deep sale books was beneath contempt) but while I was there I decided to look around in the section for teens readers to see what was being featured for young readers.

The answer: fantasy-adventure. Yep, that’s pretty much it. Not a mystery and darned little SF.

Let me clarify a couple of things. I don’t consider books with a vampire, werewolf, zombie or similar creature to be science fiction. No way. Don’t even try to tell me otherwise, to talk sense into me on this one, because that is sense.

What I saw was a few adventure books in the nature of Harry Potter-alikes such as Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books. Near the top of the push at the book store – a separate table of his books – was The Lightning Thief (there’s gonna be a movie) and the rest of the Olympians series, which is not to be confused with the new Heros of Olympus series coming this Fall. Then there is the new Kane (Egyptian) series the first book of which has been published in hardcover. There was a huge display of those.

Yet still dominating the shelves were monster-romance novels: the Twilight series and all its clones, and there are a LOT of them. Then there was quite a lot of pretty straight fantasy: magic, elves-and-dwarves battle the bad wizard type of stuff.

What there was not was anything that might lead a reader into the mystery genre. For that matter there wasn’t much, if anything, that would make a reader want to pick up some SF, by which I mean hard SF, with science and space and that kind of stuff the kind of thing written by John Scalzi, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Charles Sheffield, Larry Niven and David Webber. I didn’t see a single SF-for-teens in the large featured for teens area.

Yes, it’s good that any teens are reading at all. But if teens of both sexes are reading romantic monster fiction, mythological adventure and fantasy, will they somehow take up science fiction or mystery? Maybe for SF, but it’s hard to see what might prompt them to read a mystery, whether it be cozy, hard-boiled, noir or thriller.  Let’s hope I’m wrong.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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16 Responses to Where Are the New Mystery Fans?

  1. Bill Crider says:

    When I was a teen, I was reading pretty much nothing other than fantasy and science fiction. But my tastes changed.

  2. william says:

    Same thing here. Publishers seem to follow trends rather than lead them and fantasy is hot. To some degree, also true of books for adults. Many more new fantasies than true SF.

  3. Richard says:

    I read a lot of SF too, but also hard SF, thanks to the Winston SF series at the library and my brother’s collection of Astounding Science Fiction magazines. But I also read The Hardy Boys and that got me started on mystery fiction, to which, after a hiatus of many years I I returned with Christie and then Hammett and Chandler.

  4. Chris says:

    When I was a teen, I had no interest at all in mysteries; I thought of them as stuff like Agatha Christie and all that and had no interest. Didn’t get interested until about a year or so ago, frankly, when I got into some crime books and realized those books were shelved in the mystery section.

  5. Richard says:

    Not that there’s anything wrong with cozies, of course, but I admit they are not to everyone’s taste.

  6. Drongo says:

    One wonders what would happen if an enterprising publisher launched a Winston-like line of scence fiction novels. Would a whole new generation of sf fans be made, or would the books remain unsold and unread.

  7. Richard says:

    An excellent question Drongo, but one to which I suspect there simply is no answer. I’ve been thinking today that perhaps I missed the boat with what was on display – I wonder how many readers of the specified age would buy based on SF review blogs and websites, same with mystery, instead of seeking the new reading area of the brick-and-mortar book store?

  8. Carl V. says:

    When I was a teen I wasn’t reading books from the teen section of the bookstore, I was buying sf and fantasy from those sections of the tiny bookstores that were in my town. I see a pretty fair mix of teens/young adults in the SF/Fantasy section of my local BN. I am as likely to see them as seeing adults. More often than not I am seeing adults in the mystery section, however.

  9. Richard says:

    Carl – Yep, that makes sense to me. It’s the future mystery fans I wonder most about. When I go to a mystery convention, such as Bouchercon, held in San Francisco this Fall, I expect to see few if any young adults.

  10. Patti Abbott says:

    There was a piece in THE NEW YORKER by Laura Miller a few weeks ago pretty much confirming this. YAs want to be pulled out of their every day lives (God knows, who doesn’t) by journeying to alternate worlds. Mysteries don’t do that.

  11. Richard says:

    I’d make an argument that cozies, especially the classics which are set in the previous century, would pull them out just fine, and so would a great many other mysteries. Not the thriller, serial killer, techno stuff, and probably not the current crop of police procedurals. But I would think The Nine Tailors, The Mystery of the Blue Train, The Sign of the Four, The Mirror Crack’d, An Unsuitable Job For A Woman and similar ones would do it.

  12. Carl V. says:

    I’m wondering if there is any connection between young people being in a hurry to grow up, thus being more attracted to stories set in the future, vs. those of us who are older who like to delve into stories about the past. Probably not, that is most likely just a bit of weak pop psychology.

  13. I have a great nephew(sixteen) who reads constantly. His mother has told me his teachers say whenever they have a free period to do whatever, he always has a book. The librarian says he’s her best customer.

    I’ve tried to encourage that. One year, for Christmas, I got him all the Heinlein juveniles, the next the John Carter books. He says he liked them, but I really don’t know. His mother and he live in the next state up and I don’t see them often.

    I do know he does love these fantasy series you mentioned though. And his mother is into that Twilight junk. I doubt he would be interested in mysteries. More’s the pity.

  14. Richard says:

    Randy – I wonder if he’d like the military SF, such as Webber and Ringo? Also perhaps the Berserker books by Fred Saberhagen. I used to give books to my nephew, hoping to acquaint him with the things I like, but after about four years my brother finally mentioned that the nephew doesn’t read anything but non-fiction.(!) History and biography, mostly. I guess it didn’t hurt him any, he’s about to get his PhD. in cultural anthropology, but to this mostly genre-reading person, it was a shock.

  15. Fence says:

    When I was a teen I wasn’t buying books full stop. I was reading them though, I just didn’t have any money and so used the library all the time.
    I think that publisher’s definitely follow trends, a lot more than readers do, but your point still stands because if monster-romances are all publishers are pushing then if follows that less of other sub-genres are being published.

  16. Richard says:

    Good point, Fence, good point. These things do tend to be cyclical, but who knows how long the cycle will last? I’m hearing the Riordan books are better written than the Meyers, but have not yet tried one.

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