What Books do your Characters Read?

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I've just finished reading Henning Mankell's An Event In Autumn, a Kurt Wallander thriller. It includes a 14-page afterword, in which the author reflects on how he came to start writing novels about a Swedish detective.

I was pleased to see that he chose crime fiction as a way of exploring the problems in society, which is one of the main reasons that I began my Cornish Detective series. He quotes a Danish-Norwegian novelist Aksel Sandmose, who said 'The only things worth writing about are love and murder', though, Mankell reckons that money should be added, to create a perfect trinity. After all, the old adage in criminal investigations, of 'Follow the money' often leads to the culprit.

Apparently, Mankell is frequently asked what books Kurt Wallander reads. In the eleven Wallander novels, he regularly listens to music, usually classical, but books are rarely mentioned. Mankell thinks his fictional detective would be a big fan of Sherlock Holmes.

It made me wonder about my own protagonist Chief Inspector Neil Kettle, who is a left-wing, Green and Bohemian copper. He's unlike the normal rogue detective or private investigator, who are heavy drinkers, gamblers, and drug-takers with women problems; I'm bored with that old trope. My hero is eccentric, and though the son of a farmer, is rather cerebral, painting watercolour landscapes and reading books on art. I briefly mentioned in Book 1, that he prefers American crime novels (as do I), but perhaps I should say which authors he likes.

He could share my reading tastes—James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Walter Mosley and Lawrence Block—but, not Lee Child, James Patterson, Dan Brown, Tom Clancy or Stephenie Meyer.

In creating a rounded character for my protagonist, it's important to include his preferences in music, art, clothing, food, vehicles, cinema and his attitude to the natural world. Interestingly, Mankell's readership increased when he gave Wallander diabetes. My detective worries about going bald, went through two years of severe depression and needs to attend massage therapy to treat old injuries. It's important to remember that readers bond with characters as much for their weaknesses as their strengths.

Fictional characters who read books include Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, Elizabeth Bennett from Pride & Prejudice, Scout Finch from to Kill A Mockingbird, Holden Caulfield from The Catcher In The Rye, and Walter Mosley's private investigator Leonid McGill is a real bibliophile.

Do your fictional characters read books?

Is their choice of reading matter a surprise, or does it fit their character and their profession?

A fascinating post, as ever, @Paul Whybrow
I've actually had two characters who have been big readers. One is the star of my YA book(s), who is a fervent bookworm and will literally read anything she can get hold of in her world, especially anything about history.
The second is a character in my self-published trilogy. He was a failed Jesuit Priest, who spent many years of his life studying in Rome before turning away from his calling at the last moment to, in fact, become an author himself. He was a voracious reader with an eidetic memory, giving him a head stuffed to the brim with all matters religious and spiritual. It shaped his character well and allowed for interesting progression throughout the trilogy, as he turned from a dusty old, out of shape man, normally found in libraries to the strong, powerful leader of men he became.
Do your fictional characters read books?

I was going to say no but I have a character who reads ee cummings, Gone With the Wind ... and others... but those are the two mentioned so far.

Also a djinn in a story reads ee cummings. Cuz, I like ee cummings.

love is the every only god

who spoke this earth so glad and big

Is their choice of reading matter a surprise, or does it fit their character and their profession?

It's something he does as part of his work.

The djinn is crazy and lovesick. The poetry is something he does to try and remember the woman he's in love with. He lives forever without her.
Oh boy, do my characters read! I think in every single story i´m working on, I have someone reading something. And there are always libraries in my story too. I love this question! My characters are usually reading quirky abstract stuff, even fake titles that have to do with the story. Sometimes we dont know the name of the books, but rather what´s inside of them.
For my action/thriller protagonist in mind, I would say that he doesn't read books much, he reads people and was always a student of physical, military training. His strategy was all taught by mentors, thus he became a critical thinker of any problems he may come across.
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