C.J. Box

box_cj_credit_roger_careyIt often stuns me—and not in a good way—when I hear other mystery authors say they don’t read beyond our genre. Some of them, it seems, hardly read at all!

I make it a point to read widely. Fiction, nonfiction, literary, mystery…that’s how my to-be-read pile is arranged. One reason for this—as well as pure curiosity—is strategic. I want my own books to flash glimmers of the real world beyond the plot or whodunit. I think it makes the books richer, and I know when I read that’s what I’m on the lookout for.

Tom Wolfe is as much journalist-slash-sociologist as novelist, and it’s one of the many things I appreciate about him. Whether it’s the New York City of Bonfire of the Vanities, the New South of A Man in Full, or the “Dupont University” of I Am Charlotte Simmons, the reader experience is intense because the novels provide total immersion in specific places. In Back to Blood, Wolfe zeros his rifle scope on the present day Miami of racial and ethnic tribalism. Whew!

If you open one of his massive tomes looking for nuanced character development or tightly constructed plots, Tom Wolfe is not your man. But if you want to temporarily live in another fascinating place and learn the rhythms, the culture, the dark secrets beneath the surface, bingo.

Nobody writes like him, either. Every character in Wolfe’s novels speak and think in sweeping, soaring, extended, and emphatic ways and he punctuates with more exclamation marks and italicized words than the combined text messages from a thousand teenage girls.

From Chapter 9: "Nestor was nine years old all over again when he used these German binoculars the Crime Suppression Unit provided, the JenaStrahls. Oh, the childlike wonder this great gadget engendered!"

Most writers would simply write: Nestor raised the binoculars.

wolfe_bonfireofthevanitiesWolfe’s overheated style leaves some readers cold, I realize that. But he gets away with it because he invented it and he does it better than any of his imitators and because he’s friggin’ Tom Wolfe.

People often ask me if I read other authors while I’m writing my own books and the answer is yes—with the exception of Tom Wolfe. I save his for periods of time between books. That’s because his style is so enthusiastic and infectious that I begin thinking in his word patterns. Oh, how his crazy and wonderful and unique and infectious style could influence my own! (See, it just happened!)

C.J. Box writes the bestselling Joe Pickett mystery series beginning with Open Season (2001), and is the author of several standalone novels and short stories.

Author website: www.cjbox.net

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" enews March 2013 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.