Tomorrow's loaf of bread is currently basking in the warmth of the oven, and while I wait for it to finish baking I've been toasting in front of the heater and reading a Rumpole of the Bailey mystery. It's not Nero Wolfe, not by a long shot, but certainly entertaining enough to while away an hour or two. I can't read Nero Wolfe in the evenings anymore; the last time I tried I was feverishly flipping pages at nearly three am, muttering "I MUST know who the Communist is!" (No need to fear for my sanity yet. No, really.)
I can't remember exactly when it was that mysteries became my genre of choice for "fluff reading". I know for a fact, though, that my aunt was the cause. Starting around my junior year of high school I received a book (or two or three) for every birthday and holiday, a thoughtful little note scrawled on the flyleaf of each. When home life and college started to take their toll the arrival of books became more frequent, and I looked forward to the cheery inscriptions every bit as much as the book itself. A fellow bibliophile and possessed of a unique sense of humor, my aunt tailors each book and message specifically to me. The Mary Russell stories came throughout my college years, supplemented now and again by other Holmes pastiches and the occasional Cat Who novel. When I started work at the coffee shop and expressed an interest in baking, Laurie Childs' Theodosia Browning arrived, replete with Southern charm and endless cups of tea. The recipes included in the books spawned my first attempt at scones, and to this day the entire series resides on its own little shelf in my kitchen. Mooch's birth was greeted with an entire box of Anne Perry, and Charlotte Pitt and her little ones kept me company as I sat up late into the night, rocking the baby and reading away.
These books aren't particularly challenging, you might say, but that's precisely the point. It's a familiar ritual- internalizing the detective's style, sifting through the narrative to pick out little snippets of importance, letting the clues bump around the back of your head until something clicks in place. If you solve the case before the lead you can revel in the thrill of triumph, and if you don't you can tip your hat to the author for being tricky and still walk away happy. It's not time wasted or frivoled away- it's allowing your body some time to relax while your mind clicks away like a well-oiled machine. And sometimes, that's precisely what I need.