Suspense versus Substance: Can Books Have Both?

Rachel Paint


Rachel Seigel

I take a lot of pride in the number of books I read in a year, and every year I challenge myself to read just a few more than I did last year. After all, there are just too many books that I know I want to read, and already too many that I know I’ll never get to.

Yesterday, a conversation about books and reading that I had with a neighbour gave me pause. He said everybody always talks about enjoying books they speed through because they can’t put it down, but he doesn’t like those types of books. In his kind, those books that you can’t put down don’t have enough substance, and he prefers something that forces him to take his time, and gives him something to think about.

I read extremely quickly for the most part, and the more engaged I am in the story, the faster I want to get to the end to see what happens. (I don’t do we’ll with cliffhangers). I love reading books I can’t put down. One of my highest measures of a good book is how anxious I am to get back to it when I finally do have to put it down, and I was so consumed by the story that I did miss a bus stop, stay up too late, or arrive late for an engagement because I couldn’t stop. I stayed up half the night reading Rick Yancy’s The Fifth Wave because I literally couldn’t put it down. My eyes were drooping and I was beyond exhausted, but I kept telling myself just one more chapter. Was it an enjoyable and thrilling read? Absolutely! But was it the kind of book that made me want to slow down and think carefully about it? Not exactly.

On the other hand, I have also read books that were so wonderful- so meaningful that I did slow down and ponder them more carefully. While they were great books in their own right and I certainly wanted to finish them, they weren’t the “can’t put it down” type of books.

Recently, I read the final book in Jonathan Maberry’s Benny Imura Chronicles, and it not only kept me up all night reading, it (and the entire series) gave me a lot to think about challenging this theory that a boom you can’t put down doesn’t give you anything to think about. As much as I couldn’t put it down, I found myself reading more slowly and paying closer attention to a lot of the details I normally would have glossed over. Maberry successfully created a series with a great deal of suspense and substance which made me wonder- does suspense automatically lack the substance to which my neighbour referred, or is it possible for a book that you can’t put down to also make you think? What do you all think?

Rachel Seigel is the Sales and Selection Strategist for Edu Reference Publisher’s Direct in Toronto Ontario. She also maintains a personal blog at and can be found on Twitter as @rachelnseigel.

6 Responses to Suspense versus Substance: Can Books Have Both?

  1. Sandy Aug 21 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    I think it’s definitely possible for a book to have both and there are books already published that are unputdownable but also provoke thought and discussion that prove this. It’s just not something I have experienced often in my reading because the books that force you to think also force you to slow down to pay attention and let the thoughts perculate while reading too fast usually means your going to miss things, things that could be meaningful.

  2. Annie Aug 21 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    I think it’s entirely possible for a book to be substantive and require more thought or attention and still be thrilling and suspenseful so I don’t want to put it down.

    Generally, with books like that I read as quickly as I can to know how it ends. Then go back and reread – moments I loved, things I want to delve into more or think about the different angles of it. Not the entire book, but in pieces, skipping my way through, I’ve been known to read a good book 2 or 3 times in a weekend.

  3. Susan Elizabeth Aug 21 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Whenever I read, I’m always looking at the page count, hoping to finish so I can start the next book. It’s such an addiction! I love a good mystery that I can read over the course of two days, but sometimes have to take a break from those to read something heavier. A mystery that mixes speed-read and weighted content is the ultimate mix.

  4. Elizabeth Aug 24 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    I tend to prefer books that force me to slow down and think. I know a book is good when I can’t stop thinking about it for days after I’ve finished it, and this tends to happen most with books that take time and patience to read. I’ll also find myself slowing down if the book has a particularly interesting writing style, which I love as well. When I read quick, easy books it’s usually because I want a break from the heavier books I’ve been reading lately, but those books never stick with me as much.

  5. Lacey Smith Aug 30 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    I absolutely think it’s possible. In my opinion a good, suspenseful book must also have substance in order to keep a reader drawn in; at least that’s the kind of reader I am. Every other month my best friend and I take turns picking a book for each other to read and then when we’re finished, we exchange the next month. Our last book was “Publics: Libertas Aut Mors” by Baltazar Bolado,, and we thought it met the suspense and substance criteria that we enjoy. You should give it a look!

    • Jennifer Getts Sep 24 2013 at 1:59 pm #

      Lacey, that sounds like a great book! I just wanted to let you know though that I was looking for it on Amazon and it took me a minute to find it. The correct title of the book is “Publius: Libertas Aut Mors”; just in case anyone else it looking for it and it’s not coming up for them. I really liked what I saw when I found it though and plan on picking it up! Thanks again for the suggestion.

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