I’ve been a big reader since I was perhaps seven years old. In grade one, I actually had remedial English: I’d been taught both whole word and phonics and it had screwed me up. Once I learned to actually read, I fell in love with it; trudging to the library, taking out the maximum, and luxuriating in other worlds and other lives.

I always find the strivers, attempting to read a book a week or a month funny. No real reader considers those numbers anything but pathetic, but it’s not a matter of willpower, or discipline, or any of that nonsense. A real reader reads because they want to, because they love it, and one always finds time for what one truly loves because it isn’t a chore.

As a kid and teenager, I read mostly fiction. It’s a bit hard to say how much, but I remember a period where I went to the public library once a week, took out the max (12), also was reading books from the school library and would read some of my father’s thrillers. Twenty, at least, I’d guess.

Computers were bad for my reading, and the internet worse. Though I never did stop reading, I just slowed down. About five years ago, I got back into it fairly seriously, though I probably average seven to eight books a week now. In some periods, I read mostly non-fiction, but lately I’ve been on a fiction binge.

As any dedicated reader will know, one of the best feelings is when  you find a new author or series, or hopefully both, which you love. As you grow older, this becomes a rarer and rarer event, since when young, you have all the fiction of history to draw from.

Most recently, a couple weeks ago I stumbled across Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books. I’d seen the TV show in the 80s, but never read the books, and the show struck my young self as stuffy and boring.

But the books: Ah, they’re not stuffy at all, or they’re stuffy in just the right way and proportion.

As most readers probably know, Wolfe is the fat genius who never wants to leave his house and who wraps up the cases by getting everyone together and revealing the murderer, while Archie Goodwin is his legman.

Archie’s the viewpoint character. First person. He’s a perfect 30s gumshoe. Brave, funny, charming, and scrappy. He’s smart, but not a genius, as he often points out to Wolfe, but he’s the sort of viewpoint character I love spending time as, and given how popular the Wolfe books were, I know I’m not alone.

The mysteries themselves are good enough, but they aren’t the sharpest around. The draw of the books isn’t so much “Whodonit?” but spending time with Archie, Wolfe, and other characters like the always irascible Inspector Cramer (who I always suspect of deliberately pulling Wolfe’s chain to manipulate him), Saul Panzer, the second best detective in New York, Fritz, the live-in chef, and so on.

The books, in their own weird way, are suffused with love. For all they constantly rag on each other, Archie and Nero are dedicated to each other, and Wolfe will do things for Archie he’d do for almost no one else, though both pretend otherwise. And the spread of affection is far wider — to the other residents of the house and the wider “family” of returning characters, and even many of the clients.

The Wolfe novels are cozies, then: Some bad things happen, even very bad things, but they’re a visit to a very comfortable world where the emotional relationships between the core characters are certain, and one knows that Wolfe and Archie will act according to their own code and honor.

I’m down to five books out of fourty-six in the series I’m reading (Stout wrote 33 novels and 41 shorter works) and feeling a bit sad; it’s rare to find a good long series. I’ll never really say goodbye to Archie and Wolfe, though, because the strength of the books is the place, characters, and writing. The feeling. Whodunit isn’t really the point, visiting old friends is, so I’m sure for as long as I live they’ll join the rotation of books who are old friends, read every few years for the pleasure of return.

Are there any series of books you love, that you return to time and again?