Best Beach Reads Part 2: For the Love of Mystery
Continuing my summer thoughts in the spirit of “Beach Reading,” I have a confession to make. I am a great lover of the mystery story, the traditional thriller, and yes, even the noir genre. Dorothy L. Sayers wrote in defense of the idea that reading about murder is a justifiable activity, even from a religious point of view. I’ll save comments about her thoughts for another time, but simply confess to you that I not only love a well written mystery, but think that they often qualify as legitimate literature.
There was a “Golden Age” of the mystery from about 1920 to 1950. During this era, British authors perfected the genre. They delighted in presenting highly puzzling plots which played “fair” and gave all of the clues a reader would need to solve the mystery, if he or she were paying close attention.
In recent years, while there have been some well-written mysteries, many (most?) are dumbed down and rather prosaic, so it’s best if a person can become acquainted with the “Golden Age” mysteries first. Here are some authors from the Golden Age who literary-minded teenagers may enjoy:
Dorothy L. Sayers; John Dickson Carr; Agatha Christie (of course); Margery Allingham; Ngaio Marsh; Edmund Crispin; Josephine Tey; Michael Innes; Patricia Wentworth; G K Chesterton (The Father Brown mysteries)
Reading a good mystery is a lovely way for a book lover to take a break from more serious literature, while still enjoying great writing. My personal favorites are Ngaio March, Josephine Tey, G. K. Chesterton (his Father Brown character), and Michael Innes. And let’s not forget the original detective story writers: Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Best Beach Reads Part 1
To start the summer, I’m sharing some favorite books and authors with you. You might like to try them sometime–maybe even this summer. When homeschooling our five children, I always looked forward to summer when I could explore “new to me” books in a leisurely manner.
I am selective about modern/contemporary literature, but there are a few authors I think are keepers. They are in no particular order, since I can’t decide which ones I like best. First on my list is Marilyn Robinson. I do not recommend starting with her earlier book, Housekeeping, but rather, go to her trilogy, starting with the Pultizer Prize winner, Gilead. Robinson has a strong grasp of the deeply Christian nature of our culture, and celebrates the family of a pastor in these brilliant novels.
Second on my list is Fred Chappell and his Kirkman tetralogy, beginning with I am One of You Forever. His books also focus on family and contain a spiritual ethos, but they have a comic side to them that makes me laugh out loud when I reread them. He was poet laureate of North Carolina from 1997-2002, and has also won many awards for his work.
Finally, I recommend Ron Hansen’s book, Atticus, which is a prodigal son story (also a mystery) full of warmth and hope. In addition to receiving many book awards, two of Hansen’s novels have been made into movies. Hansen is a professor in my home territory at Santa Clara University, where I received my teaching degree.
I’m happy to be able to recommend the books of these three living authors to you, and perhaps you will dip into one or more of them while dipping your toes in the water, or vacationing in some mountain idyll. All three of these authors know how to “dig in” and find the “stories” that make you appreciate and rejoice in life and faith.
I hope you all have a blessed summer with family and friends, no matter where you are or what you are doing.
Are You Saying AP® is Classical?
AP® Literature and Composition Courses teach many of the same scholastic skills and habits which a traditional classical education does. Here are a few reasons why:
- analysis of themes and characters
- understanding of language and rhetorical devices
- detailed application of diction to analysis
- convergence of great literature with life, culture, and values
The challenge of developing the thinking processes you need in order to pass an AP® Exam in literature, composition, or grammar is also training for the classical way. It’s all about learning to think for yourself by digging into textual details, while simultaneously learning to see the “big picture” and applying what you learn to your understanding of past cultures and, well–to life.
Integritas Academy is now a College Board approved AP® school and we are offering AP® Literature and Composition this 2019-20 School Year. You can find the course description on our Classes page at integritasacademy.com. Feel free to email Cindy Lange at Cindy@integritasacademy.com if you have questions about the course.
So Says Shakespeare
Benefits of Reading the Bard
The fourth quarter at Integritas Academy is dedicated to Shakespeare’s plays. In Lit & Comp 1 we read Macbeth, and in Lit & Comp 2, we study As You Like it. Our middle school course enjoys The Tempest, and in Lit & Comp 3/AP next year we will do an in-depth critical study of Hamlet.
Here are a few of the many wonderful reasons to study Shakespeare:
- master the rhythm of the language (including the iambic pentameter poetic sections)
- unpack the rich themes and humor as you gain understanding of the texts, written at the height of the English language
- expand your knowledge of history and England.
Tips for Reading the Plays
It’s important for students to read the original language, but there is nothing wrong with their following along with an updated version as they read the original, as long as the update is not just a summary. There are quite a few of these now, but the version online, “No Fear Shakespeare,” is a solid one. It also helps to read confusing sections out loud.
Students should try to get the “official” class version so we can “be on the same page” during our readings and discussions. There are various “folios” of the plays, so the line numbers are not always the same in different editions.
Getting to know The Bard is a great way to spend spring! If fact, he calls us to join him at this time of year:
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing.
(Sonnet 98, 1-2)
Analytical Angst: Writing for Independent Thought
|I teach writing according to the Jane Schaffer writing method, used by high achieving schools in their honors and AP programs. The Schaffer pedagogy meets the definition of “classical” because it leads students into developing critical thinking skills at an early age. Schaffer is qualitatively different from other popular “classical” writing methods, because Schaffer teaches them how to analyze, interpret, and assess ideas. Put another way: students’ minds are engaged in such a manner that they are inspired to develop independent thought. This is because students are led to ponder what a character’s (or historical figure’s) motivations are, or what the consequences of his or her actions or words are, within the context of the theme and diction of the story.Schaffer is simply a codification of how analytical writing was taught traditionally. As I often tell students, they are like Sherlock Holmes walking onto a crime scene. They must look at the situation presented, as a whole, and from that assess what the important “evidences” are. The Schaffer method calls these “concrete details” (CDs). From there, students use the context of these facts to determine the theme(s) of the text. Why did the author use those facts at that point? Students also bring their own knowledge of life and universal truths to bear on the situation: What is the point of the passage? What does it reveal about the character, or what message is the author communicating to the reader?
When students begin to think analytically, they begin to think independently. Of course, this is the goal of a classical education, not the memorization of a bucketful of facts or texts. The necessity of having such skills before entering the halls of higher education cannot be overemphasized. The Jane Schaffer approach takes time to learn in the beginning–students are building up their “deductive” muscles. But with guidance and practice, they become independent thinkers.
The “method” is a proven way to bringing students’ minds to bear, in order to train them to focus so that they successfully learn the process of analytical reasoning. As students begin to incorporate the techniques so that they think and write inferentially, they no longer need the Schaffer steps, as they have begun the process of independent thinking–the ultimate goal of our educational efforts.
©Cindy C. Lange, MA
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