"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

On a Wednesday Before the New Semester

Why is it that when you have the least amount of time, when what time you have is very tightly allotted to various projects, that all the idea for other things come up. I was on the phone today with a friend and we were lamenting the stress of spring syllabi, because while we had the entire summer to plan fall classes, we only have a couple of weeks to do the spring ones. We figured that we should try--even as we wouldn't know what we were teaching in any given spring--to plan the spring classes over the summer too.

The imaginary class I'm planning in my head (only barely out of the dreaming stage, which is where I hope it'll stay for the foreseeable future, or at least till summer) has to do with literary mysteries, and teach it with a place emphasis: what role does the place play in the narrative?

I'd definitely teach William Kent Krueger again. Particularly Iron Lake, but I might revisit some of his other works. Maybe some Nevada Barr. But right now, I'm reading Dennis Lehane--Mystic River right now--and thinking that maybe this book would be a fantastic addition to my imaginary list. The book is so great that I'm only halfway through it and so blown away that sometimes I have to put it down to breathe. Core question for this book: how is he playing with the expectations of the genre and form in this novel? Such a good book.

I also found Benjamin Black's first novel, Christine Falls, at one of the thrift stores in Fargo over Christmas--Benjamin Black, of course, being the pen name of the one-and-only John Banville. This one I haven't read yet because its first couple of pages are being scanned, so I can teach my students about pacing (we'll read an excerpt from Mefisto, the first few pages of The Untouchable, and the first few pages of Christine Falls in my 252 this spring). Dear students, you will never be a writer unless you learn to love sentences. And it doesn't matter where you find them. Twilight, Harry Potter, Hemingway. It doesn't matter what you read as long as you read.

I stole the loving sentences bit from Annie Dillard. In "Write Till You Drop," she tells this story:

A well-known writer got collared by a university student who asked, "Do you think I could be a writer?" "Well," the writer said, "I don't know... Do you like sentences?" The writer could see the student's amazement. Sentences? Do I like sentences? I am 20 years old and do I like sentences? If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, "I liked the smell of the paint."


Anyway, I digress. As I'm starting to formulate this imaginary reading list, I realize it's very, very short on women. If you've got a favorite, one that uses place (urban or rural, all is good), let me know.

While I'm at it, my knowledge of canonical-type mysteries is low too. I'm a nonfiction writer, after all. Beyond Poe, I don't have much. So help there too would be great.


  1. You know how I love my Elizabeth Peters mysteries in Egypt. You also have Agatha Christie's mysteries, which make important use of the English countryside in particular.
    I recently discovered Rebecca Hale, who writes mysteries that include two cats, but that also include a great deal of San Francisco. Sister Carol Anne O'Marie is the same city.

  2. I'd completely forgotten about Peters--I knew you liked her, so I read a few, liked them, and then didn't think about them for this. Wonderful! I'll have to check out the SF ones. And I've never read Agatha Christie, so I'll add that to my list too. Thanks, Abby!