Reading Journal: Nancy Drew, Tom Ripley, a President’s Assassin, and More

This past Friday Friday afternoon, as I was reading The Mystery at Lilac Inn in preparation for my “Women of Mystery” course, it struck me what a joy it is to spend an afternoon rereading a Nancy Drew novel on the screened porch on a beautiful day—and to call it “work.”

Also last week, a librarian at the Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library invited me to speak in October meeting as part of their ongoing discussion series My Brilliant Friend: Friendship, Loyalty and Betrayal in Fiction—specifically about Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley… which, needless to say, I’m thrilled to have a reason to reread.

Reading is one of the key parts of my job, and to be able to immerse myself in a great book or a great story is a true luxury.

Much of that work isn’t solely the reading itself, of course. With Nancy Drew, there’s much ahead to explore with my class in terms of who Nancy Drew is to her readers, what mix of girl power feminism on the one hand (for example) and more conservative values on the other—the roots of that paradox and of its appeal. And with Talented Mr. Ripley ahead, a different kind of appeal, of course—how and why are readers charmed and intrigued by someone with such questionable morals (or lack of them)? And how can some critics argue that this dark tale might well be the great American novel?

Indulging those questions might be its own luxury, of course—but pointing out that it’s not just reading for fun but engagement and analysis that’s the core of the process.

Speaking of reading for fun, though, not everything on my nightstand is for work. I’m so very much enjoying the title novella of the new collection The Dark Ride: The Best Short Fiction of John Kessel. John is not just a friend but a former professor of mine—one integral, in fact, to putting me on the path I’m on now. I’ve always admired his short stories and particularly enjoying this more recent one, about Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated president William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901—and who took a ride called “A Trip to the Moon” at that world’s fair, a ride which forms the second and resonant strand of the story. (Reading this one also keeps me on track to read at least one novella a month this year—my New Year’s Resolution. And if you’re interested in my photos here of books and drinks, visit my Instagram page.)

Finally, I’ve also been reading more short fiction from the latest issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, which features my own story “We Are All Strangers Here.”

  • “No Peace for the Wicked” by Martin Edwards
  • “The Skeleton Rides a Horse” by Leigh Perry
  • “Cleaning Day” by Joseph S. Walker
  • “The Kindness of Strangers” by Twist Phelan

This post is part of my weekly “reading journal” for my Reviewing course at Mason. See you next week!