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Elementary, My Dear Reader

Posted on June 24, 2014 at 6:00 am

By Cara Strickland

Elementary, My Dear Reader

When I was a kid, I couldn’t get enough of the Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew. To this day, The Westing Game is one of my favorite books. As a teenager, and then an adult, although I spent plenty of time in other genres, I usually find several mysteries in my “to-read” pile. 

There’s something about a mystery: a problem presents itself (just as it often does in life) and an intrepid detective (usually with a relatable human flaw or two) takes the case. 

Some mysteries are messier than others. Nate the Great hunts for a lost list and Nancy Drew looks for a missing heiress, while Lord Peter Wimsey and Flavia de Luce often have a grisly corpse on their hands. 

Still, by the end of the book, the case is closed, the matter is sorted; on to the next. 

There is something comforting about reading a book where everything fits together in the end.Perhaps it is this exactly that keeps me coming back for more. My life is filled with mundane mysteries. From figuring out the best way to support a friend or family member, to the next meal I need to plan, my personal mysteries rarely come with easy-to-follow clues and tidy summaries. There is something comforting about reading a book where everything fits together in the end. 

Though I’m not against reading for escape, I don’t think that’s exactly what I’m doing when I’m reading a mystery. As I walk through the deductions and try to guess the endings, I’m sharpening my own deductive muscles and learning to recognize the occasional subtle clues in my life. 

It has long been said that reading makes you smarter and keeps you sharp, like doing a crossword, or multiplication tables. In my experience, when I need to make a decision or am overwhelmed by something big in my life, I find that reading a mystery gives me a break from focusing on the nuts and bolts of my problem, even as I (sometimes) work it out in the background. When I’m not in the midst of something I need to figure out, I look at mysteries as an incredibly enjoyable way to train as a critical thinker (complete with witty dialogue). 

When I look at it this way, it makes my favorite mysteries all that much more enjoyable to re-read. As with other forms of training, I pick up more each time through, noticing tell-tale signs I missed the first time around. Even though I know “whodunit” I still enjoy the chase and the elegance with which many mystery writers walk that delicate balance between giving it all away too soon, and frustrating a reader with not quite enough. 

As you start in on your summer reading list, may I suggest adding a mystery? Whether you’re seeking something cozy, lurid or classic, I think you’ll find something to love. 

What’s your favorite mystery? I’m always looking for suggestions.

Cara Strickland

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