Steve Liskow  

Why Mystery?

Most modern writers agree that character and plot intertwine inseparably.

A compelling character WANTS something, and if he'll bend a few rules to get it, he or she becomes even more interesting. If it involves someone else's well-being, even better. Many stories concern themselves with how far over the line someone will go, and how will he try to conceal that fact. This is what we want to read because nice people, in addition to being unbelievable, are really, really boring.

I don't understand why people look down at mysteries (or romance or science fiction) like some sub-species. Long before we had labels, people wrote about love and death, often in a distant time or place with unrealized technology. Readers in Ancient Greece or Tudor England or most other places didn't call the stuff "genre," and devoured it eagerly. The stigma now seems to come from people who have invented a standard so they can feel better about themselves for having narrow minds. What a pity.

Shakespeare wrote to make money by pleasing the masses. His most performed play during his lifetime was Titus Andronicus, which is basically the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in blank verse. Shakespeare retired from the stage at age 47. Think about it. John Cleland wrote Fanny Hill to buy his way out of debtor's prison, and Sophocles wrote Oedipus The King for a festival.

During my career as a high school English teacher, I taught all levels of tenth, eleventh, or twelfth grade at two high schools. We revised the curriculum two or three times in that period, but I assigned most of these books many times. I've probably missed some, too.

Julius Caesar
King Lear
Much Ado About Nothing
Midsummer Night's Dream
Twelfth Night
The Merchant of Venice
As You Like It
The Tempest
The Turn of The Screw
To Kill A Mockingbird
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Pride & Prejudice
In The Heat of the Night
Murder on the Orient Express
The Godfather
The Crucible
Intruder in the Dust
Huckleberry Finn
The Awakening
The Bluest Eye
A Soldier's Play
The Virginian
Brave New World

Johnny Got His Gun
Cry, The Beloved Country
In Cold Blood
The Return of the Native
Wuthering Heights
The Mayor of Castorbridge
Jane Eyre
The Scarlet Letter
Death of A Salesman
The House of the 7 Gables
Sister Carrie
The Great Gatsby
Oedipus The King
An American Tragedy
The Reivers
All The King's Men
The Bacchae
The Sea Gull
The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail
Reservation Blues
Inherit the Wind
The House on Mango Street
The Stranger
Zooman & The Sign
The Ox-Bow Incident


Re-reading list