Book Suggestion: A is for Alibi

One hurdle my students encounter is that they are told that they have to read more, but the suggestion to read “classics”* doesn’t really work and instead turns students off of reading. On this site I am going to make some book suggestions, but all books are not good for all people. If you are a non-reader (I see you out there) or a “I’ll read it if I have to–but I won’t enjoy it”, I am going try to bridge the gap and find you books that you will enjoy, will expand your vocabulary, and will give you some cultural knowledge along the way.

A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

If you like: Mystery, Female Protagonists, 80s culture, Private Investigators

A is for Alibi introduces readers to Kinsey Milhone, a 32-year old, twice divorced, ex-cop Private Investigator who lives in Santa Teresa, California. Kinsey is recounting through the story her latest case involving Laurence Fife who had been killed eight years earlier. His wife, Nikki Fife, has been convicted of the crime, but now she is out of jail and wants to learn who really killed her husband. This is the first in the Alphabet Mystery series which is currently on “X”. If you enjoy figuring out mysteries as you read or like a strong female lead, this book might be right for you. But, it has another important feature–excellent vocabulary.

I had A is for Alibi on my bookshelves for ages (seriously, I’m pretty old), but found it was a resource for my SAT classes when I was preparing a presentation on the importance of vocabulary. I was trying to make the point that genre fiction can be written with strong vocabulary just as “classics” are. I turned to a random page and was a little surprised to find 3 SAT level vocabulary words. Thinking that it was fluke, I flipped to the front and found of the first 2 pages words such as ethereal, oblique, imperceptibly and cramped. The book is in no way a difficult read. It is fairly slim (under 300 pages), quick paced, and has a smart-mouth main character. However, Grafton has included naturally a panoply of higher level vocabulary.

But the College Board said…no more obscure words. Sure, but what that meant was you won’t have to do any more sentence completions. There is still plenty of higher level vocabulary within the passages (and the math questions), and every passage has 2 vocabulary in context questions, which will require you to understand the subtleties of the passage including challenging vocabulary. So if your vocabulary is weak or limited, you need to make a concerted effort to read more books, short stories and news articles that will expand your vocabulary.

*when I mention “classics” in quotes, I am referring to the list of books that students are encouraged to read in class, but often find difficult to understand. I am in no way saying that you should never read classics or canon literature. I am an English Major after all. But, if you are a weak reader or have a limited vocabulary, starting you off with Thomas Hardy or William Faulkner will just make you frustrated and even more certain that you HATE reading. It is important to have experience with classic English literature, but it is not the only way to develop your reading and writing abilities.

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