Three Books: Murder and Mayhem

Editor’s Note: The following “Three Books” column, a recurring UConn Magazine feature, originally appeared in the magazine’s Spring 2021 edition.

Illustration of James Kaufman in UConn Magazine's Three Books feature.
Professor James Kaufman. (Illustration by Kyle Hilton)

James C. Kaufman, professor of educational psychology in the Neag School, is an expert in creativity and practices what he preaches. He’s published more than 35 books and more than 300 papers. He’s won countless awards, including Mensa’s research award. He tested Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s creativity on CNN, appeared in the Australian hit show “Redesign My Brain,” narrated the comic book documentary “Independents,” and wrote the book and lyrics to the musical “Discovering Magenta.” He says researching past “3 Books” columns was “a bit intimidating, since they were generally filled with quality, intelligent nonfiction or literature. I unabashedly love genre fiction — I have grown to prefer entertainment over enlightenment.” We’ve ordered all his picks.

Just finished: 

“All Our Wrong Todays” by Elan Mastai

Book cover "All Wrong Todays" by Elan Mastai, one of Kaufman's Three Books recommendations.

“All Our Wrong Todays” is a time- travel love story, but in lieu of the romance of “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” it has snark, massive screw-ups, and a narrator who is somehow relatable despite a litany of flaws. It has time travel without too much hard sci-fi, a vision of the future that doesn’t feel overly fantastical, and alternate universes that don’t feel like a cop-out to avoid enforcing the rules of time travel. I co-teach an Honors seminar (with P. J. Barnett) on time travel and the movies. If the in-the-works film adaption is better than Mastai’s past work (the sequel to “Most Valuable Primate,” etc.), I look forward to adding it to our syllabus

Currently reading:

Book cover "Deadly Anniversaries" edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Prozoni“Deadly Anniversaries” edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

I love mystery and thrillers, and anthologies are particularly enjoyable. I like to experience small tastes of my favorite writers while I discover new ones. This collection has some of my all-time top writers (Laura Lippman and Jeffery Deaver) alongside other strong contributors (Lee Child and both editors) and new folks I’d never encountered. I like mysteries that have a twist, especially one that I never see coming (yet doesn’t feel like a cheat). When I was a teenager, I loved Agatha Christie (I still do). I like a lot of the 1950s and ’60s (and on) writers who would publish in “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.” They are sometimes forgotten because they preferred to write stories, yet they are worth seeking out: Robert Bloch, Edward D. Hoch, Jack Ritchie, Henry Slesar, and many others.

On deck:

Book cover "The Trespasser" by Tana French, a Kaufman Three Books recommendation.“The Trespasser” by Tana French

Tana French’s Murder Squad series has an enjoyable progression ­— a novel will be written from the perspective of one character, and the next novel will be written from the perspective of a supporting character. It connects everything without risking becoming trite or predictable when an audience knows the protagonist too well. I’ve read the first five and have held out finishing the series (French’s latest work has been standalone books). But why? I will indulge soon, and perhaps dispense with my general “leave one book to save” policy, which applies to most of my favorites. In addition to those already mentioned, I’d include Kate Atkinson, Lawrence Block, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Jerome Healy, Jonathan Kellerman . . . and so many others.

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