Saturday, June 6, 2015

Demand a story!

Stefan Beck, in "Crime Pays Off: Why you should raise the kids on crime fiction," argues that — if you want kids to read —  crime fiction ("noir, detective novels, police procedurals, and madcap adventures") is a great way to go, better than most Young Adult (YA) fiction. Worked for me growing up. From Beck:
.... At first glance, it is an odd candidate for this task: Isn’t it violent, frightening, and perhaps even a corrupting influence? Isn’t it laced with profanity and, in some cases, sexually explicit?

Yes, but the same is true of so much of the music, television, film, and even network news that parents are helpless to keep from their children. The same is true, for that matter, of many YA novels with far less literary merit than the best crime writing. ....

...[M]ost crime fiction, like YA, is aggressively, unapologetically plot-driven, with nothing to skip, making it ideal for those with Disney Channel attention spans. And needless to say, the sex and violence that might make crime fiction a tough sell for parents make it anything but for kids, who crave a taste of the forbidden.

Crime fiction presents not only the forbidden but also the merely grown-up. ....

Crime writing is, by definition, travel writing.... The best crime writers mark their territory and then bring it to life. Dashiell Hammett and James Ellroy can take you to California; James Crumley to Montana; Elmore Leonard to Detroit; James Lee Burke to Louisiana; Charles Willeford and Carl Hiaasen to Florida; Daniel Woodrell to the Ozarks; Dennis Lehane to Boston; and Richard Price to New York City. Get your kids a library card, and they will know their country and its underbelly—and develop a sense of empathy and curiosity—long before the time comes for a college tour.

By empathy and curiosity, I do not mean gullibility. Crime writers rarely glamorize crime and violence the way television and movies do. They do not present bad guys who are always victims of society and circumstance. Often they fulfill a scared-straight function, showing how one decision born of greed or impatience can send a life into a tailspin of cascading failure. ....

I didn’t read my first crime novel (Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest) until college.... I wish my teachers had given it to me sooner. It taught me to demand a story from everything that I read. It showed me a moral universe both more ambiguous and more exacting than anything I had hitherto encountered. It taught me that, notwithstanding man’s fallen nature, good and evil are not primitive myths.

If kids today need to be tricked and conned into reading something worthwhile, something as morally instructive and beautifully written as it is entertaining, then these bloody, crazy books ought to enjoy pride of place in every school library in America. [more, probably behind a pay wall]