RARA-AVIS: But What About the Children?

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 11 Aug 2009

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    Patrick wrote:

    > Schools and libraries are not likely to encourage young people,
    > 10-16 to read adult fiction like Hammett, Chandler, Cain, or even
    > Faulkner.

    Don't have kids, Patrick?

    Both Faulkner and Hammett are on school reading lists for several high schools in our area, and at least one student showed up at our store asking for Chandler, at the suggestion of her teacher, after reading THE MALTESE FALCON. And I myself pointed her toward Cain and Ross Macdonald.

    > At this point, schools and libraries are under attack from parents'
    > groups for encouraging kids to read HUCKLEBERRY FINN. I doubt many
    > educators will go that next leap and challenge their charges with
    > stories about murder, rape, incest, robbery and sexual obsession. I
    > hope I'm wrong, but I doubt it.

    Doubt it. In fact, the range of books on our Summer Reading table, filled according to local area high school teachers' suggested reading lists, is staggering. All the usual suspects are there: Orwell, Twain, Dickens, Harper Lee, S.E. Hinton, Salinger, Shakespeare, Austen et al, but there are also books by Hammett, Doyle, Anthony Burgess, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sartre, Camus, Tim O'Brien, Bradbury, Obama, Naomi Klein, C.E. Lewis, John McCain and even fun but by no means dumb stuff like THE WATCHMEN and the Austen parody PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES .

    And I live in the Antelope Valley, one of the more conservative areas of the State. If they're reading stuff like that here, I wonder what they're reading in more progressive areas and states. And nations?

    Sure, there are wing nut parents, from both the left and the right, trying to ban everything from HUCKLEBERRY FINN and HARRY POTTER to Charles Darwin and CATCHER IN THE RYE, but those are a decided minority in most areas. Occasionally one even shows up at our store, spilling their ignorance and hatred all over the place, demanding we stop selling this or that, but I'm happy to report that they by no means represent all, or even most of our customers. Or even all or most Americans.

    Though why do you feel ten year olds should read MORE stories about murder, rape, incest, robbery and sexual obsession?

    Sheesh. Perhaps it's just as well you don't have kids.

    "Come here, Susie, and sit on Uncle Patrick's lap, and let him read you this juicy little passage about rape, incest and sexual obsession."

    > Adults have such a tendency to forget completely what it was like
    > being a kid. They're always amazed when their children's real life
    > shows up at the door.

    Not all parents are that clued out. Plenty of us remember exactly what is was like to be a kid.

    (Forgetting may be the hard part?)

    But I wonder. While I think some kids would be perfectly fine reading darker stuff, it's not for everyone. Far better to expose students to a wide range of literature and ideas, rather to force feed them a steady diet of anything -- even our beloved hard-boiled literature. It's better to have them leaving school with a head full of additional questions than a head stuffed with what they've been told are the answers.

    Intelligence without curiosity is like a nail without a hammer.


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