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08 October 2008


I just finished Teri Jentz's Small Piece of Paradise, which sometimes goes under True Crime but is more literary in that it has a strong element of memoir. Though it's a bit too long, it's still quite good. My father is a big true crime reader, mostly mass markets that he buys very cheap, even used. It's always disturbed me a little, but as you note, stuff you see even on network tv is just as violent and sadistic if not worse. CSI? These books can be prurient, sure, but there's also the legal aspect I suppose. Given how readily available they are for cheap, and perhaps the shame factor, I'm not too surprised people don't go to the library for them.

I work at a small library and the true crime section is very active - and yes, people do come straight out and ask for it. I try not to look too squinty-eyed at them when I know that that's all they read, but it does make you wonder sometimes. However, they all seem to be intelligent (they do use the library after all), well balanced people. Don't know why they don't ask you straight out - perhaps Canadians are somehow more comfortable with true crime? Who knows.

Wow, wasn't "Small Piece of Paradise" quite the book? I'm usually not one for the long ones but I can't say I minded the length--I couldn't get over her story. And having the guts to go back and try and track her attacker down! I thought that was wild.

Also: thanks for the one vote for male readers. Do you know what it is about them that your father finds compelling?

This is very interesting to hear. I knew the true crime books in my library had to circulate, as I checked them back in and shelved them a lot, I just never really noticed them going out. So it's interesting to hear your perspective. Maybe it's what people who like NF read for, well, escapist is not the right word, but maybe just plain faster-paced nonfiction? A lot of them do offer a lot of information on trials and court cases, I've found.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Yay, Canadians! For everything, but also for being more open with their reading habits. I love Canadians.

The first true crime I ever read was "Zodiac," when I was still in grade school. It was sitting around the house, and I found it and just felt drawn to read it. Years later I read "Helter Skelter" because my roommates were reading it. Then my college roommate was a true crime buff, so I started reading her books. It wasn't until after that that I started getting them from the library, partly because I happened to walk down that aisle and spotted them.

I don't think it ever would have occurred to me on my own to say, "I want to read books about serial killers," and then go see if anyone had written some. I don't see anything wrong with it, particularly, so I'll carry them around just like any other book.

I find several things compelling about true crime books. Mostly I love the police work and the courtroom drama, knowing that justice was done. I also get a bit sucked in to how the victims are always described so sympathetically. But one of the main things is paying attention to how the killer got ahold of the victims, hoping that it might one day help me or someone else spot the signs early enough to get away.

Either that, or they're just a slightly more believable yet still symbolic battle between the forces of good and evil, with a little bit of Fate thrown in.

Wow, thanks for the interesting comment. I hadn't thought about the epic battle between good and evil, but I'll bet that's a component.

I remember reading Helter Skelter because it seemed like such a classic, and being blown away by it. For a long book it certainly didn't seem like one...

I also think the learning aspect plays a part as well, particularly for women readers. Although sometimes it is scary to note that even when people try to be safe, as you note, sometimes fate has other ideas. That darn fate.

Oh boy, you did it again.

I have been caught up in a mental whirlwind over true crime vs. mystery novel readers -- how they differ, how differently libraries treat them, etc.

Personal note: love a good true crime, sometimes dragged into reading a mystery, which I OCCASIONALLY love. But true crime is the low-rent, bastard cousin of mystery fiction, as far as professional (librarian) interest and mainstream perceptions. Why?

Got a dandy head-buzz off of this topic. Graphic novel suggestion: read all of Rick Geary! Plus, currently swooning over Sarah Vowell's "Assassination Vacation", read by herself (of deliciously annoying child-voice, with many voice-overs). See, read Geary on Lincoln and Garfield assassinations, then throw in the S.V. All kinds of not-quite reading available to you. Will think some more on true crime vs. mystery novels and check in with you later.

Your large and inarticulate pal,

In the one thing leads to another vain, a discussion by librarians on fiction_l (http://www.webrary.org/MaillistF/msgcur/2008/7/Re.TrueCrimeforMysteryRea.html)
led me to this article "The Narrative Thread of Real-Life Crime," at

More insight on the whole subject.

My first ever true crime reading was about the Leopold and Loeb murder case. I was fascinated by these two young teen cold-blooded murderers. There's a new take on this case, For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb and the Murder that Shocked Chicago by Simon Baatz.

I've read true crime ever since. Yes, they are creepy but they are real. I particularly enjoy reading about cold cases.

And one thing leading to another try No Stone Unturned by Steve Jackson about NecroSearch, a forensic science investigation team composed of biologists, chemists, and other crime specialists and their quest to solve crimes.

Have you read "For the Thrill of It" yet? Quite an interesting book, very in-depth history-wise. I found it to be more history than true crime, but the details of the killing were still yucky enough.

Thanks for the suggestion of "No Stone Unturned." I'll have to look into it!

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