Monday, November 06, 2006

Reccomend me...

Mes Amis

For those who don't know, my day job is in retail. Specifically, I work in a bookstore. For reasons of saying something out of turn by accident or intention, I won't mention which one.

Anyway, part of the fun of working with books is reccomending to people. Especially when it comes to crime books. People say, "I'm looking for something like..." and I can generally find something. But the past few days I've found myself challenged. Two very similar looking, slightly worried mothers coming in and saying, "My Johnny - aged thirteen - is interested in crime books. But I don't know what to get him. They aren't going to disturb him are they?"

And each time, little Johnny has shown more interest in adult crime than younger crime. That is, its pretty clear little Johnny is past the Three Investigators (actually, I don't think they're even published any more: a terrible shame) and wants to explore more. In both cases I've reccomended YA crime (Bateman's Reservoir Pups, it seems, may be worth getting in if we can find it and, of course, Horrowitz is a good bet both with Ryder's spy antics and the Diamond Brothers which are funny books) but I've also said that it depends how mature Johnny is whether he's going to be sated by that. Especially because Little Johnny sounded like he was showing interest in harder egded stuff (we discussed movies he had seen). Of course, Mum didn't want anything that was going to be a "bad influence" which really limited me in some ways, particularly when I discussed some thematic elements and specific scenes in certain books.

I vaugely remember being thirteen. You want to be an adult, but you're not quite there. And you're not really a kid either. Its a fucking horrific age. And, of course, your mum doesn't want you to grow up fast, so you're really caught in a bind.

I remember when I was in my teens, my Dad gave me my first Elmore Leonard (Mr Majestyk) although I didn't read it until years later (I discovered SF and thought crime would probably be boring in comparison - besides, its what my dad read and when you're thirteen its not so cool to emulate your dad). But when I did read it, I thought, this would have been a damn good choice. I did read Get Shorty first, however. And I was blown away. I wish I could remember the exact age I was when I did, however. It might help me more.

Of course, I told my worried mothers about this and even said, "these crime books here and here might be good places to start: not too graphic but still exciting stuff" while qualifying that there were, uh, adult themes involved. But I couldn't help much more than that. Because I don't know enough about what's appropriate, not just for the young teens themselves, but to keep the mothers happy.

Its interesting to me, because if we need to find new readers of crime, we need to get them started somewhere, and I'll be damned if I can figure out where that might be. Do we just throw copies of Mr Majestyk at teens?

Or is there a way to wean these guys up to discover the sheer fucking joy that can come with a well written crime novel? Is there a bridge?

Not that I expect answers, but it has been intriguing me the past week.

au revoir



Sandra Ruttan said...

I think Laura Lippman's To The Power of Three is great for teens, although I'm not sure how boys would take it. Face it, at thirteen you know about sex, you know about a lot of stuff. My niece is 12 but she's been watching CSI and shows like... oh, damn, what's the soapy evening show where everyone screws everyone else? Can't remember because I don't watch much tv. The OC or something. You look at the video games these kids play and the movies they watch and the tv shows, really, a lot of crime fiction isn't that disturbing. I might suggest steering clear of hardboiled stuff initially, but otherwise there's plenty of good stuff out there I'd recommend to teens.

Vincent said...

Russel, I reckon you've identified a gap in the market there. There are plenty of kids books out there dealing with 'real life issues', which leads into whatever the literary equivalent of Eastenders is, light-hearted relationship books which lead into chick-lit and tons of fantasy, but absolutely no books aimed at the 8-13 year old market that feature your contemporary serial killer.

At least not as far as I know. Perhaps one of the Nancy Drew novels did feature her tracking down a homicidal maniac.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Wasn't there a recent initiative in the UK called something like 'Quick Reads'? I seem to recall some big name crime authors contributing. Could be something there.

Me, I program poker machines for a living, so there's not a lot I can help you with there, aside from telling the kids to STAY AWAY from them.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Kevin Wignall is working on a YA book. Not sure the exact age it's targeted at, but that might be something to watch for.

Steven said...

Hey, my Bronx novel coming out next year should be just the thing - there's even a thirteen year old in it. Of course, it might be a bit hardboiled for some.

How about the guy from South Africa - Mccall Smith. Nothing offensive in his stories...

Ray said...

You know what I was reading when I was 12? Shaun Hutson. Sex and gratuitous violence. People wearing other people's faces as a matter of course. Gunrunners buried alive with their lips and eyes sewn shut. All that, and A Clockwork Orange. I don't know about YA stuff, but to be honest, the only thing that I should've been steered away from was bad writing.

Course, then I wouldn't have read Hutson.

Stuart MacBride said...

I think you should recommend my book Russ - think how happy the mothers will be when they come back to ask you why their little Jonny is out back torturing rats to death and then eating them!

Sean Chercover said...

Screw "YA" books. If the punk's 13, he should be reading adult books.

If you think the kid can get with reading something that isn't in the present, try the classic crime stuff. Chandler and the gang. Patricia Highsmith. Spillane. John D. MacDonald. You might want to try older classics like Doyle, and for some crossover appeal, Poe. If he's into puzzle mysteries, try the Nero Wolf books. By the time he gets through all that, he'll be 15 and ready for the more recent, more graphic stuff.

Frankly, I think he's ready for it now, but I understand why you don't want his mom to become an enraged ex-customer.

Russel said...

Yeah, you see the problem I have is literally Mom who keeps asking about what happens in the books. And then dissaproving. As I said, "Its what I was reading and it did me no harm".

The other problem, Sean, is that here in the UK crime sections very seldom hold the classics. At the moment on our shelves we have two Chandlers, one Hammett.

I sometimes believe the YA section exists to placate mothers. What is funny is that the girls YA shit is incredible - chock full of sex (One example title: "Angus, thongs and full frontal snogging" followed by its sequel "knocked out by my nunga-nungas" which doesn't need a translation to guess what it might concern) and yet mothers are concerned about their boys reading violent books.

Of course, placing these books in YA makes them automatically "safe"... and as Sandra points out, there's a hell of a lot worse on TV with easy access.

Sandra Ruttan said...

"As I said, "Its what I was reading and it did me no harm"."

Okay Russel, maybe you should carry a picture of Sean and say, "It's what he was reading and it did him no hard!"

Just not the one with him with a drink in his hand.

Sean Chercover said...

Well, Russel, now I can see the problem. Just put yourself in the mother's shoes: You take your juvinile delinquent to the book shop, looking for something that he'll actually read but that won't lead him to ruin. And here comes this bearded freak who smells of pork and wears a large block of cheese for a hat...and the freak lunges your way, brandishing a book, and with a wild look in his eyes, says, "It's what I was reading and it did me no harm!"

You would run for the exits, too. You might even leave poor little Johnny to fend for himself.

Two Chandlers and one Hammett? For shame. You are the lord of the crime section. Make it right!

Of course, you could suggest that young Johnny read the "girls' books" in the YA section, but the mothers might have you arrested.

By the way, I love it when you say, "full frontal snogging."

that girl said...

You missed out "and then he ate my boy entrancers"

real book.