So, I'm teaching a "Mystery As Lit" course next semester. What books should I use?

I'm going with Mosley's "Devil In A Blue Dress" for sure. Also something by Chandler, but which one? They're all so great, but is one particularly iconic or complex? I'd like to teach one of van de Wetering's books, and probably an Agatha Christie. So I still need three or four more. Any suggestions/thoughts would be most helpful. Diversity/variety is a big plus.

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One of Derek Raymond's books, such as "He Died With His Eyes Open" might be a good choice. The Nation magazine recently had a long discussion of Raymond's work.
John,
I hope you'll let us know which books you chose when the decision has been made. I re-ponder this every time I see this discussion has been updated. The more I think about it, the harder a good answer gets.
I second the request for the final list. There are some extremely hard choices to keep it anywhere near managable size. And I suspect it is going to tie up my life for some time to come as I have missed Derek Raymond and so many others.
I'm just curious, do we all see it as a good thing to have crime fiction in academia?
Nope. I hate to say it (apologies, Jon) but that's merely another effort to attract students who have lost all interest in reading literature. It serves neither literature nor mystery. And if you argue that teaching (in high school???) is responsible for turning students away from English, then it may also hold true that requiring assignments and papers on mysteries may turn them away from mysteries.

This is not an attack on teachers and professors (since I was one myself). It is rather an attack on turning over subject matter to the students.
I vehemently disagree. It could become that, I agree, but, if done right, a college level course on mystery/crime fiction has a chance to expose students to literature that has been too long ignored by "educators." I, too, was a teacher in a previous life, and I am appalled at how many students, at all levels, are turned off from reading in general because they were force fed books that were "good for them." Many of them were, but many were damn tough slogging that went over the heads of a lot of students.

The quality of writing in the best mysteries wil hold its own with any other genre, including "literary" as a genre. Chandler, Hammett, Ross Macdonald, James Lee Burke, and others too numerous to name have not only only written their crime stories in memorable, lucid prose, but have approached subject matter as weighty as any more "worthy" writers.

I'm not saying to replace the classics with crime fiction, but there is certainly a worthy place for its study in a well-rounded curriculum.
I agree that mysteries are a fine addition to a college curriculum, but in college you have a lot more choice of what you take than in high school, and rightly so. I don't know, but I would bet money that Jon's class is not required but an elective class. And universities need more of those kinds of classes. I graduated in '07 with a BA in English writing, and my major was only 39 hours. That is incredibly short. For someone studying writing, being exposed to as many forms as possible is important, so I would have liked to have more classes like this to choose from.

But I think you're missing the point of why Literature is taught in high school in the first place. Why does someone who wants to be an accountant need to learn about literature anyway? Because it's about the language. Reading works with complex language teaches you to read and think more critically, teaches you different techniques for communicating and how to analyze those techniques. Poetry is especially good for that since every word in a poem is important and must be chosen carefully.

It has nothing to do with which genre is more "important" or "worthy". Crime fiction just does not have as complex language, in general, as literary works do. It doesn't mean literary works are better, they're just different. And for learning as much as you can about the language you speak, literary fiction is a better tool for that kind of learning.

Furthermore, school is supposed to be challenging. Everything you learn is supposed to be over your head when it is introduced to you. It is up to the student, ultimately, to learn the best he can, and teachers help with that as much as they can, but if school was so easy you could just breeze through it there would be no point in it. In fact, school should be much tougher than it is (I'm talking about the US, here, not sure about other countries' education systems). There's not enough time to teach everything, so the more challenging things should be taught.

Lastly, this isn't a boxing match. No genre has to "hold its own" against another. Each genre has different characteristics which are there for a reason. And in college, if you're studying writing or literature, I think it's important to be exposed to as many different kinds as you can. But for learning more about your language and improving communications, not all genres are created equally. Literary works are just better suited for that task, in general.
Amen!
I agree with 90% of what John says here. My only comment has to do with high school students who are not going on to college and who, frankly, aren't going to "get" some books. no matter how elevating the book might be. Many of these students will never, or rarely, read again once they leave high school, because their entire experience is that it's a chore. I don't want to write them off, but we can at least meet them half way, and provide some inspiration for them to continue to read when they leave school. They may well be ready to appreciate some literature in ten or fifteen years that might turn them away from reading altogether if presented too early.
Well, that makes a lot of sense. Too many highschool teachers simply replicate what they've learned in college instead of developing a curriculum suitable to their students. But Jon is teaching a university course, isn't he?
For Dana: Now see, I don't really like any of those authors. Even Burke irritates with repetitive themes and little canned insertions of pretty landscape or weather descriptions.
IJ,
The fact that you don't like the authors I chose off the top of my head doesn't invalidate them as writers.Personally, I'd rather have oral surgery than read a Faulkner novel; that doesn't mean I don't think he should be taught. (Though the short stories are a LOT more accessible, especially for younger students.)

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