As a young reader, I tore through the different series featuring Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, and Hardy Boys. As a teenager, I favored mysteries by Phyllis Whitney, Agatha Christie, and too many others to count. Yet I have no memory of reading a mystery for school (other than the mystery of math word problems).
Knowing at least the basic conventions of mystery is crucial for interpreting certain literary texts–for example, there is little chance of fully appreciating Gertrude Stein’s Blood on the Dining-Room Floor, Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, Paul Auster’s City of Glass, or Sylvia Plath’s “The Detective” without them in mind. When I teach such texts, it’s typically not until we go over some of “the rules” (e.g., Knox’s Decalogue, the Van Dine list, and Raymond Chandler’s commandments) that classes can proceed to lively discussion of the ways in which the authors are using, responding to, or subverting those conventions. The lists themselves require careful consideration and evaluation (particularly the problematic elements), and it is fascinating to see how many of said rules have been skillfully–even beautifully–broken.
I’m not suggesting that we should read mysteries only for literary analysis or critical thinking purposes, though. We should definitely read mysteries simply to read mysteries! They offer so much. In fact, I wonder why the mystery has not always been considered one of the necessary genres to be taught.
Did you begin reading the mystery genre at a young age or later on? In school or out?