Writer Sulari Gentill says that, since crime fiction “essentially tells the story of a crisis,” is has helped to prepare us for the world we all now find ourselves in.
This year we have already faced fire, flood and pandemic. We had fled our homes and been confined to them. And we have risen up against murder and prejudice. Each of those actions have required decisions about how to protect ourselves and those around us. They have been made in the face of real threats to personal safety.
“revisiting Edna Buchanan, America’s greatest police reporter”
Before she turned to writing crime novels, Edna Buchanan was a crime journalist in Miami. She won a Pulitzer Prize for her newspaper work in 1986.
In this article Diana Moskovitz addresses the issue of how television, movies, and other elements of popular culture have helped create the current problem in the U.S. of police using unnecessary force to subdue suspects. This is an argument that isn’t new. I’ve seen many stories lately of how crime dramas such as Blue Bloods and the various iterations of Law & Order have shaped the public attitude that law enforcement only uses extreme measures to subdue criminals and force information out of them when absolutely necessary. These dramas have taught us to excuse such behavior as the necessary price society pays for protection and safety, the argument goes.
And, according to Moskovitz, Edna Buchanan is one of the well-known crime reporters whose work has contributed to this public attitude. Moskovitz is talking about Buchanan’s reportorial work here, not her novels. On rereading The Corpse Had a Familiar Face, the 1987 book about her reporting that made Edna Buchanan a nationally known figure, Moskovitz realized:
. . . how police positive it was. How it is littered with calls for tougher justice, using victims as props to demand harsher sentences, and how it ignored all the ways American society sets people up to break the law in the first place. How bad behavior by officers—even the one Buchanan briefly married—is condemned, but never really traced back to any larger issue. How Buchanan’s words have reinforced institutions that a growing American conscience believes are no longer, and perhaps never were, inherently good, or even necessary at all.
After the publication of The Corpse Had a Familiar Face, Buchanan became the public model for what a good crime reporter should do: “the Buchanan model is not, primarily, about police accountability. It’s about writing a story that leaps off the page with stunning details.”
Author Charlie Jane Anders writes in The Washington Post:
Sen. Kamala D. Harris was half right in her speech launching her 2020 presidential campaign when she said we need to address climate change based on “science fact, not science fiction.” The truth is, we need both. Science fiction has an important role to play in rescuing the future from the huge challenges we’re facing . . .
“Stories about climate change might be fiction, but they can help to sway people’s hearts and minds in a different way than a recitation of the undeniable facts,” Anders writes. “And because science fiction is the literature of problem-solving, our made-up stories about science and innovation can play an important role in helping us to regain our faith in our own ability to create change.”
Agostino Ramelli, a 16th-century military, “designed many contraptions for the changing Renaissance landscape.” One of his machines aimed at allowing users to read multiple books at one time. Although Ramelli never built the machine, its possibility has long intrigued people who study the history of the book.
This article from Atlas Obscura details how, in 2018, a group of undergraduate engineering students at the Rochester Institute of Technology set out to build the machine. It’s worth looking at the article just for the photos and illustrations, but the text is pretty intriguing as well.
“Our picks for immersive, escapist, or nostalgic reading—wherever you are”
If you still need more suggestions for reading to occupy yourself with during this pandemic, editors from The Atlantic have some suggestions, curated “with an eye toward stories that will resonate during a summer of continued social distancing and tentative reopenings.” They’ve “ loosely grouped them according to literary cravings you might have,” such as these:
- IF YOU WANT TO GET LOST IN A PLACE
- IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A PAGE-TURNER
- IF YOU NEED SMART OBSERVATIONS ABOUT LIFE
- IF YOU’RE IN THE MOOD FOR A QUEST
- IF YOU’RE CRAVING HUMAN CONNECTION
© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown