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). Perhaps some schools did offer that opportunity, but mine did not. It wasn’t until graduate school that I even heard the words “mystery” and “detective” in a classroom–it was only in connection with Edgar Allan Poe and was more of an aside than a focus of conversation. Happily, college courses on the mystery have been increasing in number from the 1970s forward, though they often are listed under “special topics.”
However, knowing at least the basic conventions of mystery is crucial for interpreting certain literary texts (for example, there is little chance of fully appreciating Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound or Paul Auster’s City of Glass 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 and the Van Dine list) that classes can proceed to lively discussion of the ways in which the authors are playing with those conventions as postmodern technique.
I’m not suggesting that we should read mysteries only for literary analysis purposes. We should read mysteries because we should read mysteries! What I am pondering is how the mystery appears to have been labelled Not One Of The Necessary Genres To Be Taught. I very much question that categorization.
Curious as to whether most people began reading the mystery genre at a young age or later on? In school or out?