Murder in the House by Jakub Schikaneder, 1890, Image from Wikipedia.
Non fiction true crime stories are a very popular genre, but some people feel conflicted when they enjoy reading them. If you're a true crime fan, does the idea that you are being entertained by someone else's real life suffering make you uncomfortable? If so, how do you reconcile that feeling with your reading choices?
I was a bit turned off the true crime genre because I didn't like the idea of reading about horrible things that had happened to real people. There's enough of that in the news without reading it for pleasure. Then when I was persuaded to read Ann Rule's Dead By Sunset I found it fascinating and infuriating and weirdly addictive. I have read a couple of other true crime books, including Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Murder in Mississippi by John Safran and I think I can now say I enjoy books in this genre as long as they are well written and don't focus too much on the gory details of the crime, but rather on the people involved which is bound to be the interesting part anyway.
I have heard true crime fans offer various different justifications for reading true crime books, though I don't think they really need one. They say things like "I'm just trying to understand how someone could do a thing like that". It's like the way people sometimes get defensive about being horror fans, because there are people who will judge you for reading horror stories.
I can't say I ever thought of this. I mean, we read and enjoy history books without feeling bad about being entertained despite all the suffering that must be going on. There are some SUBJECTS that can make me uncomfortable, but not the fact that I'm being entertained by them. It's recording in prose something that has happened, and I don't think that either my enjoyment or my buying such books is likely to be directly enabling future crimes or atrocities.
I'm in complete agreement with Jennifer that what we read in newspapers is more than enough .. but I read novels for the very purpose that each time I read it, I weave a different view of the characters and their behavior. So, whenever I read novels (any genre) I tend to imagine myself as at least one of the characters - so I end up feeling their joy, compassion, empathy or anger, when wronged. (as in Adventures of Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn)
It's a lot safer to feel the character's emotions that way than having to be in the daily news ourselves..just a pun.
I have to accept that I don't feel any conflicts / guilt but sometimes deeper emotions pertaining to the sufferings of the characters because believe me or not, if it didn't exist in real somewhere it wouldn't be there in the book or vice versa.