“There is not enough darkness in the world to put out the light of even one small candle.”
Some of the best books I’ve read focus on the darkest subjects of murder, war, and genocide. I used to wonder if my gravitation toward reading about dark things was weird, but I’ve since learned that every person is weird in her own ways, so I won’t worry too much about my gloomy reading habits.
When I was in elementary and middle school, I read just about every children’s book about the Holocaust. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr. The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss. Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl, of course. The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Although these stories are mostly geared toward young readers, they are all, at the crux, about experiences of genocide and its horrific effects. What drew me to these books was the presence of hope in the midst of terror – the people who persevered through so much hardship and those who hid and protected families from the Nazis. Every time there is terrible evil, there is always a good contingent fighting against it.
I recently read Dave Cullen’s Columbine, which delves deep into what happened before, during, and after the school massacre planned and executed by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Cullen’s reporting of the massacre’s details is impressive and clears up several widespread myths about the event. It was eye-opening to see through Cullen’s examples how strongly the media’s portrayal of an event can influence the public’s impressions of it.
This year I also read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, my first book for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2016 Reading Challenge. This true crime classic is about the murder of four members of the Clutter family in Kansas and the search for, trial, and conviction of the killers. Capote portrays the story with reverence for the victims and empathy for the killers. I always appreciate when writers go beyond the good guy/bad guy story to show the complexity of each human.
While dark books are not necessarily fun to read, they’re important for many reasons.
*They memorialize difficult chapters of human history that shouldn’t be forgotten. In telling heartbreaking stories and evoking an emotional response from the reader, the best books in this genre honor the victims.
*By going deep into the details, dark books can help us to understand the circumstances that lead to hatred and crimes on small and large scales and to find ways of preventing them in the future.
*They can even identify some glimmers of goodness within perpetrators and draw out the causes of their behavior – not excusing it, but acknowledging the complex factors that contributed to it. This is important to me because I believe one of the biggest barriers to progress out there is the mindset, “He’s bad, and I’m good.”
This week is the end of the Lenten season, in which we reflect in a solemn and special way on our own humanity – “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” – and are always lifted up into the light on Easter Sunday. It’s a good time to remember that there’s a place for dark books on our shelves and that there’s always some light to be found within them.
Other dark books I’ve been meaning to read: