Heads up: This post is not about body positivity. Sometimes I do things for school. This is one of those things.
Back in high-school, my favourite English teacher Mr. Kerr told us we’d be reading Lord of the Flies. I was reluctant to waste my time reading the book, a novel a recognized as a piece of high-school literature-torture, up there with the likes of Brave New World and To Kill a Mockingbird.
I was young, and I didn’t appreciate/understand why I had to read the book. I put off reading it for weeks and weeks, until a few friends of mine were discussing the book after class. I don’t remember how the conversation went, but I do recall how absolutely bad-ass and interesting it sounded.
One girl talked about some conch shell, children battling one another, and a pig’s head on a stick, while another talked about some climactic death she skipped ahead to read the night before.
I started reading the book, and soon realized that I enjoyed Lord of the Flies. In fact, I absolutely loved it, even to the point where I watched the 1963 film adaptation, and then (for whatever reason) the 1990 movie. It was the first book I read in school that I really, really liked.
Fast-forward a few years and here I am in college, and- surprise- I get assigned a new book to read. This time, the violence isn’t on an island marooned from society, it’s on the streets of Baltimore. Instead of Piggy’s accidental (spoiler alert) death, bodies are found with gunshot wounds and their pockets turned inside out. And instead of a group of young boys fighting for societal control, the story centres around the people of the Baltimore homicide department.
For some, the content may be a bit morbid, but with my true crime collection growing monthly, this book fits like a dream on my shelf.
Enter Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Finally, a book I have to read that I’m genuinely enjoying.
As a (hopeful) future journalist reading this book, I can’t help but fall in love with the detail David Simon adds in his writing. His vivid description of the job of a homicide detective (starting page 14) is so detailed, it seemed familiar. “You eat $2.50 pizza specials and Italian cold cuts with extra hots from Marco’s on Exeter Street while watching reruns of Hawaii Five-O on the communal nineteen-inch set with insubordinate horizontal hold.”
Simon does such a good job of painting a picture of the scene, the people in the scene, and the surroundings, but doesn’t use excessive flowery language, which lets the reader read a page of very densely packed information, without going back to reread out of confusion.
In first year journalism, we are taught that details are so incredibly important for a story. Reviewing a restaurant is much more than the food- was it chilly in the place, so bring a sweater? Were the seats exceptionally cushy? Was the art on the walls crooked? These little details help tell the story in vivid colour, while the reader is able to absorb all the important information.
Simon writes Homicide like a journalist would, each ‘section’ in the first chapter introducing a character, and then expanding outwards with facts about the person, their relationship with others in homicide, and the murders they’re solving. This is very similar to a written piece of journalism, which introduces the topic at the beginning, and the expands according to relevant information throughout the story.
I also like how honest Simon is throughout the entire first chapter. He doesn’t sugar-coat death and tragedy. He talks about it as-is, like a reporter should do when writing a story. Even though Baltimore has scenes of horrible violence and brutality, Simon does not shy away from the truth. “And there is much to see, beginning with the bodies battered by two-by-fours and baseball bats, or bludgeoned with tire irons and cinder blocks. Bodies with gaping wounds from carving knives… Bodies in public housing project stairwells, with the hypodermic still in their forearms and that pathetic look of calm on their faces…” (21)
I’m so excited to continue reading Homicide. So far, it’s a beautiful picture of the struggle for justice on the merciless streets of Baltimore. It thrills me to know that a journalist wrote the book, and using his journalism skills, managed to create a captivating piece of literature that is both descriptive, interesting, and to the point.
But mainly, I’m just happy I have a book for school I don’t fucking hate.