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30 Days of Books: Day Four

Day 04 – Your favorite book or series ever

Whoops, missed a day, largely because we’re coming up to a series of prompts I don’t really know how to deal with. Remember how, on Day One, I said that I’m really bad with “favorite”s and not to believe anything I put down as one? This would be one of the prompts I stared at for hours thinking “I DON’T EVEN,” and eventually I decided the heck with it, I’ll just write about something I’ve been reading lately. So just throw out the “favorite ever” part of this prompt and bear with me while I ramble on about books I like.

I’ve become enamored lately of John Douglas’s books about being an FBI profiler. Co-written with Mark Olshaker, these go into the basics of criminal profiling and break down categories of profiles. I’ve always been kind of interested in true crime, largely because I’m interested in people, and I think you can’t really understand something until you understand how it fails. Serial killers pretty much qualify as the failure state of humanity. Most true crime, though, particularly books about serial killers, tends to be really exploitative; they’re not about people, they’re about blood and guts and shocking! truths!

Though he gets a little melodramatic at times, Douglas is really good at treating people like people. It’s part of the reason I like profiling so much, even though I’ve read the studies that say it’s never actually been all that useful in criminal investigations or prosecutions. Most of the criminal justice system functions in one of two modes: either you’re Putting Bad People Away, or it’s a kind of game, a system where you get points for winning at something. Profiling is about treating everyone, criminals and victims alike, as people who had reasons for whatever they were doing, even if their reasons, quite frankly, sucked. It makes the monsters human again, and I think it’s important to remember that people we can call monsters are not necessarily that different from us. (It also makes the victims human again. My favorite Douglas book for this is Obsession, which my roommate and I call The Rape Book. Douglas’s rage about victim-blaming, particularly the type that happens in the courts, is righteous and amazing.)

And, okay, I would not be honest if I did not admit that I started reading these books because I freaking love Criminal Minds, and David Rossi is clearly based on John Douglas. (I swear I can hear Joe Mantegna in my head when I read them.) If I do a 30 Days of Television when I’m done with 30 Days of Books, like I’ve been thinking about doing, there’s a real chance it’ll be All Criminal Minds, All The Time. But I’ve never seen another crime show that so consistently treats every single character as a human being, with writing so consistantly challenging and demanding and downright awesome. So, if you are like me and find serial killers morbidly fascinating (and not just for the blood), a dual recommendation. Start with Mindhunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker (Seriously, John, Mindhunter? What a terrible title), and continue with Criminal Minds. Start with season one and give it at least a full disc of episodes. You’ll thank me for it eventually.

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