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September 26, 2010

Sunday Book Thread

Genghis's Friday ONT mentioned Sol Yurick's mid-1960's novel The Warriors, and it got me to thinking about how books about street-gangs (both fiction and non-fiction) have always been a substantial sub-genre.

In fiction, I suppose it began with Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Disaffected yoot, and all that. But really, you could extend the genre clear back to Charles Dickens in books like Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. Even Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective Sherlock Holmes made use of a band of street urchins called the "Baker Street Irregulars".

The real classic of "feral youth" fiction has to be William Golding's Lord of the Flies. The book echoed the discomfort and alarm many in the post-WWII world felt about the new assertiveness of the "youth culture". Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange echoes what many in Britain saw as a descent of the youth into savagery at the time. (And which Dr. Theodore Dalrymple would argue has only gotten worse over the years...)

In American fiction, the genre really took hold in the postwar years as females entered the workforce in large numbers and children were left to their own devices to a greater degree than before. The increasing racial tensions as minorities flocked to the cities for war work also had a huge impact.

Richard Price has pretty much made a career out of writing about young people and the street life. His novel Clockers is probably his best (and it led to the HBO series The Wire), but he also wrote a really good book about New York gangs of the mid-1960's called The Wanderers that is much grittier and more realistic than anything you'll find in West Side Story.

Most of us probably read a book or two by S. E. Hinton in junior-high or high school. Her most popular book (which remains a classic today) was The Outsiders, but Rumble Fish and That Was Then, This is Now are good also.

Bob Ottum wrote a really good street-life/gang novel back in the late 1970's called See the Kid Run that seems to have gone out of print. It's a shame, because I remember it being a very good exploration of the lives of street kids, and their attempts to create their own social structures in the absence of any parental or adult guidance.

One of the most popular recent nonfiction books about early street-gangs is Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury. The Crips have nothing on the Bowery Boys, and the Bloods would get their asses handed to them by the Dead Rabbits or the Plug-Uglies.

(Lauraw suggested that I include this classic of childhood alienation and despair, but that seemed just a bit too grim.)


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posted by Monty at 08:10 AM

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