11.24.2012

Classic Literature

My reading habits are pretty sad, really.

I don't push myself to read new things.  I stick with what I know I like, authors who have become something like trusted friends.  Genres that are familiar, solid, welcoming.

As a kid in junior high, it was science fiction; Andre Norton was a favorite, as was Isaac Asimov and a smattering of others.  I also liked mysteries - Agatha Christie ruled there, but Dell Shannon was just as welcomed.  Fantasy was The Lord of the Rings and the Dragon Riders of Pern.  My love of the paranormal began with Dracula, which is still the best vampire story ever told.

I read what I enjoy, what relaxes me, what helps me get away from my life for a short time.  That is why I read, most of the time.  It is my escape from a job which can suck a lot out of you.  That's what happens when you deal with people in crisis for a living.  At the end of my day, I don't want to curl up with a book about people suffering, for whatever reason.

From my viewpoint, there's nothing wrong with reading the way I read...

But.

I have missed out on a lot of amazing literature.  I'm aware of it and I've decided I need to change it.  I've downloaded a lot of free 'classic literature' onto my Kindle and I'd started in on several but hadn't finished any.

Until I watched The Big Sleep on Turner Classic Movies.  I adore Bogie and Becall and The Big Sleep is classic Bogie and Becall.

What got me thinking about books,  however, was a comment made by the host, Robert Osborn.  He said the movie didn't stay true to the book.

That made me curious.

So, off I went to Amazon where I downloaded two Raymond Chandler titles:  The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely.

Know what I've discovered?

I love Raymond Chandler.

For me, he was a wordsmith who didn't go into flowery, overpowering words.  His style is gritty and simple but it still packs a punch.  Phil Marlowe, private investigator, is an old-time tough guy.  He calls women dames, guns gats and he gets beat up, a lot.  There's nothing splashy or spectacular about him; what you see is what you get.

But Chandler could certainly turn a phrase, without all the flowery language that often leaves me bored:

From Farewell, My Lovely:

Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.
He had a battered face that looked as if it had been hit by everything but the bucket of a dragline. It was scarred, flattened, thickened, checkered, and welted. It was a face that had nothing to fear. Everything had been done to it that anybody could think of.
"Uh-huh," the voice dragged itself out of her throat like s sick man getting out of bed.

And from The Big Sleep:

The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men.
"Tsk, tsk," I said, not moving at all. "Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains. You're the second guy I've met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.
"What did it matter where you lay once you were dead?  In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill?  You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that.  Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you.  You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.
I'm sure there are detractors out there, because Chandler wrote during a time when calling people names was accepted, names we don't dare utter today and I  have to admit to feeling a little uncomfortable when I came across them.  They do not, however, distract from the genius of his writing and they show he was a product of his time.  I won't dismiss him for that.

I will be reading more Chandler...

And checking those books waiting on my Kindle out.  Who knows what I'll find?

3 comments:

Susan said...

I read some Chandler years ago for my mystery course at university. He is still the one all the noir mysteries compare themselves to. He did it first, and he set the tone and the style for the field. I'm glad you are reading out of your comfort zone and enjoying it. That's the wonder of books, isn't ?

Trish said...

I haven't read any Chandler but I'll be on the lookout. I download free ebooks from time to time but always forget about them.

I do think that there's a lot of great stuff out there but it's always curious to think about why certain works are still being read today. My mom and I had a discussion the other day about The Great Gatsby and what about it makes it such a widely read classic. I honestly didn't have an answer for her.

Can you believe I've never read Dracula?! I also have a few Asimov titles on my shelf I've been meaning to get to.

CJ said...

Susan:

I'm enjoying it, so far. I've also been able to rediscover my joy of classic fantasy; the grand epic Tolkien sort of story which sweeps you up and carries you away. Didn't think they wrote stuff like that any more.

Trish:

Chandler was a genius. I don't say that often by really, I love his way with words.

I hated The Great Gatsby. HATED it. All because of Daisy, who I hated more than I've ever hated any character in literature. Seriously. lol I will never understand why Gatsby is the be all and end all it is for some people.

Dracula, as I said, is the stick by which I measure vampire tales. Suffice it to say, Twilight didn't even come close to hitting the mark.

cjh