Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Favorite Authors, Part 3 (The Exciting Conclusion)
Okay, even I'm getting bored with this, so let's try to wrap it quickly.
7. Agatha Christie. See, I'm not sexist, I read books written by women, so come on ladies, date me already. Granted, there isn't much that is feminine in Christie's Golden Age mysteries, not even the ones featuring Miss Marple. In my younger days I was greatly partial to the Poirot stories, but over time I've become nearly equally fond of Marple. At last count I'd read exactly 50 Agatha Christie novels, an astonishing and frankly somewhat embarrassing figure. Even being as big a fan as I am, I am all too willing to admit that the majority are ultimately forgettable and disposable. However, there are quite a few real classics in there that make it worth the investment of time. Christie recycled plots plenty of times, especially in her later years, but some of them were true originals which captivate and surprise even the most experienced mystery reader.
What should you read?: And Then They Were None, though it doesn't feature either of her two famous detectives, is her most famous novel for a reason. It's a compelling story in addition to being a perfectly unsolvable mystery. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is probably the best Poirot novel, and is in addition one of the most controversial mystery novels ever. Other standout titles include The Mysterious Affair at Styles, A Murder is Announced, The Mirror Crack'd, and The ABC Murders. A good rule of thumb at first would be to check the publication date and stick to the earlier novels. Christie really lost it near the end, and tried to stay socially relevant despite not having any idea what younger people were really like.
8. Raymond Chandler. Same genre, vastly different style. Chandler is the apex of the American hard-boiled detective story, and his hero Philip Marlowe is an iconic figure thanks in large part to Humphrey Bogart's portrayal in The Big Sleep. Marlowe's wise-cracks, tough-guy veneer and inability to keep himself out of trouble make Chandler's novels an absolute joy to read, even if the complicated plots confused everyone, including the author, who famously couldn't remember "whodunit" when asked for clarification by film people working on The Big Sleep adaptation.
What should you read?: The Big Sleep is one of the best detective novels ever, no question. The Long Goodbye is also very good, and I enjoyed The Little Sister, which seems to be lesser known because it isn't a popular film.
9. Dashiell Hammett. Chandler's equal in popular acclaim is just a notch below on this list. Hammett and Chandler are very similar and people debate the question of who was better, or who came first all the time, but I don't really care about stuff like that. I read Chandler first, and if anything, that's probably the reason he comes out one spot ahead. Interestingly, Hammett's most famous detective was also played by Humphrey Bogart, as Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon. Unlike Chandler, Hammett mixed it up, with multiple detectives, including the nameless Continental Op and the constantly smashed Nick and Nora Charles.
What should you read?: The Maltese Falcon is the obvious choice, but if you've already seen the movie (and you absolutely should) you might check out Red Harvest, an under-appreciated classic. The Thin Man is also a good read.
10. Tie. It's too hard to pick just one author to fill this spot. So here's a list of authors in contention for it, as well as one representative work I'm recommending by each.
William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying), Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay), Rex Stout (And Be a Villain), Roddy Doyle (The Commitments), John Updike (Rabbit Run), E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime), Cormac McCarthy (The Road), Nick Hornby (A Long Way Down) and George Orwell (Animal Farm or any of his essays).
There you have it, truly an exciting moment for all of us, I'm sure.