Monday, November 12, 2007


I know, I know. First I do one about Writing and here comes Reading. What's next, Arithmetic? Could be. Tell you all about my financial affairs, let you do the numbers. Point is, when people ask what my hobbies are I used to say my work was and that was true. Other than that though, I would also mention camping but most people don't understand that, so when reading was mentioned they always asked what I read.

First of all, I'll read any paperback with a swastika on the cover--WWII is one of my areas of interest and historical expertise, in large part because of my Dad. This has led to my reading a bucketful of trash, of course.

But that aside, for the past twenty-five years or so I have been a big fan of the mystery/police procedural genre, one at which I used to scoff, since I considered it beneath me, intellectual elitist that I was. Before that I was a big fan of the espionage novel because I had been to many of the cities mentioned in them and was reliving my travels with the added frisson (there's another of the words MyPeople overuse, btw, along with palpable--add those to the Writing post, OK?) of violence and sex thrown in. Those latter two items are guaranteed to sell just about anything.

And they do.

Religion: Before we get to my fave genres, though, I need to mention Christopher Hitchens' god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. This is wonderful stuff for us agnostics/atheists. I think I am the former, but the distinctions at times escape me. Christians/Muslims/Jews/Hindus/Buddhists/What-All with stout hearts and any brains left should give this a go. Rob Istad and Erin bought it and I read Erin's copy.

Political Satire: I have read all of Richard Condon, who is now dead. He was most active during the Nixon years, but also skewered Kennedy's irresponsible skirt chasing. The best currently is Christoper Buckley, son of the most articulate conservative alive in the country, and one of the smartest ever, William F. Buckley. Again, I have read everything of Christoper's, the latest of which made me laugh out loud repeatedly while waiting for my left eye to dilate at the optometry office. Boomsday is all the funnier--as are many of his books--because everything in it is true except the characters. This fact also makes them very sad, too, if only because irony is rarely funny. Base: D.C.

Environmental Pit Bulls: Carl Hiassen is an absolute scream, though James W. Hall comes close. Protagonists are absurd, bad guys are taken from developers, governments and corporations everywhere. Alligators and dolphins abound. One pit bull, too. Base: South Florida.

General American Lit: I have read all of John Irving, The World According to Garp and Owen Meany twice. I find his blend of pathos, humor and absurdity utterly fascinating. Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) may be his successor.

Disclaimer: I have read the giants of American lit beginning with Hemingway and Whitman as a sophomore in high school. I have read most of Dickens and Gunter Grass. I could go on. I know good writing, is the point. I will try any author in my genres once. If the writing ain't good, I give up after one book, sometimes after one paragraph. I especially have no interest in someone's Ferragamos, or in women writers whose boyfriends eat sushi and deliver hours of foreplay. Glocks, Sig-Sauers, food and wine are another matter. (I got my concept of half-raw burgers slathered in bleu-cheese, accompanied by fully-raw red wine from Condon in Arigato--writers have a lot of time to cook, as do I, though I don't consider myself a real writer. This was in '75. Talk about ahead of his time! Now those burgers are everywhere.) Please understand that my opinion of what is good comes from experiencing the bad, starting with Robert Ludlum, Sidney Sheldon and What's-Her-Name. The same is true of music and food.

Legal Thriller: Only one, folks: Scott Turow. No one else can touch him, including You-Know-Who. Base: Chicago, but he calls it something else.


Espionage: Nelson DeMille (also very funny in his three novels with the protagonist named John), Alan Furst and Robert Littell. The latter two include a lot of historical atmosphere in Europe and Russia. I'm a history buff, so I love that stuff (one of the 'decorations' in my home is a world map). DeMille is one of my all-time favorites, genre notwithstanding.

Cops (or PIs) and Crimmies. These are the ones that give me the most delight, still. I have read some of their stuff twice, actually, in part because I love their writing, in part because I'm getting older and can't remember how the plots came out (let's hear it for Alzheimer's! But like rehearsal, getting there is what's fun, not so much who dunnit or why--there is no why). Also be aware that I have read none of Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. Shame on me. I may get to them yet.

Ed McBain (Evan Hunter)--the Godfather of the Serial/Ensemble Novel (The TV series Hill Street Blues was modeled after his work). The 87th Precinct series is best read in chronological order, but that is not necessary. Base: NY, but he doesn't say so.

Lawrence Block--the darkest of the bunch, as well as one of the funniest in his Bernie Rodenbarr series. Again, best read in order: Matthew Scudder progresses from big-time boozer to AA member going to meetings five times a week. Girlfriend is a call girl. They go to art exhibitions and ethnic restaurants and make subtle, inexplicit, non-clinical love. The most cynical of the bunch, though--hang on. Base: NY

Michael Connelly--the Harry Bosch series should be read in order. Harry is a renegade: his superiors hate him and fire him and re-hire him. Other books are free-standing. Superb police procedural stuff; great plots. Base: LA, LV. Blood Work takes place in my former home, San Pedro.

James Lee Burke--as pure writer, the one I consider the best, but don't let that stop you. His bad guys are the worst of the bunch, with the possible exception of Block. And Burke's character Dave Robicheaux, along with his psychotic pal, Clint, manage to punch the bad guys out in satisfying fashion ("Book 'em or smoke 'em." WOW!). This is the closest my favorites come to Protagonist-With-Big-Swinging-Dick. Another AA guy, too. Without question the most poetic of the bunch: you can smell the bayou, taste the beignets, see the lightening, and hear the rain on the gallery roof. I re-read many paragraphs, they are so well done. Base: Louisiana; Montana (he spends half the year in each).

T. Jefferson Parker--hard to categorize and no series here; the books are all pretty much stand-alone. His work has most to do with social injustice, corruption, police work, surfing, journalism, and the despoiling of Orange County, California--from orange groves to South Coast Plaza (speaking of which, Parker is to Dean Koontz as Montrachet is to Gallo). The most philosophical of the bunch; I almost cried re-reading Summer of Fear recently. Base: Laguna Beach; Orange County.

Elmore Leonard--along with Ed McBain, the one who inspired them all, particularly in regard to dialogue: he doesn't describe anything, there is no atmosphere aside from the dialogue, in fact, he is the Godfather of Dialogue: You know all you need to know from what the characters say and how they say it. He is a very successful screenwriter, especially as a result of his Western novellas--Hombre one of the earlier, 3:10 to Yuma the latest. (Let me say here that many of these guys have had movies made, but please read the books first. Isn't this always the case?) Base: Detroit; Miami.

Others--Dennis Lehane (Boston), Robert Crais (LA), Donald Westlake, the funniest of this whole crowd (NY, but also Branson, MO!, among others). And a slow, cold salute of my mitten to fellow Minnesotan, John Sandford, whose Prey books have helped me pass many happy motel hours whilst visiting my mom in that state. His character dresses well and drives a Porsche very fast all around Minnesota and Wisconsin, eh. Even in winter.



Whew! There you go, gang. There's really nothing better than a book, whether in a campground, an airport, on a plane or a couch. See why television bores me except for the Hyctomy Channel, sports and documentaries? See why I get to the Y a lot?

You betcha.

Oh. And google any of these folks, of course. I didn't have the energy to tell you everything I know about them. If you have a question about specific books, let me know, I'll respond.

And I emphasize: these men are first-class WRITERS (with the possible exception of Crais and Sandford, who will nevertheless shorten any plane ride). I don't have time for sloth when it comes to my books--you'd better have both craft and style or you will have no place on my coffee table, my bedstand, or in my briefcase and luggage.

Nossir. Uh-uh.

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