I hope my newness on this site does not betray too much naivete, but I was wondering why crime/pulp/detective/noir novels are read.  I haven't actually read too many until lately, but my husband has been reading them and re-reading them since he was a pre-adolescent (1960).  I recently wearied of only dusting and organizing them and decided to try to understand them. 

 

We have worn stacks of John MacDonald and Ross MacDonald paperbacks--Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiassen, Ian Fleming, W.E.B. Griffin, everything Michael Crichton every wrote, everything Tony Hillerman ever wrote, James Thompson's books, a few James Ellroy, everything John Le Carre ever published, and many, many more whose names escape me at the moment.  We have several copies of The Maltese Falcon--the yellowed paperback I have been carrying around lately was published in 1972. Yet, if asked, my husband would answer that his favorite author would be either H. L. Mencken or Tom Wolfe.  We don't seem to have any of the obscure earlier 20th century paperbacks frequently reviewed through this blog, but I just know those must be the ones his sisters told me he would as a young boy read in a day.

 

I am just wondering what you get from reading these books, especially the aforementioned obscure novels.  They are all fast reads--no breathtaking and beautifully crafted descriptions of scene and environment like Tolstoy gave us.  They are all written in short cropped sentences--no amazing page long sentences to lose yourself in like Faulkner.  The same salacious, needy, lazy, compromised, amoral, uneducated, greedy, and evil characters appear in all of the novels.  And the novels are simply morality plays told with irony.  No matter how and when the plot twists, in the end the good guys win.  Quite frankly, they could be considered comic books for grown-ups.

 

Is reading one of these books a learned way of escaping for awhile?  Is the predictability comforting? Do you enjoy seeing how the author is going to tell the same story differently and describe the same characters provocatively?  Do they tittleate?  Do they revive a memory?  Do they kill some time?  Does reading them make other people leave you alone?

 

It is easy to understand why anyone writes.  For many, it is just a natural craving, a way to express oneself, the hope of notoriety, additional income, a challenge, an outlet, fun.  But, you seem to be writing these novels for one another.  So I ask:  why do you read these books in the first place?  What do they do for you?  How do you feel when they end? What makes you pick-up another?  What am I missing in this assessment? What is their value as literature?

 

 

 

 

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Jack, you're The Man, buddy. You're The Man!
I accept full responsibility, Jack. But while we're on the subject, maybe you could re-write some other stuff, too--you know, the Bible's a little slow in spots. And Shakespeare can get a bit wordy--Hamlet's soliloquy could be boiled down to something like "Dude, should I off myself, or what?"

Googling yourself is a bad idea--you'll go blind, you know.
Dear Jack: Sorry about the Google mess--I meant no harm. And, I certainly appreciated and learned from your re-write. I have, in the past, written to Yahoo and had links to my name on various sites removed. You could try this with Google as well--Just ask nicely. However, I seriously doubt you have any need to fear legal action from the Tolstoys or his publisher at, indeed, this very, very late date.
From the disclaimer on the front page of CrimeSpace:

"CrimeSpace cannot be held responsible for information placed in public view by members. Please be aware that search engines can see everything the other members can."

He he. ;)
The human mind is wired to see patterns. It's what makes us human, makes us create things like government and cities and crossword puzzles. We get a zing of lizard-brain satisfaction from seeing a set of seemingly random things fall into relationship to one another. That's why I like mysteries -- they satisfy the part of my brain that likes to see puzzles put together and worked out -- order out of chaos.

The 'literary' writers are doing something different, although I like most of them, too, in a different way. They don't give me that gut-level 'zing' of satisfaction at seeing a pattern emerge in the story (maybe I'm just too stupid). 'Literary' books are more concerned with the contemplative aspects of human experience -- grand themes and great truths. Good stuff, but not quite as satisfying to the id. That's my opinion.

MK
www.minervakoenig.com

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