A long-ago “friend” spent all of her free time reading mysteries: murder mysteries, procedurals, hard boiled detectives, cozies, thrillers, suspense, espionage, true crime, legal, noir, capers, and dogs named Pommes-frites. At this time I joined the club and read mystery series’s such as Travis McGee, Spenser, and all of the Ludlum books available at the time. It was a good experience (the books, not the friend) and through the years I have continued to toss a juicy detective novel in with all the classics and contemporaries that filled out my reading lists.
There’s one thing (amongst many) that truly shivers my timbers and that is when I am forced to admit that I never heard of an author … at least a serious author that doesn’t have Fabio on the cover of his book. But the Library of America series knew enough to publish a collection of five of the works of David Goodis: David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s.
Now I am not an inveterate reader of mystery novels (like my mother was: she would read three a day) but I have read authors such as Georges Simenon, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, even John D. MacDonald, still, I never heard of David Goodis. I was even familiar with the Bogart movie based on Goodis’s novel and I’m certain that my daughter, who teaches Cinema Noir at the university, is well aware of Goodis, but not me.
For an old English professor type, I enjoy sprinkling a few entertaining and decidedly non-literary books in with the more serious contemporary texts and those musty but time-honored classics. For years I considered William Goldman my go-to author for mindless entertainments. Starting in High School, I read everything Goldman wrote (with Soldier In the Rain being my hands-down favorite). Many years later we had a young lad at work in charge of the stock room and emptying waste baskets who convinced me I should be reading Science Fiction novels. So for a year or two I read Science Fiction novels but in the end, I would have been just as happy as if I hadn’t read Science Fiction novels. Oh, there were a few good ones (I got hooked on Larry Niven) but for the most part the best I can say about it is that Science Fiction is boring.
My wife loved Agatha Christie. Although she often said she had read everything Christie wrote, she continued to read the novels and stories, often without having a recollection of ever having read them before. Agatha Christie was very good at what she did, but I have a question: Is reading for comfort and familiarity beneficial or should literature jar you out of complacency and challenge your little gray cells?
I recently finished reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Christie and, although it was pleasant and had a few conundrums for me to think about, the final solution to the murder and the primary clues that led Hercule Poirot to the inevitable conclusion, were not hard to suss out and all in all it was a decent grilled cheese sandwich but without the fried egg.