Wednesday, March 08, 2006

He stuck a pill in his kisser and lit it with a Ronson.

My massive re-surge through Raymond Chandler, encouraged by a post-PGWodehouse (the connection being Dulwich College and a need to explore that) dive into RC biographical materials and letters, is coasting to a stop--for the moment at least, after re-re-re-re-re-re-reading (x100) Big Sleep & The Little Sister. It's sort of funny to look at these DESOLATE novels, absolutely mauled to death out of love, with backs and pages and pieces missing, ice cream on the margins, folds, creases, limpness, compared to the crisp tight hard biographies. Time has clearly come (already hit with other writers) for me to get good hardback reading copies, rather than hanging onto strange early-life idea that paperbacks will last forever.

Tricky, though. Want to get good sympathetic editions. Not the horrible 5-to-a-book 70s mysteries/literature editions (who did those?) that used to fill up all the extra space at Waldenbooks, but nothing *too* valuable, as it'd be hard to read and too hard to get all seven books anyow. Chandler is tricky. I used to look every time I was in a bookstore for his stuff, and even 2nd-hand often doesn't have him, because people just don't off-load RC. There are some authors I'm just fine with fighting others for 1st editions for, but I don't feel like trying with him. I need crate-and-barrel editions--not tiffany, not walgreen's. Nice sturdy middle-class copies so that I can augment without pressure when I find a beautiful old edition or something.

Oh the life of a buk nurd.

It's hard when reading Chandler not to want to throw the book in the air out of a kind of pained joy every couple pages or so. And mark the words so you'll never forget them in that vain hope of making them yours (I already know they don't do that well out of water, actually). It's one particular kind of reading pain/pleasure. He was so smart, so perspicacious, the right combo (as a writer) of hopelessly sentimental and cynical to make prose that rubs your stomach and pats your head at the same time. You can understand why critics end up using the word "poetry" in their attempts to describe how his prose feels. Makes your heart hurt. It's funny to keep going through the seven novels...they're not all great. They can sometimes remain out of focus if you're trying too hard to keep the plots straight. And the sexism/racism--whatever your handle on it--isn't always easy. But they are so...complete.

I think if the biographies I had been reading were more revelatory I'd be surging harder through the novels right now. They all rely too much on his letters and tend to therefore hit like a metronome life events without being able to flesh out the important stuff. I certainly found out a lot about him I didn't know (not all savory, of course, much rather off-putting), but for instance--nobody knows if he knew how old his wife was when he married her. We don't need another biography to say that again. It just seems...lazy. Just because he left behind a set of amazing letters doesn't mean they are amazingly revealing. Not enough digging. It's like biographers are distracted by how good they are from the task at hand. There's still enough in all the biographical puzzle to keep me over-intrigued, though. Including the fact that he learned gumshoe like Greek. I still think it's a miracle.

I think I had a yooge crush on Philip Marlowe in high school. Probably still do. Oh DEAR.

No comments: