Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why just "One Book"?

Once again it's time for One Book, One Philadelphia, and once again, Philadelphia has made a relentlessly high-minded choice.

I begrudge these highly praised books nothing, and I heartily endorse the program's goal of supporting literacy and building library usage. But I've never been entirely comfortable with the "One Book" concept, in part because slogans like "One Book, One Philadelphia" have uncomfortable historical overtones, in part because I question the value of having everyone read the same book.

But at least cities like Chicago alleviate the oppressive oneness by offering fall and spring "One Books" and the high-mindedness with such an enlightened selection as Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye. And then there's the New York Mercantile Library's Big Read program, which this year celebrated The Maltese Falcon.

So I'll bring back a question from last spring and ask once again: Which crime books you would have everyone in your city or town read and why?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

Labels:

30 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

The Soloist.

Whack for my daddy o.

Gyles Brandreth's "wanker" debacle.

Is there a theme here, or am I just reading too much into things?

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

By god, that had never occurred to me! What a stroke of genius!

October 23, 2008  
Blogger The Clandestine Samurai said...

Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" and "Murder on the Orient Express", only because she mastered the art of fun reading way before J.K. Rowling did.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Hard to beat (masturbatory pun not intended) The Maltese Falcon. Great fun and strangely controversial. I remember being chastized by the feminist at the library counter when I checked it out for its supposed "misogynistic" content.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Dana King said...

By using "your city" in the question, I think htings are opened for writers who are closely identified with a city to be used by their city. James Lee Burke in New Orleans, for example; Dennis Lehane in Boston, or George Pelecanos in Washington. (Chicago chose Chandler last spring in large part because he was born there.)

For cities without a strong crime fiction tradition--or if a book that has proven a longer life span is preferred--you can't go wrong with THE MALTESE FALCON or FAREWELL, MY LOVELY.

October 23, 2008  
Anonymous marco said...

I'd choose Roberto Saviano's GOMORRA as mandatory civic education text,Amara Lakhous's CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS OVER AN ELEVATOR IN PIAZZA VITTORIO because it's a wonderful novel about life in multicultural societies, and Massimo Carlotto's DEATH'S DARK ABYSS because it's my favourite Italian crime novel.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger N/A said...

As Chandler has already been mentioned, I would opt for "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," a masterpiece of crime fiction by George V. Higgins.

I would choose this novel as it shows the true nature of crime and the low life of vicious criminals.

Higgins was a reporter and later served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Boston, so he knew the breed. And he knew how they spoke.

Elmore Leonard credits Higgins as an inspiration.

They made a pretty good film of it as well, with Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle.

I read that Boyle was originally cast as Eddie "Fingers" Coyle and Mitchum as the bartender/hitman, but the director made the right call by switching them.

Paul Davis
daviswrite@aol.com
www.orchardpressmysteries.com/crime_beat.com

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Dana King said...

n/a,
Great catch! Eddie Coyle would be a perfect fit for somehting like this, to show people how criminals actually behave.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"only because she mastered the art of fun reading way before J.K. Rowling did."

CS, if this were a competition, you'd win. That's a brilliant tag line for a reading program, and it gets at what I've always found disturbing about the J.K. Rowling phenomenon: its hugeness. The accompanying corporate secrecy in the run-up to a new book's publication, as if each were the centerpiece of some hellish science-fiction story about feverish worship of the last book on Earth.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, I may make use of your comment in a post I plan about a different book in the next day or two. I would suggest that that librarian find herself another job, in North Korea, perhaps.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana: Thanks for the thought-provoking comment. Strong association with a city appears often to be a criterion for organizers of such programs.
"The Long Goodbye" was a natural choice for Chicago, and any of the writers you cite would be worthy and, I think, popular choices as well.

I sometimes wonder what other criteria organizers use. I don't mean I question their choices. Rather, I wonder what factors they take into account. The author of the next Philadelphia book, for instance, was a newspaper columnist here. But his book also plays into themes of brotherhood, reconciliation and survival that seem common to recent selections for the Philadelphia program.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Of course, we have the One Book program in Toronto, too (when Chicago had cows all over town we followed with moose) and last year it was Consolation by Michael Redhill - like a lot of literary fiction, it's 'sort of' a crime story.

We also have Canada Reads, sort of a Canadian-wide version but it starts with five celebrities each picking a book and then narrowing the choice down to one. Last year it was the very entertaining, King Leary, by Paul Quarrington.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mario, when I run a city, you're head of programming at the public libraries. Gomorra sounds like a fine civics text indeed.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, the movie version of The Friends of Eddie Coyle would make a natural addition to the program around the book. And I ought to read Higgins, who has often been suggested to me.

Dana, a look at how criminals behave would arguably a more valuable, if controversial, lesson than the obviously didactic choices that Philadelphia makes. But why either/or? Philadelphia ought to follow Chicago's example and spotlight more than one book.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, I hadn't heard of King Leary before. It looks like fun, and I commend the program for choosing an entertaining novel.

Does the title have roots in King Clancy as well as in Shakespeare?

October 23, 2008  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Yes, the reference is King Clancy. It is a very good book. Have you read Quarrington's Home Game, his baseball book? Also a lot of fun.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No, I had not heard of Quarrington. Perhaps he's someone I've missed by living in these benighted United States for so long. He sounds very much like someone I'll want to read, though, so I'm glad you brought him up.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Mayor Hickenlooper (perhaps some king of Dutch wanking joke would work here?) of Denver who I have disagreed with many times in the past (and been poisoned by in his awful brew pub) did redeem himself somewhat in my eyes by picking The Thin Man as Denver's one book one city for 2008.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I know you like Stanley Kubrick, which may be why Mayor Hickenlooper sounds to me like a character from Doctor Strangelove.

I salute him for his selection, though. I like to think that such choices do more to encourage reading than do high-minded choices of the Philadelphia kind. I suspect that someone would object to The Thin Man as a One Book, One City pick in Philadelphia on the ground that it encourages drinking.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Colonel Bat Guano may I introduce you to Mayor Hickenlooper.

The Denver Post poo poohed the Mayor's choice: "In his wisdom, Hickenlooper has chosen "The Thin Man," a whodunit by Dashiell Hammett that has the distinction of being one of the few cases in which the film version of a book is actually better than the novel. To make matters worse, "The Thin Man" is not even Hammett's best book...Hickenlooper was quoted as saying he chose Hammett's novel because it was a "good read," ... More to the point, it's a very short read, and the vocabulary isn't likely to confuse anyone. This can't hurt when one is trying to reach a wide audience. I'll only say, as I have before, that it's disconcerting that given the mayor's elaborate selection process he couldn't have come up with a more interesting book."

Of course, incensed, I wrote them a devastating letter which demolished their arguments in the same way Spinoza dealt with the ontological "proof" for the existence of God or the Prophet Elijah dealt with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel. They didn't print it, alas, and in the move to another continent it has been lost.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, boy, you picked one of my sore points. Bat Guano probably sounded hilarious at the time, but I roll my eyes when I hear the name now.

Hooray for Hickenlooper, which sounds far more Preston Sturges than Stanley Kubrick.

In any case, that Post editorialist is a putz, and if you don't know what that means, ask one of your wife's old professors. What a condescending vantz. What a pasgudnyak of an editorial writer.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Oh I know what you mean, my Yiddish has gone from zero to about 3 percent saturation in the last decade.

I should have said "Bat" Guano for of course Bat is his nickname. And I believe Kubrick and Terry Southern already anticipated your critique: Peter Sellars: "Col Bat Guano, if indeed that is your name."

Patti Thorn of the Rocky Mountain News endorsed the Mayor's selection of The Thin Man and hoped in an editorial that it would lead to a revival of cocktail hour in the Mile High City and elsewhere, something I think we all can agree upon.

October 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I am now a Patti Thorn fan.

The anti-Thin Man editorial may not be worth the care I am devoting to it, but it does reveal confusion about the purpose of these One City programs. Are they to encourage discussion of Serious Issues? Or are they to preach the message that reading is fun? If the latter, then Hickenlooper is right, and the Denver Post editorial board can take its Steven Hawking and "Godel, Escher, Bach" and stick them up its wazoo. I hope Asta pisses on all their legs.

October 23, 2008  
OpenID krimileser said...

Peter,

you might think that I don't understand the idea behind your text, but the tremendous Gödel, Escher, Bach was my first (but not only) reason why I didn't like The Da Vinci Code, therefore I hope that a lot of people read this brillant book. But I agree, there might be some who could have problems with some of its ideas.

To reach out for more readers I would suggest Agatha Christie, most likely her Murder on the Orient Express.

October 24, 2008  
Blogger Dana King said...

I think mayor Hickenlooper got it right. People who want to discuss "serious" books will always have someone to discuss them with. Their problem is the "serious" book discussion is too often a competition to see who is more erudite and snobbish.

There is no downside to getting people to read. While I'm also a bit disappointed at what the Harry Potter series morphed into (I stopped reading after the fourth), Rowling got not just kids, but adults to read. We should forever be in her debt for that alone, though the billions of dollars she's made repays a lot of my personal gratitude.

October 24, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

K., you've caught me in an embarrassing moment. Though I've never read "Gödel, Escher, Bach," I've been fascinated by it. I included it only because I had once seen it referred to as one of those books that people bought for prestige but never read. Therefore my inclusion of it was a cheap shot, and I'll consider modifying the post once I've put up this comment.

You're right, too, that one can dislike "The Da Vinco code" with no help from other books.I found my reason well before the end of the book's first sentence.

October 24, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oops, I see I made the remark in an earlier comment rather than in the post. In that case, I'll leave it up as a kind of scarlet letter to show that I committed the sin of making fun of a book without having read it. And yes, I have read The Scarlet Letter ... or at least parts of it.

October 24, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's why I like the comment from Clandestine Samurai above: Christie made reading fun.

I suspect the competition in Philadelphia is to see who is more righteous. I haven't read the Harry Potter books, and J.K. Rowking deserves thanks for getting kids to read. But the real test is whether they will keep reading when Rowling has retired to count her money, and her publishers' legal staff no longer has to threaten librarians not to violate book embargoes.

I am mildly disturbed by the extent of the Rowling phenomenon. What was missing that required such a massive phenomenon to fill the void?

October 24, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

My favourite lines from Da Vinci Code

"Westminster Abbey, that famous church where Lady Di and Prince Charles got married."

"He wished to show his gratitude but he didnt know what thank you was in Spanish."

October 24, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Those examples demonstrate that the essence of the book is contained in its first sentence, an accomplishment any author might envy. That the sentence is awful is almost beside the point.

I don't know how good Dan Brown is at telling a story, but he might have the worst prose style ever set to paper in the history of the English language.

October 24, 2008  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home