Just Above Sunset
May 30, 2004 - The Book Wrangler Returns (A Bob Patterson extra!)
The Book Wrangler
By Bob Patterson
Recently the Book Wrangler promised to send a list of recommended books to a friend. Bill H., from high school days who now lives near Springsteinville in da Jerseys. Then the deadline for the next BW column came bearing down on us. Energy conservation is an important topic; it seems logical to write this column as a way of doing a roundup of books that I have read and enjoyed. Some of them were read when they were new and it’s no use doing a review now. Some of them are classics and a comment from me will tip my friend to the merit of a “blast from the past.”
This columnist has a habit of starting to read more books than he completes, so I can, perhaps, save my old pal from some false starts by listing books that I have enjoyed from start to finish. He’s retired now and has plenty of time to read books, but it still seems inefficient to start a book that you won’t read to completion.
Younger readers might find it amusing to learn that when guys get to the age when they qualify for AARP membership, often the books they enjoy will be ones that were assigned in school but (what would we do without Cliff’s Notes?) somehow weren’t read then. Now, when there is no reason to peruse them except for their intrinsic writing quality, we find they really are worth the effort to read.
Way back then, we had a series of cryptic code messages. Take for instance, movies. “It’s good” meant “You should see it” and “You should see it” actually meant: “It’s good!” Conversational short cuts liked that save a lot of time. When Charlie (see how the columnist subtly implies he has more than one friend?) said: “You should see it” about the film Dr. No, that’s all I needed to hear. I did. It was. See how much time we saved? There was a similar philosophy applied to book recommendations, too.
Back then, friends went to the same movies, listened to the same music, and watched the same TV shows. Slowly, as time passed and we followed different paths, one book that became a part of my life was ignored by my buddy. Recently when he asked for some book recommendations, finding out that he had not yet read “On the Road” or “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” I immediately rectified the situation by supplying some very strong words of encouragement: “You should read them.” He went out and bought a fresh copy of the Kerouac book and we have discovered that the old code phrases still save time.
A nice thing about classic literature is that if you can find a used bookstore in your neighborhood, you can save a few bucks by going there and getting the item in question at a lesser price.
This columnist’s preference in recreational reading is heavily prone to favor the mystery genre and while my pal may be aware of my personal idiosyncrasies, it’s only fair to point them out to folks who may have just stumbled on the Book Wrangler’s present efforts at being didactic.
Many years ago, this columnist’s philosophy was that once you read a book, that’s all there was too it, but in 1982, realizing that one particular classic was about to become very topical, an exception was granted and George Orwell’s novel 1984 was located and a reread was started. It was very unsettling to learn that some of the details had slipped away. Going back and rereading that was well worth the effort. Code message: “You should reread it” means “It’s gonna be enjoyable in a replay way.”
You think that old books don’t remain relevant? Chapter 54 of Moby Dick is titled: “The Town Ho’s Story. So does that mean Herman Melville was an early rap artist? In that chapter a prisoner says “... treat us decently, and we’re your men; but we won’t be flogged.” (Note: I haven’t read the whole book yet, so I’m just recommending that particular chapter.)
Once I made it a point of honor to read every word in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Now, I have the bragging rights, but most people will find that the reward is not commensurate with the effort required, so I won’t recommend that book.
If folks from the “Baby Boom” generation know the movie Treasure Island by heart, why would they want to pick up the Robert Lewis Stevenson book? Why is it hard to put down when you do? Could it be that you continue reading it just because it’s well written? Read Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde closely. Wasn’t postal service in London better then?
Charles Dickens takes up approximately 2 and ¾ pages in the Sixteenth Edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. He makes some sentences sound as musical as some of the great song lyrics. He calls candy, lumps of delight. In Tale of Two Cities, he makes the episode where a member of nobility runs his carriage over a kid, sound as relevant to today as if he were writing about some SUV driver who backs over folks waiting to get into a night club while talking on her cell phone. Many folks especially like Great Expectations, but I stalled out on that one.
In the mystery genre, starting out with the works of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler might be a mistake because you might spend the rest of your life trying to find something else that’s their equal in the Private Investigator subgenera. You just won’t find it and will miss out on the thrill of the search. Of course, for someone who is retired and doesn’t want to futz around with cheap imitations, finding the two “champs” in the used book store can be described as “cutting to the chase.”
There are other good mysteries, outside that particular subcategory. Oddly enough, E. Howard Hunt, who was part of Nixon’s Watergate posse, wrote some pulp fiction mysteries that were dismissed as inconsequential when he became notorious. I’ve found that he might have been vastly underrated and worthy of the time need to read his stuff if you can find it anywhere.
Anything written by Cornell Woolrich is excellent. Many of his novels were turned into classic film noirs. His writing was excellent and even if you’ve seen the movie, he’ll keep you entertained if you read the novel version.
John Franklin Bardin was every bit as good as Woolrich, but for some unexplained reason filmmakers weren’t inspired to greatness by his work. If you can find a used copy of The John Franklin Bardin Omnibus, you will find that reading each installment is like watching a lost classic movie. Filmmakers who comb the libraries looking for the overlooked gold nugget would do well to read The Deadly Percheron (in the Omnibus) and ask themselves if there is such a thing as a comedy noir?
In the non-fiction department, we’ve noticed lately that one particular book seems to be having a revival in popularity and (it seems to me) becoming ubiquitous. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer may seem to be a curious choice, but it is a story that continues to fascinate readers (and History Channel viewers?) and it can help you understand some rather esoteric political topics such as Schutzhaft and Gleichschaltung.
That should hold my buddy for a while and satisfy the editor at Just Above Sunset online magazine. Heck, if I listed all my recommended books right here, it would be a bigger challenge to come up with some future columns. So, I’ll say that should give retired folks (and anyone else looking for some reading recommendation) something to look for in their local used book emporium and keep them amused for the time being. Meanwhile, we will scout around for material for the next installment of the Book Wrangler.
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