Monday, March 09, 2009

Blood Simple

#24 -- "Red Harvest" by Dashiell Hammett (re-read)

A couple years ago, I was discussing old books with Alanah, and this book came up -- specifically, a paperback copy I'd found years ago in Tucson, then given to a friend. Generous yeah, but that copy had perhaps the best book cover I've ever seen, and I missed it.

Alanah, bless her Bertuzzi-lovin' heart, subsequently found this for me:

A lovely book. Years later, thanks again, Alanah!

So this past week I started the penguin book to take a break from a hefty non-fiction tome I've been reading, then started a new re-read to give me a break between penguin books after #1, then started THIS when the first re-read didn't really grab me. This did, of course. For years I've been telling people this is my favorite Hammett, but since I haven't read it (or any of his books, I think, other than the "Nightmare Town" volume of uncollected stories) in 12-13 years, did it hold up? Oh my, yes, it did. Did it ever. This is crime literature at its finest. Nasty characters, whip-smart dialogue, moves fast as hell. This style's easily parodied -- I think because it's so hard to pull off. Hammett does, and I say again that this is his finest work, better than the more popular "Thin Man" and "Maltese Falcon" (both great as well, mind you). When I feel morally justified in another re-read, "The Dain Curse" and "The Continental Op" go right to the top of the list.

I think this dude would approve.

* * *

I missed the Telegraph's list of the top 20 travel books (via Progressive on the Prairie), so glad to catch onto it, since I always like a good travel book. There's some interesting choices there, and some I wouldn't have thought of as travel books. My breakdown of the list:

Books I've read and enjoyed

"Notes From A Small Island" by Bill Bryson; "Venice" by Jan Morris; "In Patagonia" by Bruce Chatwin; "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway; "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson; "Our Man in Havana" by Graham Greene; "Among the Russians" by Colin Thubron

I read at least one or two of Bryson's books a year. "Venice" was good, but I wouldn't put it into the top three of Morris's works -- "Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere" is my all-time favorite. "In Patagonia" is covered here. "The Sun Also Rises" is my favorite Hemingway, but even though I get why, I don't really think it fits this list. "Fear and Loathing" is probably the last Thompson book that I can take; after that it frequently became self-parody. "Our Man in Havana" was a middling Greene. "Among the Russians" is good, but I think the next two by Thubron -- "The Lost Heart of Asia" and "In Siberia" -- are better.

Books I've read and not enjoyed

"On the Road" by Jack Kerouac. I think it's one of the all-time overrated books -- though that may be exacerbated by too many dipshits in coffee shops. One of these days I'll give it another chance.

Books I've never read, but that interest me

"Travels With Charley" by John Steinbeck; "Homage to Catalonia" by George Orwell; "The Great Railway Bazaar" by Paul Theroux; "The Road to Oxiana" by Robert Byron; "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy; "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush" by Eric Newby; "Arabian Sands" by Wilfred Thesiger

I've never read Orwell beyond "1984" and "Animal Farm," other than 100 pages or so of "Burmese Days". I've felt I should read this, "Down and Out in Paris and London," or "The Road to Wigan Pier" at some point. I can read about one Theroux book every ten years; he's talented but aggravating. "Oxiana" is one of those books I think about getting each time I log on to Amazon.

Books I've never heard of

"As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning" by Laurie Lee; "Naples '44" by Norman Lewis; "Coasting" by Jonathan Raban; "The Beach" by Alex Garland; "The Journals of Captain Cook."

I read Raban's "Passage to Juneau" a few years ago and liked it, though it didn't have much of a lasting impact.

Ok, it's safe to say I disagree with the list -- I'll make one of my own, one of these days. Maybe.


lralle said...

My favorite recent travel book:

Really the perfect blend of present, history, and thoughtful meditation.

gsdgsd13 said...

I've got the Stewart book, started it, liked it, but put it aside and never got back to it. I should grab it again soon.