Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Cinema Retro; Mystery Reader
One of the finest movie genre magazines being published. The cover tells you just HOW good it really is. ON SALE NOW.
A while back I heard from a guy I knew at college. He wrote to tell me that he thought crime novels were great but that mystery novels were trash. I'm not exaggerating when I say that he was always a snob. His taste in cars/suits/girls/pubs/music etc. were always indisputably the best and if you disagreed he would go a long way at hinting you were stupid. We were never friends, in fact I dimly recall getting into it with him one night and telling him just how much we weren't friends.
But time goes on and most of us are forced to grow up a little even if we don't want to so I replied that yes, there are indeed many fine crime novels currently being written and published but that I didn't agree that mystery novels were trash. In fact, I said, here's a list of mystery writers I think are excellent writers in all respects.
Well he responded by saying yes, but none of these people are writing lasting literature. I responded by saying who knows what will last. To quote Joni Mitchell, I've seen a lot of hard hard places (fall?) to smoke and ash. I can't give you a figure but I doubt more than 2% of any generation's fiction writers last. And I mean genre writers as well as literary writers.
I snarled enough in the letter to insure I wouldn't hear back from him.
But he raises a point I hear more and more these days, that the mystery is inferior to crime novels. Maybe so. As I've said many times you read what gives you pleasure. Mysteries inferior? I don't know and I don't really give a damn. I still read a lot of mysteries, even a number of cozies, and I plan to continue on, blissful in my stupidity.
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I read whatever interests me. That can change from time to time, but I rarely dismiss any type of book because it might not be my flavor of the month.
Yes, it's remarkable how asininely such sweeping judgements will be insisted upon. There is no form of fiction which can't be insightful, deft, serious. There is no guarantee that a work that is the form of other good work is good because of that. I'm not sure why this isn't obvious to more people, other than willful ignorance.
Wonder if the Marvin still is from the set of PRIME CUT.
Ed, is the Dain Curse crime fiction or mystery?? It feels like crime, but the Op does solve a bunch of mysteries along the way. And what about Lew Archer books? Or Jonathan Latimer's great Bill Crane books? Or the terrific Gore Vidal/Edgar Box books? I guess the point is it's sometimes hard to distinguish between the two, and some of the novels that are recognized as being great crime novels can just as well be classified as mysteries.
Good stories endure no matter what the genre. Even mystery. "The Purloined Letter" still has staying power.
Genre is irrelevant. Story endures.
The best of today's genre fiction is superior in every way to the literary variety loved by elitists. And it will last longer. American fiction had a deeply democratic quality that lasted until recent times when literary snobs banished popular fiction. I mostly read nonfiction now, which hasn't been co-opted by literary elitists.
There's some fine contemporary mimetic fiction. Some of it is crime fiction (Sheila Kohler seems to work in this mode, just as Audrey Niffeneggar seems to work soley in fantasy)...just like all mystery fiction, essentially, is crime fiction.
"I've seen some hot, hot blazes
Burn down to smoke and ash.
We love our lovin'
But not like we love our freedom."
--Joni Mitchell, "Help Me"
BTW, agree entirely about us not being able to determine what will or will not last. Take a look at the books that have won Pulitzers over the years. How many of those are still being read today?
Of course, a snob like your "friend" couldn't write either a mystery or a crime novel to save his soul.
If it matters, the mystery and the crime novel blur anyway (DAIN CURSE being a fine example). But I'm pretty sure Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, Cain, Stout and Christie (among a good number of others)will be entertaining readers when the snob has long since fed the worms.
I’ve argued this before and will again: the critics of any time are wrong more often than not. Go back and read the popular critics of the any age. The majority simply did not recognize the books that were best at capturing that age. (The notices on Melville's work by his contemporaries are particularly instructive to read today.) The type of mind that is drawn to criticism tends, obviously, to be one that appreciates categorizing, that is sympathetic to hierarchical ordering. I don’t mean this as much of a criticism if any at all. But it does tend to preclude prophecy of lasting worth. I’m blanking at the moment but I think it was Altman’s Grosford Park that showed the disgust – and the incomprehensibility – that the cultural gatekeeper’s at the time (1930s) had for film. Ed hit the nail on the head: snobbery – and I’d argue, insecurity – keep many critics from having any chance at grasping “worth.” Their very job forces them to habitually look backward.
Literary historians have placed the rise of the distinction between "literary" and "popular" fiction at about 1970. (For example, see Wiki.) Prior to that Pulitzers were awarded to books that would now be categorized as popular fiction, including Gone With the Wind, The Caine Mutiny, and Advise and Consent. Nowadays, the elitists who populate the Pulitzer juries would automatically eliminate such works.
I was just using the Pulitzer as an example of how we can't predict what will or will not continue to be read in the future. I wasn't trying to be a snob about literature.
I guess I don't understand the difference between crime fiction and mysteries. Are mysteries defined by the fact that the reader doesn't know who did it, while readers of crime fiction do?
I've never suggest that, in general, one is better or has more lasting literary value than the other, yet I do vastly prefer crime novels over mysteries. But that's more personal preference than any valid argument of ideal or worth.
I do think that crime novels perhaps have an access to social commentary that the labryrinth-like structure of many mystery novel may not as easily allow, which is perhaps why they're favored by literary snobs like those of Ed's original post.
~ Ron C.
Me, I read the Racing Form ... talk about mysteries.
Whatever gets you through the night should be the ONLY criteria. Right now I'm reading Lady C's Lover (part 3,000 of my catching up to all those bad years I didn't read phase) ... but I find the more different so-called genres and sub-genres I read, the more I come to enjoy them (usually).
Then again, I'm a guy bet my beloved new york state buffalo bills 4 super bowls in a row ... so WTF do I know?
We subscribe to about 20 magazines but this looks too good to pass up.
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