Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This Week in Reading October 19 - 25

This week is one with very successful, prolific authors, among them, the golden age mystery team of two writers who called themselves Ellery Queen, espionage writer John Le Carre, fantasy writers Phillip Pullman and Ursula LeGuin, and blockbuster writers Michael Crichton and true crime presenter Ann Rule. Playwright Moss Hart, novelist Anne Tyler, and Batman creator Bob Kane also saw their work enjoyed by milllions.

Nobel prizewinners include England's Doris Lessing who won last year, Austria's Elfriede Jelinek, who won three years ago, and a very early one, Miguel Angel Asturias of Guatamala who won in 1899. Poets include Robert Pinsky, a prior US Poet Laureate, John Berryman, Denise Levertov, Arthur Rimbaud and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

This Week's Question: The Ellery Queen mysteries of the first half of the twentieth century were part of what has been referred to as the Golden Age. Whodunits at the time were generally straightforward with clues laid out fairly as a logic puzzle so that readers could solve the case on their own just before the main detective or his or her less intellectually capable sidekick did at the end. In the Queen books there was even a page near the end asking the reader to do so.

While today's taste have run to police procedurals, suspense, and thrillers, there were "rules" for the Golden Age detective genre that were rarely broken, except by some masters on purpose. In fact, one crime fiction essayist at the time actually did write down what he considered to be the rules of detective fiction. Now mysteries are all over the place. Novelist Plus, the database available to Glendale Public Library card holders lists twenty-seven different types of mysteries in its Recommended Reads. Which ones do you like?

Answer to Last Week's Question: Perhaps not all the good end happily. Perhaps he wasn't that good (in behavior - in writing he was great), but in the last few years of his life uberplaywright Eugene O'Neill had a neurological disease, misdiagnosed at the time as Parkinson's, that prevented him from holding his hand steady enough to write normally. He already had won the Nobel prize for Literature ten years earlier, (1936), but in a flurry to finish before his disease stopped him he wrote in tinier and tinier script using a box of freshly sharpened pencils each day at his house in Danville, California, now a National Park. He completed the Iceman Cometh and Long Day's Journey into Night that way among other works which came to be called the "Tao House plays" from 1939 - 1943. He lived another ten years unable to write. (Today's adaptive technology would keep him writing as long as his brain worked.)

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