Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Back to reading

(I don't have an estimate for the de-brushing yet, but I went back there this afternoon. If I had a buddy with half a day to kill, access to a pickup truck and/or trailer, and somewhere I could dump the torn out vegetation legally, I could do it myself. Most of the stuff is small stuff and also a crapton of that #*%#$&#(*$&% Cynanchum vine. It also looks like someone else in the recent past may well have dumped a small load of their OWN torn-out brush there, leaving it for me to pick up. If that's true: well, Bad Show, Very Bad Show, person, and I hope karma delivers some kind of dope slap to you for that.

The biggest hurdle is where to dump the stuff. I could rent a pickup, in a pinch I could do it without a buddy....but I think the city dump only allows one load to be dropped off per month, and also, they're not open on Saturdays, which would be the most likely day I could do it. If the estimate for the work is reasonable, I'll have the guy do it, but if it feels like more money that what my time and effort would be worth, I will do it myself.)


I tend to cycle back and forth between books. I'll read pretty solidly on one for a while and either get bored with it, or get interested in something else, or something in the book will become distressing to me (I never finished Gulliver's Travels during a particularly difficult period; it seemed SO negative in places and like there was NO race of beings that wasn't venal, stupid, or selfish. No, I didn't quite get to the horse-beings, but they were also purely rational and had rather Peter Singer-like ethics, from what I've read, and that would bug me too)

I've been trading off between "The War That Ended Peace" (an account of the states and attitudes of various countries and their leaders in the run-up to World War I; mainly it reminds me of how much the European aristocracy of the past annoys me), one of the early Poirot novels ("The Death of Roger Ackroyd"), and, recently, I restarted "Pietr the Latvian" by Simenon. I had kind of buried it under some other books and forgot about it, so I just restarted it. Also, the story has some weird twists and turns (there's a doppelganger in there, and there's some question as to whether the man the police are seeking is actually the one who was murdered at the very start of the book in a train washroom)

"Pietr the Latvian" is the first Maigret story ever. Apparently it was first published serially in a magazine (Few magazines, I think, do that any more. Or at least, the kind of "general" magazine that lots of people read, as opposed to specialty magazines (Does "The Strand" still exist? It used to be known for its quality short stories; I have several compilations of stories from it). Penguin is putting out a nice series of new translations of the Maigret novels and I'm taking advantage of that to get the ones I've not read yet. (Well, had I money enough and space enough, I'd buy the whole set to have a complete MATCHING SET of Maigrets, but that's not gonna happen.)

One minor quibble: like so many reprints that seem to have been scans-without-proofreading, there are a distressingly great number of typos. Oh, not one per page, or even one every five or ten pages, but they are frequent enough to annoy me. The Campion novels that Felony and Mayhem put out suffer from the same problem.

I like detective novels, especially those from the Golden Era.  I suppose Maigret qualifies, even if Golden Era is mostly thought of as a UK and US phenomenon. But Simenon did a lot of his writing at the same time as the Golden Era authors were active, so....

I like Maigret. He's very unflappable and solid. He's actually pretty unemotional; some BIG stuff happens in this novel and he barely reacts to it. For him, getting the job done is the whole thing and he just keeps going, fairly relentlessly. (At one point, I think he goes 48 hours without sleeping or even eating much, if I understand the timeline). I like Maigret because he's very low drama, and yet at the same time, he has Mrs. Maigret waiting at home for him. She loves him and he loves her, there are occasionally nice little domestic scenes between the two of them, mostly involving them eating a meal she has prepared.

In fact, there's even a Madame Maigret's Cookbook out there. I have a copy. I don't think I've ever made anything from it but it's fun to look at.

There's such a businesslike quality to Maigret. And yet, there's also the whole Paris-as-a-character-in-the-novel aspect to the books: Simenon describes the locations so well you can picture them easily in your head, even if the only "Paris" you've seen has been photographs.

Someone, I can't remember who, also noted that the books have a strong existentialist streak, or there's this sort of underlying despair as Maigret philosophizes about the criminal mind. I don't really find that depressing, though some might. For me, it's a look inside a mind that operates differently from mine, and that's interesting. Also, I think Maigret does have his pleasures in life: Dinner with the Madame, a beer and sandwich (or several) from the Brasserie Dauphin, the good hot potbelly stove in his office in a cold Paris late-winter.

As I said, I like Maigret because he's so low-drama. (Yes, sometimes I choose the characters I read about based on whether I'd like them as a person). I think I'd like Maigret if he were "real" and if I worked with him. Other series-detectives: I think I'd like Inspector Alleyn; he also tends to be low-drama but he's also sort of aristocratic-in-a-good way (cultured and with the sense to behave in a classy way).

As much as I like Poirot and Albert Campion on the page, I might not like them so much in real life. Campion's upper-middle-class twit act would probably get profoundly on my nerves after a while, although maybe he'd have the sense to tone it down a bit around me. And Poirot is so fussy and vain - especially in the earlier novels, like the one I'm reading - that I'd find that annoying too. Even though Poirot does seem to be a fan of intelligent women and not overly swayed by mere youth and what we would today term "hotness."

The mystery novels from this side of the Atlantic that I've read the most are the Nero Wolfe series. When I was younger, I loved Archie. Now that I've gotten older, I like to imagine that while I'd be out of Archie's age range (he likes them young and slim and pretty, and isn't above critiquing a woman who isn't), I may be drifting into the range Wolfe would like (he does, on occasion, seat a woman so he can have a view of her legs, so he is not immune to females). And I can converse intelligently on a number of subjects, I don't use "imply" and "infer" interchangeably (heavens, no). And I'd be smart enough to know not to pull my knitting out of my purse while sitting in his office. The food thing might be an issue because I'd be a bit of a food-crank in his estimation, with my sodium restriction and my inability to eat carrots or celery.

(Perhaps it's a bit odd to think of fictional detectives and wonder how they'd react to you, the reader. I don't know. With series novels, though, you get to know the character more or less.)

Another interesting thing about most of these novels: the series tend to span a very long time, longer than the career of a typical detective. And in some cases, the characters do not age over time; things are adjusted in the later books (I believe in the sci-fi universe this is called retconning?) For example, Fritz Brenner is no longer a veteran of atrocities from WWI in the later books; he would have been too old to have worked as Wolfe's chef. And Archie doesn't age, so he can still be the late-20s/early-30s ogler of young women without it getting creepy. And there's also some subtle retconning of Poirot, also: initially he's a Belgian WWI refugee, and in some of the early books he is presented as being a retired police detective, with the assumption that he's already fairly old. But Christie kept him going up into the 1970s (I will never read the "last" Poirot novel, because of Reasons. I prefer to think of my detectives as kind of living in a time warp where they don't age and don't die....). As I remember, something also is true of Maigret: in this first novel, he reminisces about The War (Pietr the Latvian was written in 1930, so The War would have been WWI), whereas in later novels, of course, that would be too early for him.

Oddly, that kind of thing doesn't bother me; I can kind of over look it. (Another odd retconning thing: if Bart Simpson had aged normally? He'd be 34 this year. That's actually kind of scary, though I can see Bart as sort of a grown-but-not-grown brodude type.)

1 comment:

CGHill said...

The original Strand died in 1950; the 1998 revival hasn't done much on the Web, but they do tweet at @StrandMag.