G is for Goodis, Dark Prince of Noir.

I know – you were thinking G was for Grafton, but as the Kinsey Milhone series already made an appearance in a recent post on the most prolific female detectives, I get to resume my Alphabet of Crime with one of my all time favorites: David Goodis.

Close your eyes and think of “Noir.” What do you see, hear, feel?

A hot, lonely city street, after midnight, after the rain. A pair of doomed lovers, trapped in each other’s arms. Plaintive minor notes echoing from a solo trumpet somewhere in the night, chords achingly unresolved, a call as seductive as the sleep of death. A fall; a plunge from the some fleeting promise of a better place, a better life, down, down to the inky depths of despair.

This is the kind of noir that David Goodis wrote. Not the gritty proletarian tragedies of James M. Cain or the sadistic depravities of Jim Thompson, but achingly lyrical jazz noir swelling and ebbing with dark and sensuous poetry. His words were like wounds on the page – wounds that will never heal. He wrote them fast and he wrote them cheap, and he died before the age of fifty. He’d had his brush with fame: Bogart and Bacall starred in a classic adaptation of his Dark Passage. French cinéastes lapped him up, adapting his books again, and again. Then he became a nobody, and then he was gone, the ghost of a forgotten melody lost down some dark alleyway, the silent memory of a song.

Now he’s back in a handsome new volume from the Library of America (whose fine Crime Novels collections included his 1950 novel Down There) featuring five of his most lurid, longing noirs. I think every crime fan should read at least one David Goodis; I suggest Dark Passage or Down There. To learn more about this quintessential voice of American noir, check out Shooting Pool with David Goodis, an excellent website devoted to his life and works.

The Scarlet Letter Revisited

“The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers,—stern and wild ones,—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.”  -The Scarlet Letter

What I love most about The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is it’s timelessness. It is just as relevant now as it was when it was first published. No matter ones opinion it sparks conversation from all sides. Here are a few items that revisit that theme:

When She Woke, by Hillary JordanThe novel When She Woke by Hillary Jordan gives us a futuristic version of The Scarlet Letter. Hannah Payne’s life revolved around God first and family second due to living in a world where faith and politics go hand in hand. Yet Hannah has always had a slight rebellious side and when the State of Texas deems Hannah a murderer with the victim being her unborn child she finds herself alone in a white room with her skin dyed red. In her society those that commit crimes are dyed and sent out to live in the world. Not willing to expose the man who fathered the child, a respected pastor, nor the physician that helped her she adds more time on to her sentence and will spend the next sixteen years as a red. After being released she begins the process of discovering who she is despite what her crime claims her to be.

Occasionally there is a teen movie that I can’t help but watch over and over again. MyEasy A, a film by Will Gluck secret shame, so to speak, is Just My Luck and 10 Things I Hate About You. My newest guilty pleasure is Easy A, which is a modern high school take of The Scarlet Letter. Olive Penderghast, played by Emma Stone, finds her life, which was normally spent in high school obscurity, the center of a false rumor of her losing her virginity. Unfortunately the rumor was started by herself to her best friend in the bathroom only to be overheard by the holier than thou Marianne. Once this rumor takes off it morphs into a whole different beast and rather than try to dispel them she claims them by wearing a red A. Although she tries to use her new found strength to help those in need she causes more harm to her reputation and it begins to affect everyone around her till she has no choice, but to finally reveal the truth.

10 American classics to add to your to-read list

You think you’ve read all of the American classics? Or perhaps you hide from them because they seem a little too close to required reading? Take a look at the 10 listed here, and then at our complete 30-novel Seattle Picks: American Classics list hand-picked by our librarians. Sure, you’ll find Fitzgerald and Faulkner on our full-length list, but we bet there’s something here that might give you a new twist on whatever it is you think when you think “classics.”

  • A Death in the Family by James Agee: This deeply poignant yet unsentimental account of what happens to his wife and six-year-old son when Jay Follet fails to return from a late night drive, won the Pulitzer Prize upon its posthumous publication.
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison: During the 1950’s a young nameless Black man finds himself rendered invisible as he moves through levels of American intolerance.
  • So Big by Edna Ferber: The daughter of a Chicago gambler, Selina Peake DeJong struggles to make a living for herself and her only child, “sobig,” in this inspiring story of a journey through life.
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey: Chief Broom, a deaf-mute Indian kept in an Oregon mental hospital, tells the story of Randle McMurphy’s battle of wills with the sadistic Big Nurse Ratched, a struggle between two varieties of madness. Continue reading “10 American classics to add to your to-read list”

Seattle Picks: Short Classics

We’re often asked for suggestions of shorter classics. Sometimes the reader has an assignment where the teacher or professor says “read a classic” and leaves it wide open. Sometimes the reader wants to explore classics, but feels a little intimidated. And sometimes the reader just wants a book that doesn’t weigh a lot. Our Short Classics booklist is one of our most popular, and for good reason. Here are a few titles featured in the list:

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
This heartfelt story of Edna Pontellier’s doomed search of personal fulfillment was considered so shocking in 1899, it almost ruined its author. (192 pages)   Continue reading “Seattle Picks: Short Classics”

Banned Book of the Month: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Consistently among the most challenged books in schools and libraries, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has courted controversy since its original publication back in 1885, though not always for the same reason. It was first removed from the collection of the Concord Free Library in Massachusetts over its “rough, course and inelegant expressions.”

cover-of-the-annotated-huckleberry-finnI suppose it is a sign of progress that one of those expressions, once deemed merely impolite and “trashy,” is now universally regarded as the deeply hurtful hate speech it is. Yet the ongoing controversy occasioned by the book’s frequent use of racial epithets, as well as characterizations which seem to both lampoon and to embody stereotypes, shows that the racial  issues raised and addressed by Huck Finn are far from academic. Author Toni Morrison captures the crux of the problem when she praises the book’s “…ability to transform its contradictions into fruitful complexities and to seem to be deliberately co-operating in the controversy it has excited. The brilliance of Huckleberry Finn is that it is the argument it raises.”

It should be acknowledged that most of the clashes over Continue reading “Banned Book of the Month: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”