Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sophisticated Reading

Scott D. Parker

What do Superman and Agatha Christie have in common? Nostalgia.

I recently read my first ever Christie novel, And Then There Were None. Loved it. I followed that up with The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Appreciated it. Likely not her best book, but good nonetheless. I can easily see the thread running from Sherlock Holmes and Christie's work.

On another recent reading front, purely out of the blue (heh), I got myself a Superman hankering. As a die-hard Batman fan, Supes rarely does it for me anymore. I re-read Alan Moore's excellent 1986 story, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" This title was the swan-song of the Silver Age Superman with all of his different color Kryptonites and weirdo monsters attacking him. I grew up during the tail end of this run and it's still the one I gravitate towards.

In reading these separate works, I simultaneously got nostalgic for old comics and for a time in which I never lived. Strange feeling that.

What got me pondering deep questions were the stories I read after those I just mentioned. After Moore's Superman story, I read Grant Morrison's superb take on the Man of Steel, "All-Star Superman," (2005-08). It was modern and fresh take on a classic character, the best comic I've read in a long, long time. My current novel--J. T. Ellison's So Close the Hand of Death--is a marvel of a story, with a believably nuanced lead character and a dandy of a plot. It's as far from Christie's type of story as you can get and still be in the mystery genre. The stories of Morrison and Ellison are both sophisticated, told in a modern, sophisticated style.

Back in the 1930s, the Christie novels were among the best detective stories being published. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the Superman tales were among the most memorable. But, in reading them in 2011 as an adult, I can see their flaws. I choose to overlook their faults and channel back to an earlier self and and earlier read. I can tell the good things that have come from sophisticated writing.

And it makes me wonder what readers of 2070 will think about the stuff we're reading now. Because I think it's pretty dang good.

Do y'all have fondly-remembered things you still read on occasion that you have to "turn back your mental clock" and overlook some of the warts you can now see since you are a modern, sophisticated reader?

App of the Week: Angry Birds Rio! What more need be said?

Congrats of the Week: DSD's own Steve Weddle got himself nominated for the 2011 Spinetingler Award: Best Short Story on the Web, for his story, "Hold You."


pattinase (abbott) said...

One thing that stands out is how much more narrative there was. Whole paragraphs without conversation. Long paragraphs too. Now there is more white space on a page than black. We liked words more then.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Patti is right. We did like words better then. I often read older works and think to myself - wow - a publishing house would overhaul this book if it were published now. The one thing that doesn't change is that good stories hold up - no matter what style of prose in in vogue.

Scott D. Parker said...

Patti - You make an interesting point that I didn't realize. Dickensian sentence structure is long gone. Even the longer passages from the 30s is gone. It is our shrinking attention span?

Joelle - Good stories are good stories. Granted, I prefer my Shakespeare on stage vs. reading in my house. It'd be an interesting experiment to take a classic book and put it through the modern agent/editor wringer and see how it would turn out.

John McFetridge said...

I don't know that we liked words more, but we certainly saw fewer images in our daily lives (or they did) and almost no filmed images and needed things to be described more.