Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Catching Up with Elmore Leonard

by Holly West

What authors/books are you a bit embarrassed to admit you haven't read? I know this topic has come up before but I feel like talking about it again.

My list of unread books is long, my friends. Most people at least read the classics in school. You know the ones I'm talking about: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE GREAT GATSBY, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, A TALE OF TWO CITIES, THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER... those sort of books. I haven't read any of them. I tried to read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and couldn't get past the first chapter. In high school I wrote a report about THE SCARLET LETTER based on my mom's description of what the book was about (unbeknownst to her at the time--she just loved the book and was excited I was assigned to read it).

Eventually I'd like to read some or all of these books, but I can't see it happening any time soon. My TBR pile is so high it's threatening to fall over and crush me as it is.

Unfortunately, the same goes for my crime fiction reading. I came to the genre kind of late in life; when I was in my 30s a friend suggested I read Sue Grafton's Alphabet series and that's where my addiction started. I started with A and blew straight through to P (or whatever the last book published in the series was at the time). I read quite a few of Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series, most of Linda Barnes' Carlotta Carlyle series, and of course, many others, including quite a bit of true crime.

My late start (and slow reading) has resulted in giant holes in my crime fiction repertoire. Recently, I admitted--somewhat sheepishly--that I'd never read a novel by Elmore Leonard. How is this possible, you might ask? I just never got around to it. But last week I was in Oregon and my bookshelves there are filled with paperbacks I purchased at thrift stores when we first bought the house. I realized I owned several Leonard titles and I figured it was probably time I broke one open.

Knowing that my writer friends would have opinions about what book I should start with, I went to Facebook and asked the question. I soon realized that Elmore Leonard wrote far more books than I ever guessed. When GET SHORTY came up a few times I decided that's what I'd read. I saw the movie years ago but don't really remember much about it. The only problem is that I keep picturing John Travolta as Chili Palmer, which is annoying since I haven't been a Travolta fan for awhile now.

Aside from that, reading it is a lot of fun and I can see myself running through a few Leonard titles in a row, like I did with Grafton, Cornwell, Barnes, and a few others.

I kind of hate that since I started writing, I no longer read anything without dissecting the author's technique. This is especially true of Elmore Leonard, since his 10 Rules of Writing are ubiquitous in my circles. GET SHORTY makes me think that maybe I use too many words, though I've suspected that for awhile now. It also reminds me that often (and perhaps always) it's enough to simply write what I mean and not worry so much about adding flourishes or coming up with a brand new way to say "he went to bed" or "she picked flowers" or "the dog barked so much I wanted to shoot it."

Wait a second, I don't kill dogs in my books (which is a whole other blog topic I might post about some day).

Now it's your turn to tell me where your literary diet is deficient. Don't be shy.


Dana King said...

Okay, I'll go. I tried to read Crime and Punishment a few years ago, and couldn't do it. Got as far as the letter Raskolnikov receives from his mother and couldn't bear to go on after the first 175 pages of her telling him how shitty life was for the rest of the family. (175 is a minor exaggeration. If things were so tough, how could she afford all that paper?)

I don't generally worry too much about what I haven't read. There are too many worthy books to read. Anyone with a job and life beyond reading has to make choices. I read what I have time for and think I'll enjoy. I know I miss some things, but I get over it.

Holly West said...

Yeah, not having read a particular book or author doesn't bother me much, either. If I have one regret it's that I read and re-read so much as a kid and early adult. There are lots books I must've read four or five times, which didn't leave a lot of time to discover new books.