Friday, October 13, 2017

Book Reflections: Bouchercon '17 Edition (Quick and Dirty)

If time were no problem, what books (by other people!) would you read again a) from your childhood, b) from your young adult life and c) from the last five years. Why?

I've been considering where life and society should fit in my fiction work, going as far as reexamining John Gardner's same notions in On Moral Fiction. I always wonder whether I should say something, or not say anything at all and allow my writing to do the talking for me. If folks want to know my opinions, they can be found in books with my name on the cover. Except life doesn't respond to deadlines and publication dates. It moves too fast. I also consider what cost to be a relevant voice when I have to use it in a medium of one-hundred-forty characters at least ten times per day? Then I remember I often find horrors in that which everyone else finds really cool.

My first exposure to popular fiction that scared the shit out of me is Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. We've all read it, so I'll spare you the synopsis, but when I was growing up, I read that book fully expecting good to win out over evil, per usual, only to find the good in Bradbury's America was neglected and even inured out of the individual. Surrendered. Sacrificed for the comfort of ignorance. Guy Montag seemed like no hero. In fact, there are no heroes in that book. It haunts me still. I'd read it once a year if it weren't already burned into my quiet fears. That's lasting relevance, not in tweets that serve as the red meat to readers treated as an author's base, but in a stunning work that still has the power to make tomorrow feel like it just may have happened yesterday. That's moral fiction. That's what I want to do.

I generally avoid conversations that involve a conflation of the moral with the political, mainly because I refuse to allow my productivity to be hampered by the same ol' wine in a new skin. I like to tell people how, the day after the election, I woke up and saw a black man in the mirror, same as the morning before, therefore life is life and it's best to get on with it. We all know something is off about the world right now. No one needs me to debate the nuances of that wrongness. I'm more interested in where we're headed as a species and what we're doing to our environment. In this, I've always been attracted to future history as a genre.

My young adult life, around the age of twenty-four or so, I was given a copy of Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler. It's cliche to claim my mind was blown. More like, for the first time, in the pages of this singular achievement in dystopian science fiction I could see how a big ol' world goes wacky through the action—and indifference—of each and every individual citizen. The idea of Lauren Oya Olamina's struggles with coming of age, with a disability she understands as a gift (or vice versa) is stunning in its normalization of that which is fantastically abnormal. Religious fanatics in power run amok, resource scarcity as commonplace, and the outer and inner destruction of America is the backdrop to a tale of a real black girl examining her real issues and coming to find and trust herself. Good thing, as nothing else around her can be trusted. I caught grief at customs in Canada for declaring the books I brought to Bouchercon. I was led off to an out of the way screening area and grilled on my business in Toronto, when I'd be there, when I was leaving, by a stone-faced brown man wearing a bullet-proof vest and considered how, in Butler's incredible novel, Canada walls itself off from the US for its own good. Once it was all done and I rode the train to the conference hotel, I felt a bit of a chill and resolved to watch the news every day in case something happens where I maybe shouldn't leave.

More than a few reviews of A Negro and an Ofay make allusions to Chandler, and oh what a debt we of the hardboiled-gumshoe variety owe to him. Yet and still, for all the pleasant comparisons, I wasn't the biggest Chandler reader coming up. I loved Philip Marlowe on screens and over the radio—Gerald Mohr will forever be the only Marlowe for me—but I was a Rex Stout and Chester Himes reader who allowed himself to step out with a Donald Goines every once in a while. I really only read The Big Sleep, that which looms large over us all, about two years ago. Sure, I looked at it, flipped through it, but it just wasn't ever on my TBR list.

Once I read it, I immediately got it. It's moral fiction of a different kind, that which informs the reader how to behave in the face of evil that is part and parcel of the world's appearance. Even look cool doing it. To be uncompromising unless moved by the heart, manipulative and deceitful only in the course of uncovering the truth, and to assign the white hat to the least evil in the situation is all Marlowe's way. I often fail to see anything Chandler did with him in my work, but compliments are nice. The book is far nicer. In fact, it's a classic examination of human behavior that ranks with Plato's Dialogues. I'm glad I waited. It may have influenced me too much if I read it earlier. It may have even put me off to writing my own.

Now back to panels, and checking my stack in the book room, and seeing old and new friends and counterparts.

- dg


For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.

Works By Danny Gardner


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