Thursday, August 27, 2009

Once is Never Enough

By Kelli

"What crime fiction novel do you wish you could read again for the first time?


Remember your first? Maybe you were under the sheets,
sweaty with tension. Maybe you were in the car, almost ripping the paper in your eagerness to get on with it. Maybe you were on the bus or in the library ...

Bus? Library? Well, of course. I'm talking about books, remember?

The first time you read something that has an impact on your life is much like meeting that mysterious stranger across a crowded room some enchanted evening ... (with apologies to Rogers and Hammerstein).

After all, reading is a magical, personal, sensual process. It can turn from a summer fling into a long-term commitment. And while it rarely leads to complete monogamy, readers demonstrate amazing faithfulness to and trust in their most intimately connected-to writers.

It is also the closest technology to a time machine that we possess. Think about it ... the thoughts of brilliant minds long dead, the emotions, the feelings ... and if you can read them in the original language, so much the better. Readers can know and understand writers better than most writers, I suspect, feel comfortable with.

I'm an only child, and spend long years of my childhood and adolescence in out-of-the-way places. Translation: like Peggy in As a Tree Grows in Brooklyn, books were my friends. I read voraciously, obsessively and compulsively. Everything from classics like Poe and Dickens and Defoe and Pyle to Valley of the Dolls (that was a hell of a steamy read for an eleven year old).

I've read too many wonderful books to isolate one, because there's a book for every mood, every age, every season. A remedy or at least a solace for every tear; an answer for every conundrum.

When we think about re-reading for the first time, we're really talking about going back to a different us. Before we learned what the book taught us, before we absorbed the life lessons it dealt. And that's impossible.
Once uncorked, the genie can't be coaxed back in, no matter what Major Nelson did on TV.

So ... I'm going to name just a few of the many books that left their prints on me. Changed me.The magic is still there, in the memory ...

1. Farewell, My Lovely. My first Chandler novel. Breathless, unbelievable prose. I grew up reading books of poetry; Chandler's prose is poetry.

2. The Return of the Native. Maybe it was because I was fifteen, maybe it was because Eustacia Vye lived on a remote heath, far from civilization ... and I lived on a remote mountain top with no electricity, far from San Francisco ... but I found Thomas Hardy's description of nature and setting much more sensual and a hell of a lot more satisfying than Valley of the Dolls.

3. A Streetcar Named Desire. I spent my youth in training for a major in Drama. Tennessee Williams was, and is, my favorite playwright. Blanche's words to Stanley about art and the lies artists tell still make me cry.
If you haven't seen it, watch the original film, which contains (in my opinion) the single greatest performance by an actress ever: Vivien Leigh as Blanche. (Brando got all the press).

4. The Lottery. Shirley Jackson's amazing story was an early read for me ... I was in the fourth grade. What a revelation ...

5. Murder on the Orient Express. A stunning revelation and sophisticated concept of justice and punishment. One of Dame Agatha's very best.

And by the way ... a crime occurs in all of these works! So technically, yes ... they are all crime fiction. And now ... back to the other hat. You know, the one I write in! ;)


News Flash! Criminal Minds has won a Kreative Blogger Award, courtesy of the wonderful shamuses at Gums, Gams and Gumshoes ... the Writing PIs!! Thanks, you guys!! We're honored!! And we hope to be responding to questions and talking about writing for a long, long time to come ...

About Me:
My favorite milkshake flavor is vanilla. (Little Known Fact #439)

My second book, CITY OF DRAGONS, releases February 2, 2010, from Minotaur.

My first, NOX DORMIENDA, won the Bruce Alexander Award and is a Macavity finalist.


Jen Forbus said...

I remember being completely awed by "The Lottery" too, Kelli! The first mystery that really shook me was THE WESTING GAME. It shook me because the first time I read it, I didn't get it. That frustrated me and I was determined to master it, understand it. From that point forward I loved any form of puzzle and challenge. That's one of the great elements about reading. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD still shakes me every time I read it. I never fail to find something new in it each time. Harper Lee is incredible.

But the book that brought me to the point I am today...bloggin' and talkin ad nauseum about crime fiction...THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT. Well, I guess it's sort of THE WATCHMAN. I got a pre-publication ad for THE WATCHMAN and was intrigued, but when I learned it was part of a series, I couldn't start in the middle. So, I went back to the beginning. And I fell in LOVE! I started chatting on The Craisie Club discussion board and learned about Michael Koryta and several other authors, and it just snowballed from there. And now look! Ha!

Very fun post, Kelli! Thanks!! :)

Unknown said...

Congrats on the award! Well deserved, all the writers here are talented, generous with their time and thoughts, and of course, fabulous storytellers!!!!

One work that I go back to time and again, because I can't figure it out, is Richard III. The Lady Anne scene, it just never makes sense to me. I'm sure I'll get it one of these days.

Most works, if you don't get them, you just blame the book and never go back. Some works, you *want* to get them, and so you keep going back.

Kelli Stanley said...

Ah ha! So we owe Crais and THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT a huge, huge debt!!! :)

I'm glad to know whom to thank for inspiring you to inspire so many others, Jen!! :)

And I'm adding THE WESTING GAME to my reading list. And you're so right--Harper Lee was a genius. Only one book, but when it's that good, one's all you need. :)

Thanks for stopping by!! I'm just back from the dentist, but at least I can still type! ;)


Kelli Stanley said...

Mysti, I so agree with you--I will stay up all night wrestling with something that seems just beyond my grasp ... lately, it's been things like figuring out why my scanner stopped communicating with the computer. ;)

With Richard III, do you mean the Queen Anne scene when she accepts his proposal, knowing full well that she's fulfilling a curse on herself? It kind of reminds me of the fatalism of Desdemona. Possibly S. didn't want to imply that she was venal enough to want to marry Richard, the politics of the War of the Roses still being a rather delicate subject even under Elizabeth.

But hell, the reason I like Richard III (the play) is that Lord STANLEY is in it!! ;)

Thanks for your always stimulating comments, sweetie!!


Unknown said...

Ah, fatalism, that would work. She knows she can't escape, so she'll do what she can, knowing she's doomed. Will have to reread now and look for that!

The scanner thing, if things go badly, I usually have to nuke EVERYTHING to do w/the scanner of the computer, reinstall all software from updated software from the scanner manufacturer site, and then maybe do it again. And that's with a Mac :)