Review: Raymond Chandler: Stories and Early Novels: Pulp Stories / The Big Sleep / Farewell, My Lovely / The High Window

Raymond Chandler: Stories and Early Novels: Pulp Stories / The Big Sleep / Farewell, My Lovely / The High Window
Raymond Chandler: Stories and Early Novels: Pulp Stories / The Big Sleep / Farewell, My Lovely / The High Window by Raymond Chandler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Carroll John Daly may have created the hard boiled detective genre and Dashiell Hammett may have popularized it, but my first foray into the genre was Raymond Chandler. The genre is defined by a PI that views the world with a cynical eye because of the power organized crime has seized thanks to the results of Prohibition. The PIs were the first antiheroes but Philip Marlowe, Chandler’s detective, is actually a man with a moral compass. While not above bending the law, he rarely breaks it. He’ll return money that he didn’t earn but he’ll also not turn in a criminal if he doesn’t agree that the criminal activity warrants arrest. He’s probably an alcoholic by today’s standards and is most definitely racist and a wee bit misogynist. And while it’s no excuse, his attitudes on these matters are par for the course for the time. He’s neither of these things by malicious intent but rather is ignorant that society is treating non-white straight males horribly. If this sounds like I’m warning you away, I’m not. I just want to prepare you for some shockingly uncomfortable lines.

Speaking of shocking lines, Mr. Chandler is a wizard with words. While the ignorance of the times is never far away, in my opinion, the masterful plot twists, marvelous stichomythia (witty one-liners hurled back and forth between antagonists), and magnificent turns of phrase more than make up for the moments of discomfort. Here’s a sampling:

Everybody’s here but the Pope’s tomcat and he’s expected.

I don’t know how it feels to be worth 100 million or so, but he didn’t look as if he was having any fun.

He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.

My sleep is so close to waking that it is hardly worth the name.

He’s so tight his head squeaks when he takes his hat off.

I was a grain of sand on the desert of oblivion.

He was a guy who talked with commas, like a heavy novel

I don’t mind you ritzing me or drinking your lunch out of a Scotch bottle. I don’t mind your showing me your legs. They’re very swell legs and it’s a pleasure to make their acquaintance. I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter evenings. But don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me.

Most people go through life using up half their energy trying to protect a dignity they never had.

I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between the stars.

Then he sat down…on the far side of the scarred oak table that came out of the Ark. Noah bought it secondhand.

I could go on and on and on and…

This volume is also great because through the short stories that start the book, I could see Mr. Chandler’s skill being honed. It’s always awesome to see one of your favorite authors develop into the wordsmith he ends up being. Some of the short stories have entire scenes lifted and put into later novels. The character of Marlowe doesn’t officially appear in the short stories. The PIs have other names but you can see Chandler refining the character.

That character I prefer to Hammett’s Sam Spade, though I’ve read it said that Marlowe is just a poor man’s Spade. And perhaps I would feel that was so had I read Hammett before Chandler. But I didn’t. So for me, the paragon of the hard boiled detective is Philip Marlowe. This book is a fantastic study of that character. Next up is Volume II wherein the last 4 Marlowe novels, the screenplay for Double Indemnity (based on the book by the same name, the work of Chandler’s contemporary, James M. Cain) and some essays are featured. Can’t wait.

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Review: The Daily Show: An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests

The Daily Show: An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests
The Daily Show: An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests by Chris Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first audiobook. So this review will be broken down into two parts; first, the experiences of listening to an audiobook when you’re hard of hearing and second, the book itself. I was pleasantly surprised with both.

I am a speaker’s worst nightmare. I have to turn the radio up pretty loud to be able to hear, even with my hearing aids. I tried many moons ago to listen to an audio, one by Stephen King, whose name escapes me. But the conversational tone lends to a lowering of the voice towards the end of a sentence. That, combined with the fact that fiction tends to play with the listeners’ emotions, I wasn’t confident in my ability to listen and pay attention to the road well enough to, y’know, not die. So I made the decision to try non-fiction.

I felt non-fiction was akin to listening to talk radio, a feat that I can accomplish with ease. That left the voice of the narrator, or in this case narrators, as the final variable. Too thickly accented, too fast a talker, or too soft of voice and I wouldn’t be able to follow along. And while some of the narrators fell into the last two categories, I did find myself having trouble at times. But only at times. The story was a compelling one but not so attention-grabbing that I fell among the fiction troubles. And what a story it was.

I was an avid Sportscenter watcher in the 90s so I remember when Craig Kilborn left to host the daily show. I was also an MTV watcher so I remember the John Stewart Show. What I was not (and am still not) was a regular Daily Show watcher. Oh, I saw clips and read about it, but I honestly couldn’t tell you I watched a full episode. Not until Trevor Noah. So I was astounded at how many big names started their serious climb to stardom on this show: Steve Carrell, Steven Colbert, John Oliver, Ed Helms and even some non-white boys like Al Madrigal and Assif Mandvi. The show itself became newsworthy.

The goal of the show, to challenge the political decisions of the day, is a worthy one but to do so, Mr. Stewart had to ruffle quite a few feathers and not just in the Gov’t, either. He was a hardass and made quite a few enemies on the show but I’ll give him credit he was doing it in the name of the truth. While I don’t always agree with putting people on the spot and making them look ridiculous by showing them to be hypocrites and/or liars, I think it serves a purpose. It makes it hard for politicians to pull the wool over the public’s eyes.

It’s hard to listen to at times because the people that tell their stories don’t always hold the same values as I do. But I thought it was a great idea to get people like Senator McCain and Chris Matthews to give their two cents on the events over the years. And the Daily Show had plenty of historic events over the years. It was a great listen, even for a lad who didn’t watch the show regularly.
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Review: March

March by John Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ll admit I knew next to nothing about John Lewis before this. The first I had heard of him was the sit-in he co-led in The House in 2016 trying to get a vote for stricter background checks for guns. I knew that he was part of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s but I didn’t realize how big a part he had been.

The story is told in the background of the Obama Inauguration and in doing so made me realize how big a moment that election really was. I’m not so removed from reality to realize that in a country steeped in racism, electing a black president was a big, nay, huge deal, but I hadn’t realized how big until this book. I will never be able to fully empathize with what black people went through, the institutionalized degradation, the socially accepted violence, the unwarranted humiliation, not as a white man. But to see people like Mr. Lewis suffer brutal violence because they had the unmitigated gall to want be served lunch or because they had the self-righteous audacity to want vote gives me a greater appreciation of their mental fortitude. What’s more is that the organization in which Mr. Lewis gained a reputation was called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. I’m a pacifist and not a little afraid of confrontation but those are logical reactions. Being spit on or being locked in a restaurant with the fumigators running would surely cause me to react emotionally and that emotion would be rage.

Yet Mr. Lewis and his fellow protestors endured this and so much more without resorting to violence themselves. And when the pressure got to the Federal Government and they finally put the wheels in motion to pass the Civil Rights Act, they asked that the marches and protests stop because they wanted to give those poor racists in The South a chance to cool down. They refused the cry for patience. As well they should have. They had suffered centuries of oppression and had seen Jim Crow surface in the wake of being freed from slavery. They would only stop when they got that for which they marched.

I really cannot speak highly enough about this book. Many and varied are the accounts of The Civil Rights Movement. There is no wrong answer to the question: which should I read? For me, this one brought me to the edge (and beyond) of tears time after time. And in the wake of the election of Mr. Trump, the vitriol is rising again. I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m scared for the direction of this country. Reading about Martin Luther King in school, it seemed like his fight was over and won. But having heard that late great reverend’s holiday referred to as Black People Day, I know the battle rages still. Books like this, I take as a message of hope. We have come far since lynchings were part of everyday life but we still have more of the road to equality to travel. Seeing that it’s possible to protest yet not resort to violence, while at the same time proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are not weak, gives me hope.

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