Published on: April 13, 2012
Many of you know that Robert B. Parker, who wrote more than 70 books - 40 of them novels about the iconic Boston private detective, Spenser - passed away in January 2010. During his later years, Parker churned out two or three novels a year, and his death left many of us wondering how we would satisfy our addiction to his voice, his characters, his sardonic yet hopeful world view.
In two weeks, we get our fix of Spenser, as author Ace Atkins revives the series with his first entry in the canon, “Lullaby.” I’ll have my review of the novel next week, but first I want to turn my attention to another Spenser book, just out - “In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero.”
“In Pursuit of Spenser” features a wide range of writers examining various aspects of Parker’s writing and Spenser’s development over the years. Having read everything that Parker has written, and much that has been written about him - as well as having interviewed him once - it was a subject that I warmed to. Still, in working my way through it, I was reminded not so much of Parker, but of E.B. White, who once said that analyzing comedy was like dissecting a frog - few people are interested and the frog dies.
I’ve always thought that Parker’s magic was in how he managed to communicate so much about character, theme, plot and place with a minimum of words. Some writers write like they are conducting an orchestra, but to me, Parker was more like a jazz pianist - gently working the keyboard, able to riff entertainingly yet purposefully, a singular performer with a unique sense of timing and sound.
“In Pursuit of Spenser” has some wonderful essays. Ace Atkins contributes “Songs Spenser Taught Me,” which tracks his personal connection to the character and author; there was a lot of resonance for me, and made me optimistic about his continuing work on the series. Dennis Lehane writes “Voice of the City,” which is not just a look at Parker’s connection to the Boston they shared (though their novels work different neighborhoods), but also has the best Parker anecdote in the book. (It concerns the New England Patriots and an annoying kid.) And a writer named Lyndsay Faye has a good piece called “Spenser and the Art of the Family Table” that looks at Spenser’s love of food and cooking, and more importantly, how this reflects a broader view of the world.
I’m not sure about some of the rest of the essays. (I am sure that when Lawrence Block writes that he never should have been asked to contribute an essay, he is right. However, I have to admit to being tickled that the worst essay in the book quoted the interview that I did with Parker back in 1985.) Because of the format, they tend to rework some of the same points and dialogue over and over, and I kept wondering if even Parker (who I suspect had to be a more complicated person than many of the essays would suggest) would have rolled his eyes a bit at all the analysis.
I’m glad that I read “In Pursuit of Spenser.” I’m glad it is next to all the Parker books that line my bookshelves, and it will serve as a strong reference point in the future.
But sometimes, I think, it is important to simply listen to the music and let it take you away. Sometimes, you don’t have to dissect the frog.
Next week...my review of “Lullaby.”
And...in case you are interested...my Robert B. Parker interview can be found here
I liked The Hunger Games
. I haven;t read the books, but found the movie to be entertaining and diverting. The lead-up to the actual games in the movie takes a little long, but the last hour and twenty minutes pretty much fly by. Mrs. Content Guy, who did read the book, thought it was a decent adaptation of a decent book, no more, no less.21 Jump Street
is, it seems to me, a perfect reflection of what’s wrong with movies today - a rehashing of an old idea that manages to subvert what could have been a good idea (two high school opposites become friends when they become adults, only to be seduced by old behaviors when returning to high school) under the weight of vulgar language and low comedy. I’m no prude, and I don’t think that all comedy has to be Noel Coward. But while I laughed at some of the bits, 21 Jump Street
left me cold.
Two funniest bits I saw on TV this week...
Jon Stewart on the difference between Easter and Passover.
Stephen Colbert on Re. Allen West.
BTW...how cool is Cory Booker?
If you ever are in Wausau, Wisconsin - which is where I found myself for a speech this week - I would suggest that you make your way to the Red Eye Brewing Company. I shared a meal there with some terrific retailers, and can recommend to you the Single Hop Redhead ale and the Redeye Burger. Life is good.
That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.