Lively, Bony & Cleverly & My Snooty TastesTuesday, March 30, 2010
My mother liked to use the word snooty to describe her taste for things. She preferred that word to the more usual refined. She would often say to me in Spanish, “Hay poca gente fina como nosotros,” or “There are few people with good taste such as us.”
When I was in my late teens she never said anything about my near obsession in reading any science fiction book I could find. As long as I was reading that was fine. But she would hand me books, every once in a while and tell me it was a good book. I learned to trust her taste and I have maintained my snooty taste for books since.
I no longer read science fiction but I still (with no apology) read mysteries. For many years the only female mystery author I read was P.D. James. I had a dislike for the likes of Mary Stewart and such books as her gothic/governess novel Nine Coaches Waiting which I remember buying for my mother. She loved it. It is only at this recent date that I have abandoned this silly idea and I have read all the books published until now by Barbara Cleverly. I joke around in telling that this real name sounds as manufactured as that other English author’s name, Penelope Lively!
And it is Penelope Lively which brings me to cite my reading relationship with Celia Duthie. It is Duthie who first recommended Lively to me. Duthie, much like my mother would have been impressed by Lively’s birth in Cairo.
For many years back when Duthies was the bookstore empire in Vancouver I would go in to the main store on Robson to ask for my favourite mystery writer
Jerome Charyn's latest. Every employee there and Duthie would ask me, “Have you read Michael Dibdin?” I finally broke down and bought my first Aurelio Zen mystery by Dibdin called Cabal and I was hooked. I first read ever book written by the man until that time and then waited every year for his next (and Robert Harris’, and John Le Carré, also authors Duthie liked). It was last year that I read Dibdin’s End Games which was his last as he died. There is nothing sadder that knowing that one’s taste for an author’s works can no longer be satisfied.
But there is another opposite side to that story. This is the discovery of authors who have written (they are usually prolific) a string of novels and one can indulge for some time. Sometimes I find them halfway so after reading their output I have to then wait for the next. That has been the case with Colin Dexter (alas he is now dead), Reginald Hill (he isn’t!), and Patrick O’Brian (he is!). And of course I am waiting for Barbara Cleverly’s next Inspector Joe Sandilands mystery and her next Laetitia Talbott one.
Then there are authors like Andrea Camilleri and his Inspector Montalbano series. I have read all the ones that have been translated into English including the latest The Wings of the Sphinx. The author, who is in his 80s, is still writing them, but I must wait for the translations as they occur.
One happy situation came my way some years ago when Duthie gave me a used copy of Arthur W. Upfield’s Venom House featuring his half breed inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (“Please call me Boney!”). I was hooked from the first. The writer and Englishman who had been sent to Australia as a young man by his father and died in 1964 had written 29 of them. It was up to me to find the other 28. Since Upfield has long been out of print this took some effort and I got as far as number 25. Each one of these can be read independently out of order and they all describe a way of life in the remote stations of Australia that has all but faded with modernity and globalization.
I do think that about now I might attempt to tackle Upfield all over again. I have been struggling (but with pleasure!) with Harold Bloom’s Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? At this moment I am finding out why it was that Plato was so much against poets and in particular with Homer. But the real gem of this book has been to find out that the Book of Job is well worth reading in detail.
Upfield might have to wait as I have “discovered” Father Andrew M. Greeley. But that is another story for another day.
Arthur W. Upfield