The Reader is Warned

January 22, 2008

The problem with attempting to widen your reading is that you force yourself to plough through an awful lot of rubbish. Rather like eating your greens, if you consulted your soul the sincerity of your distaste would not be in doubt, yet you struggle on, telling yourself that it is Doing You Good.

There is a cheerful aspect to this abnegation of will however: it is the feeling of freedom and joy you have when you cast aside acid drivel like Bruno Schulz’s Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hour Glass (more of which another day) and decide that you will read another locked room mystery by John Dickson Carr.

cheerful dickson carr
Calm yourselves, ladies

In fact, even after reading something completely and unexpectedly wonderful like Antal Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight (more of which another day), you might find yourself rubbing your hands cheerfully and, perhaps with a slightly guilty twinge… reaching for the Dickson Carr.

One the writers from the golden era of detective stories, he has become for me a minor obsession. It got to the stage last year where I became horrified at the rapidity with which I was flying through his books; soon there would be none left, I exclaimed: I needed to ration myself. Yet, like a backsliding drug addict, there I would be the next day, pretending that I was amongst the Cs and Ds in the library because I fancied a stroll, a change of scene, a breath of fre… what’s this? The Case of the Constant Suicides? Interesting. Might as well get it out now, shame to put it back on the shelf  – that sort of thing. Then I’d take it home and put it (not very far) aside and tell myself sternly that I was currently reading Locke on perception and the chain of being or Ehrenpreis on Swift, hardly arduous in themslves, in fact perfectly enjoyable, and that I would never finish them if I could so easily be tempted to throw aside their profounder pleasures at the first come hither glimpse of a flighty, gaudily bedecked crime and detection novel…

Of course, all was lost the moment the second I had read one of the irresistable titles: The Hollow Man, The Ten Teacups, Murder in the Submarine Zone, The Blind Barber, The Burning Court, He Who Whispers, The Reader is Warned, Death in Five Boxes, Hags Nook, The Man Who Could Not Shudder…

Poetry, sheer irresistable poetry.

I would then tell myself that I would only read a chapter a night at most, in order to draw out the pleasure – like Charlie with his chocolate bar – before shamelessly devouring it whole at one sitting, cramped up uncomfortably on one elbow in bed, scorching the corners of the pages with hasty fingertips, only turning the last of them, its words barely registering, as the first birds began their petulantly early squawking.

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