Monday, November 14, 2005

Winter's Eve

Our first snow is falling as I write this, day becoming night with little or no real dusk. Carol's building a fire in the fireplace and I just finished up my day's work.

These were the kind of days I remember when I first started reading adult mysteries in sixth or seventh grade. I'd consumed all of Doyle, Poe and the Ellery Queen, Jrs. I'd gone through the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews (hopeless crush on Nancy and watched those Bonita Granville movies every time they came on TV.) And then one day a kid I went to school with said his mom was taking a couple of boxes of books to the Y sale. Knowing I liked mysteries, he said his mom had a bunch of paperbacks. I went home with him and she told me to take what I wanted. I ended up with something like a dozen book club editions of Erle Stanley Gardner and I was hooked. After Captain Video, I went to my room and started reading those Gardners. I was always eager to put off home work as long as possible. Homework instead of Perry Mason? Oh, come now, Dobe, as the late Maynard G. Krebs used to say.

I remember not understanding anything but the plots. Now I realize that the Masons were usually about the transgressions of rich and powerful people. Gardner was no Marxist but he was certainly skeptical of the downsides of raw capitalism. I knew what adultery was but I didn't see how often Gardner used it as a subtext for further comments on greed, this time of the flesh.

The books I read dated from the early Forties, before Gardner began barking straight dialogue into his dicta-phone. He was excellent at mood and atmosphere back then, especially in his under-rated DA series. The Masons had an exact sense of place if not time (he was adamant about not "dating" his books, which I think was a mistake).

Memory associations are haphazard and rarely make any kind of linear sense. I read a piece in the Atlantic not long ago about smell carrying some of our most vivid memories.

But on evenings like this, Gardner and those book club editions almost always come to mind, the best kind of memories for old ones like me..

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