This actually is a small tiny fraction of my To Be Read pile. I brought this stack up from the basement late last night, almost entirely at random.

   The question is, which of these should I read next? Any recommendations? Any I should stay far away from?

   Here’s hoping you can read both the authors and the titles:

     This should be easy:

Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams, Dorothy Provine, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Jim Backus, Ben Blue, Joe E. Brown, Alan Carney, Chick Chandler, Barrie Chase, Lloyd Corrigan, William Demarest, Andy Devine, Selma Diamond, Peter Falk, Norman Fell, Paul Ford, Stan Freberg, Louise Glenn, Leo Gorcey, Sterling Holloway, Marvin Kaplan, Edward Everett Horton, Buster Keaton, Don Knotts, Charles Lane, Mike Mazurki, Charles McGraw, Zasu Pitts, Carl Reiner, Madlyn Rhue, Roy Roberts, Arnold Stang, Nick Stewart, Sammee Tong, Jesse White, Jimmy Durante, Jack Benny, Stanley Clements, Joe DeRita, Larry Fine, Moe Howard, Nicholas Georgiade, Stacy Harris, Tom Kennedy, Ben Lessy, Bobo Lewis, Jerry Lewis, Eddie Rosson, Eddie Ryder, Jean Sewell, Doodles Weaver and Lennie Weinrib.

Time Travel and the Hardboiled Detective Novel,
by Tony Baer.


   So the question is, why am I so into the hardboiled detective novels of the 20’s-70’s?

   Nobody asked. So I asked myself.

   And what it is kinda first dawned on me on an art exhibit I saw in Montreal about “Streamlining” as American culture.

   Streamlining in American culture, the sleek aerodynamic look of toasters, Airstream campers, vacuum cleaners, radios, cars, planes, became ubiquitous sometime after the end of World War I. The design dominated American design throughout the 30’s and 40’s.

   It dawned on me that at the same time that American design was being streamlined, so was American prose, by such folks as Hemingway, Hammett and Jim Tully. Each of Tully, Hammett and Hemingway got their hardboiled everyman voice honestly. Hemingway as a war correspondent and army medic, Hammett as a soldier and Pinkerton, and Tully as a bindlestiff. Cheap pulp magazines and paperbacks made reading affordable for the masses. And they didn’t want to read the long-winded labyrinthian pages of Henry James. They wanted everyday language, terse and to the point.

   At this zenith of American culture, folks were confident that they knew who they were, knew right and wrong, and knew what they were saying and how to say it. There was very little existential angst. And I have to say, I envy them.


   So, the point?

   I’m not sure. But it may be helpful to illustrate what I’m talking about with some quotes and examples:

1. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” William Faulkner

2. “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Albert Einstein

3. In the 80’s made for TV movie, Somewhere in Time, Christopher Reeve is staying at a B&B when he falls madly in love with a woman in an old 1800’s photo. He obsessively finds out everything he can about her, and then surrounds himself with period clothes, coins and culture. After passing some threshold of obsession, he is able to traverse the space/time continuum, meet his fair lady and consummate his love.

4. In “Pierre Menard, Author of Quixote” by Jorge Luis Borges, a contemporary man decides he wants to spontaneously write Don Quixote, word for word. So he moves to the same area that Cervantes lived, builds himself a similar hovel, eats the same foods, drinks the same drinks, reads the same medieval chivalric romances, dresses the same, buys an old suit of armor, and, after passing some threshold of obsession, he is able to traverse the space/time continuum and spontaneously write Don Quixote, word for word.

5. “What you yourself can suffer is the utmost that can be suffered on earth. If you starve to death you experience all the starvation that ever has been or ever can be. If ten thousand other women starve to death with you, their suffering is not increased by a single pang: their share in your fate does not make you ten thousand times as angry, nor prolong your suffering ten thousand times. Therefore do not be oppressed by “the frightful sum of human suffering”: there is no sum: two lean women are not twice as lean as one nor two fat women twice as fat as one. Poverty and pain are not cumulative: you must not let your spirit be crushed by the fancy that it is. If you can stand the suffering of one person you can fortify yourself with the reflection that the suffering of a million is no worse: nobody has more than one stomach to fill nor one frame to be stretched on the rack.” George Bernard Shaw

6. In “A New Refutation of Time” by Borges, he argues that all that exists are experiences. The experiences exist regardless of ‘time’. You watch a cardinal as it sits on a fence. The experience of seeing the cardinal on the fence is all that there is. There’s no ‘you’. There’s no ‘time’. There’s just the experience of watching a cardinal on a fence. This experience has occurred millions of times, over millions of years. The experience is neither past nor future, neither true nor false. It simply is. All that we hope and all that we fear will never come to pass, because hope and fear always happen in a future that never comes. Rather, we are in an eternal present. An eternal flow of experiences, repeated eternally regardless of whether a single individuals may cease to be.

   So, the idea seems to be that the main thing is ‘time’. The main thing is the experience. What makes us grieve our loss is the unbreachable breach between present and past.

   But is it unbreachable? I beseech you: it is not.

   So how do I time travel? I read the books of the hardboiled era. I read Hammett, Cain and Chandler. I read Hemingway and Tully. I read the Macdonalds, I read the Bart Spicers, the Deweys, the Steinbecks, the Howard Brownes, the Tom Kromers, the Jack Blacks, the Norbert Davises, the Raoul Whitfields, the Harry Whittingtons, the hardboiled peeps. I read them and become an experience. An experience where I know who I am, I know right from wrong, I know what to say and how to say it. All is clear. There is no angst.

   I’m spending the weekend in Burbank with Jon , and just as last time, I can receive email on my Cox account, but I can’t reply. It’s a known incompatibility problem some people have with their laptops and foreign Internet connections. Everything is fine at home, for example, but not so fine at work.

   There is a fix for this, or so it seems, but it’s beyond me, and I best leave things alone. I just wanted to let you know that if you’ve emailed me recently and haven’t heard back, I’m not ignoring you!

   Now that I’ve re-read all of the stories in Ron Goulart’s anthology The Hardboiled Dicks, and posted reviews of each of them on this blog, I’ve decided to rank them, not in terms of how much I liked them, but in terms of their relative hardboiledness, if such were really a word. Your opinion may vary:

LESTER DENT “Angelfish.”
NORBERT DAVIS “Don’t Give Your Right Name.”
JOHN K. BUTLER “The Saint in Silver.”
FRANK GRUBER “Death on Eagle’s Crag.”
RICHARD SALE “A Nose for News.”
ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “The Bird in the Hand.”

   It’s been a year since I posted this link on my blog. Take a 30% discount on the prices you see here, which is how they’re priced on Amazon:

   Points of interest online, perhaps:

● A recent blog (only three entries, so far, unless I’m missing others) is called Crime Film Hub Daily, with links to news and reviews of, guess what, crime films online.


● From a follower of this blog named Greg Karber: “I’m a huge fan of fairplay mysteries, and I’ve channeled that affection into an interactive murder-mystery logic-puzzle game called Murdle.”

   “I’m trying to share it with people I think might be interested. The mysteries get more complicated and difficult throughout the week, like the crossword, so if today’s too easy, just wait for tomorrow’s!”

● From Bob Byrne, a regular contributor to the Black Gate website:

   “Back when the world blew up early in 2020, I began writing about a thousand words a day, about Archie Goodwin’s life, locked in the brownstone with Nero Wolfe.

   “I wrote about 42,000 words over 45 days, posting them nightly at the Wolfe Pack FB page.

   “I’m posting them weekly now at Black Gate, giving them a more permanent home. Here is this week’s entry – I’m up to Day 38:

         Black Gate/Nero Wolfe

   “Each installment includes all my prior Wolfe musings and stories, including a solo Archie adventure that won a Wolfe Pack contest last year.”

“To be or not to be: that is the question, whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”


“In one of the Bard’s best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.”

I spent the weekend in Bordentown, New Jersey. Big whoop, you say, but that otherwise totally innocuous town was also the site of this year’s Pulp Adventurecon. I had a great time — it was the first such pulp-paperback type convention I’ve been able to get to in over three years. More details — with photos — soon!


   I remarked in a review for somebody or other not too long ago that I thought I was out of step with the field, and I feel that way more every day. With very few exceptions, the crime fiction that makes the best-seller lists and even the books that sell the best at mystery bookstores are of types I don’t care for at all, or at least nearly as much as I do others.

   The bestsellers are more often than not slick, superficial, and padded in my estimation, and the most popular ones seem to be the literary equivalent of slasher movies. And if you took lawyers, thrillers, serial killers, and cozies off the mystery bookstore shelves you wouldn’t have enough books left for a good yard sale, and two-thirds of those would be historicals — and while I like the category, they’re getting to be a glut on the market.

   Trash proliferates, while many of my favorite series sell just enough to keep being published, and often make it to paperback late or never; e. g., Bill Crider’s Dan Rhodes, John Riggs’ Garth Ryland, Jonathan Ross’s George Rogers, John Malcom’s Tim Simpson, Jill McGown’s Lloyd & Hill, Jon Cleary’s Scobie Malone, Michael Bowen’s Richard Michaelson, Eric Wright’s Charlie Salter, Les Roberts’ Milan Jacovich, John Brady’s Matt Minogue, Michael Collins’ Dan Fortune, Stuart Kaminsky’s Porfiry Rostnikov, David M. Pierce’s V Daniel, James Sallis’ Lew Griffin, and a bunch of et cetera‘s.

   It just seems like anything between big/bloody and cute/ frothy doesn’t have too much of a chance any more. Oh well, hell, at least I’m better off than [some of you]  — nobody even writes classic detective stories any more.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995

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