Homework: Hard-boiled

My guess is that a lot of writers now and then assign themselves homework, reading-wise. There are so many books out there and you don’t always want to grab, say, one of the Russian novels, or Dickens, or Updike, or whatever, and so you force yourself to read something and you take your vitamins and it’s almost always good for you. Not long ago I began on The Brothers Karamazov and I vow to get back to it (soon!), but for my most recent homeMalteseFalcon1930work assignment for myself, I went the other way, to hard-boiled crime. The Maltese Falcon, along with The Big Sleep, are the two hard-boiled crime novels you most hear about. And I’d never read much of this kind of story at all. Movies, of course, but not in books.

And so I finally (doesn’t that word apply to so much in terms of reading, especially books?) picked up The Maltese Falcon and am three-quarters through it. What I noticed first (and on the first page) is Dashiell Hammett’s (owner of one of my all-time favorite writer names) descriptions. They can be a lot to get around, at times. He loves to describe mouth expressions and the sets of eyes and the sparkle of eyes and different kinds of smiles. And there’s a lot of description of clothes.

But, for me, with this kind of book (as in a lot of big-budget, very fast-moving movies), it’s the profusion of characters that gives me the toughest time. It’s always: Who’s Archer again? A detective or the guy who was killed on page 20 or maybe a reporter? Maybe my medium-term memory’s not great. Not sure. So that’s been a challenge with this one.

But it’s a fun book. Very fast, with a new complication every chapter. It moves briskly and pulls you into the next chapter. Not much wasted movement. No internal stuff. All external. He kisses girls or he slaps them. And then he smiles in a certain way and that’s what happens.


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