Le plus grand

I don’t read mysteries or detective fiction, but it’s not that I don’t try. Every couple of years I see a review of someone who writes this sort of stuff, and decide to give his work a try, and usually—almost always— I quit halfway through whatever it is, with a meh taste in my mouth. Only Simenon really does it for me, and I wish I could say why. His stuff tends to the repetitive, and the style, in English translation as well as French, isn’t much, understated in a nice way but that’s it. And The man who watched the trains pass, supposedly his best, struck me as arch and pretentious. But so much of the rest of his work is so good. Anyway, for those unfamiliar with Belgium’s finest, here’s a good introduction, from John Banville, writing in the LA Weekly.

Moby Dick by email, an update

A few weeks ago, I signed up to have DailyLit.com email me Moby Dick, in 250-or-so chunks, arriving at a three-a-week pace. I’ve tried to read the thing probably a half-dozen times before, in book form, but have never gotten more than a hundred or so pages in—usually I get more absorbed in some other book, and set it aside, though at least once I found myself bored.

I hoped reading it by email would be easier. I don’t mind reading onscreen, and getting though a few emails a week is no trick. Also I figured that once the going got tough, as it does when reading anything that’s long and dense with whaling lingo, I’d be more likely to plow ahead if doing so meant selecting and opening an email, rather than confronting a thick book.

And so far, so good. I’m about twenty emails in, and I’m both keeping up and enjoying myself. Will this last? We’ll see. But to this point, I have to give DailyLit.com a big thumbs-up.

Punch me harder

Lincoln Allison on the insufferable sentimentality, and indisputable power, of Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”:

“Yet when the little mite pipes up with, ‘God bless us, every one’ can I harden my heart? Can I implore the author to kill him off in a coaching accident? Can I say, ‘Bah! Humbug! Boil the little bugger with onions!’ No, I cannot; my lower lip wobbles with everyone else’s.”