Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A writer who reads

Larry McMurtry, a prolific writer who also happens to be a prolific reader, surprised me when he observed in one of his books that many writers don't read all that much. Visiting in authors' homes and looking over their shelves, he said he often sees few books other than those they have written themselves or that have been sent to them by publishers hoping for some kind words to use as a blurb. I had always assumed that reading, whether for research or inspiration, was a prerequisite for writing.

Laura Lippman
One writer, other than McMurtry, who does read a lot is Laura Lippman. I have commented on this in past posts. Her crime fiction has numerous literary references, and in her personal appearances she often mentions books she has read. So when I read Baltimore Blues, her first Tess Monaghan novel, I decided to make note of her literary references. There turned out to be more than I expected.

She places three quotations at the front of the novel. One is from H.L. Mencken, "Of all escape mechanisms, death is the most efficient." Another comes from a letter written by a Baltimore doctor. later published in an 1873 book. The third consists of lines from A.E. Housman's poem, Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff. That Housman poem comes up twice in the 324-page novel, and another Housman poem is mentioned as well.

W.H. Auden
During the course of her story, she mentions, usually through her characters, Thomas Hardy, James Thurber's Walter Mitty character, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce (Cain, in fact, pops up again and again in the novel), W.H. Auden, W.B. Yeats, Ernest Hemingway, John Milton, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, A.S. Byatt, Edgar Allan Poe and Don Quixote.

In addition, Tess works part-time in her aunt's used bookshop, and the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore is referred to as "a place of wonders to Tess."

All this is in a murder mystery that could be classified as light reading. Best of all, these many literary references contribute to the plot without getting in the way.

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