Just bringing this discussion over to ning...

What books are you reading right now that don't have a narrative driven by images as well as words?

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"THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET": This is the second, and longest, of Poe's three tales of "ratiocination" featuring C. Auguste Dupin. The case of Parisian Marie Roget is based loosely on the real life murder of Mary Rogers of New York City. I read this story once before, in junior high school but, unlike Poe's other two detective yarns, I remembered nothing of this one. Comparing Poe's short stories to the two Agatha Christie novels I have read recently, I prefer the second one in both cases. The murders from both Murder on the Orient Express and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" are both highly unusual. Marie Roget's murder is much more mundane: Marie (Mary) is last seen leaving her house on  Sunday morning; on Wednesday, her body is discovered floating in the Seine (Hudson). 

Last summer I read Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and found the syntax of his prose to be nearly impenetrable. I often had to reread certain sentences to ascertain what, exactly, he was getting at. My wife and I even took turns translating sections into everyday speech. Poe's language isn't nearly so dense, but it is awful flowery. I think that is the main reason I remember nothing of this story. It doesn't present much of a problem to me today, but it was somewhat beyond my reading level at 14. 

Other than that, Poe follows the same basic formula of a TV forensic show: examine the body, determine the crime scene, eliminate suspects, etc. One thing he doesn't do (which is odd for a murder mystery) is solve the crime! He takes us right up to that point, then an editorial note reveals that the police were able to solve the crime after Dupin had taken them that far. Another odd aspect of the case is that Dupin solved it using only various newspaper accounts of the case (as, indeed, Poe himself must have done regarding the case of Mary Rogers).

I'll bet you can guess what I plan to read next. :) 

"THE PURLOINED LETTER": The last and shortest of Poe's detective stories. It is decidedly a one-trick pony. I'm surprised (no, not really) that he could stretch it out to 15 pages. Indeed, Dupin reveals that he has solved the crime not even halfway through, then spends the last half of the story explaining it. It's the kind of story that makes so much sense to a teenager, and little (if any) to an adult. My advise is to read it, by all means, but to read it when you are young

Poe's language isn't nearly so dense, but it is awful flowery.

Many years ago I read the original Frankenstein and Dracula books. They are like night and day. Frankenstein is of an earlier time when flowery descriptions were in fashion. Dracula is closer to a twentieth century style and is a lot easier to read.

Also many years ago I attempted to read James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. Apparently, it was written for people who had never seen a tree, let alone a forest, because he started off with elaborate descriptions of leaves and trees for several pages. I just gave up.

A couple of years ago, Tracy and I listened to an audiobook version of Frankenstein. At one point, the monster described a bird as a "little fluttering thing" (or something), and Tracy commented, "Wait a minute... he knows the word "[I forget which word she cited]" but he doesn't know 'bird'?"

I agree with you about Cooper. I had a hard time finishing The Last of the Mohicans, too (and I really wanted to because it was Hawkeye Pierce's father's favorite book). The five "Hawkeye" books were written wildly out of chronological order. I had the idea that they might "read" better in the order they occurred, but I could never force myself to find out. The funniest thing I have ever read (regarding Cooper) is the essay "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" by Mark Twain. the more familiar you are with Cooper, the funnier it is. 

I've got tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. I just reread that essay for the first time in 35 years. Sometimes I love the internet. Here in the future, instead of just saying, "I read an essay once," I can post a link directly to it and, if I want to read it, I don't have to go to the library. (Gives me an idea of what I may read next.)

Thanks for the link to Mark Twain's Cooper essay, which I happily reread. I read it along with a ton of his novels and short stories when I was in my teens. To use a term you have used, he was my "first favorite" author.

I think mine was probably Poe, but Twain was certainly the first non-children's author I read. After having Tom Sawyer read to me in early elementary school, I eventually read it myself for the first time in the fifth or sixth grade. But I didn't read The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King  Arthur's Court, etc. until later (after Poe), and I didn't read Huckleberry Finn for the first time until high school. In college, the same professor who assigned The Last of the Mohicans and the Twain essay also had derogatory things to say about Twain's follow-up to Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer Abroad, which I read today. 

TOM SAWYER ABROAD: Tom Sawyer Abroad is quite fanciful and seems to be made up of leftover ideas from Huckleberry Finn. Essentially, Twain put Tom, Huck and Jim in a room and just let them talk, except the "room" is a hot-air balloon they stowaway aboard and fly from St. Louis to New York, on a southerly course across the Atlantic to Africa, Egypt and eventually Mt. Sinai. Once they settle there, Tom sends Jim back to Missouri to fetch his pipe! There are some entertaining bits mixed in with a small amount of satire, but on the whole it's far too frivolous to be taken seriously. Yesterday, JD Deluzio suggested that Chester Gould "just kind of lost his way" during the "Moon era" of Dick Tracy; perhaps the same can be said of Twain's Tom Sawyer Abroad.

Back when I was in the sixth grade, my teacher taught a lesson that has stuck with me the rest of my life (at least so far) and has proven quite useful. Consider the following description of Huck's "Pap" from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: "He was most fifty, and he looked it. His hair was long and tangled and greasy, and hung down, and you could see his eyes shining through like he was behind vines. It was all black, no grey; so was his long, mixed up whiskers. There warn't no color in his face, where his face showed; it was white; not like another man's white, but a white to make a body sick, a white to make a body's flesh crawl--a tre-toad white, a fish-belly white. As for his clothes--just rags, that was all. He had one ankle resting on 'tother knee; the boot on that foot was busted, and two of his toes stuck through, and he worked them now and then. His hat was laying on the floor; an olf black slouch with the top caved in, like a lid."

Our assignment was to draw a picture of Pap based on that description and also to write a description of our own, of anyone we wanted to. But what I remember is that description, and of applying it to every description I was ever to read in a book from then on. (I was going to save this anecdote for the upcoming Goldfinger discussion, but it fits better here.) My original plan had been to follow Poe up with Doyle before I got sidetracked, but now I'm thinking of another (short) book to put me back on track for the weekend.

I'm happy for the digression to Twain (via Cooper), especially because it loops me back to where I was going anyway. Whenever literary detectives are discussed they usually include Poe's Dupin, Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Christie's Hercule Poirot. Usually not included is Twain's...

TOM SAWYER, DETECTIVE: Not nearly so fanciful as Tom Sawyer Abroad (with far less "minstrel show" material), Tom Sawyer, Detective does compare nicely to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. (Even The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn veered toward the silly near the end.) Like Death on the Nile, a large portion of it takes place on a paddle wheeler, and, like "The Mystery of Marie Roget," it is said to be based on a real case, as a note from Twain explains: "Strange as the incidents of this story are, they are not inventions, but facts--even to the public confession of the accused. I take them from an old-time Swedish criminal trial, change the actors, and transfer the scene to America. I have added some details, but only a couple of them are important ones."

I would say that the solution is perfectly obvious (and that the fun is in seeing how Tom solves it), but the actual resolution (regarding twins) is actually flipped from how I supposed. Richard, if you've never read Tom Sawyer, Detective, I suggest you seek it out. I read it start to finish in about three or four hours.

I have the link to the Project Gutenberg PDF and will read it in the next couple of days.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Richard, if you've never read Tom Sawyer, Detective, I suggest you seek it out. I read it start to finish in about three or four hours.

I'm just finishing Doctor No. It's been a long since I read a Bond novel, and I missed this one. It seems especially heavy on the racism, even for Fleming.

"Missed" as in I'd never read it.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

"...and I missed this one."

"Missed" in the sense you skipped it long ago, or not reading it in a while made you regret its absence? 


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