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Reading – Part Four: The Fat Man

It’s not that this series brought me back to reading or anything, but I want to talk about it and whose web space is this anyway? Yeah, so, you just sit there. You sit there and you read what I’ve written about a series of books that probably ended before you were even born.

Actually, let’s address this for a moment, most the books I read are by dead authors. I assume it’s because I have some sort of affection for an older style of writing, cheaper books, or for days gone by. Yeah, that’s probably it. It’s probably the days gone by thing. I dream of the days when people knew that “contact” was not a verb and hipsters hadn’t ruined everything by using the word “ironic” to mean… whatever the hell it is hipsters think it means. A simpler time, when being 300 pounds was extraordinary, when being OCD was merely called having “quirky” habits, having a Swiss chef wasn’t yet common place, and growing orchids on a rooftop in Manhattan was something you only did if you had lots and lots of money. Now, all those douchebag hipsters do it, ruining those simple pleasures forever. Damn hipsters.

So yeah, if you haven’t guessed yet, and I suspect only four of you have, I’m talking about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series. Now this links nicely to the bit I posted yesterday, because the A&E channel comes into it again. See, in 2000 they made a one off TV movie, that led to a show called A Nero Wolfe Mystery, which was based completely on Rex Stout’s writings. In fact, so complete was the transition that any little changes tend to jump out at you. Those changes tended to be small, and were generally put in for production reasons, so it’s no problem. It was a great show, but it only lasted two seasons. When it came out on DVD, I got interested in the series again and decided to get some of the books.

Now, there is a reason why this wasn’t higher on the list or really part of the original trilogy of posts. While I’ve got the entire series on audiobook, and indeed is the only series in all the ones so far mentioned where I’ve got them all, I’ve actually only read two of the books. And Four to Go & Too Many Cooks. I listened to the rest, getting them one set at a time from libraries and recording them myself onto the computer. I have downloaded very few books, opting to buy them or borrow from the library. Then I would record them digitally and listen to them first on a MiniDisc Walkman then an ipod and even later than that an ipod nano. Why did I tell you all that? Just so you’d get where I’m coming from. I just want it clearly understood that I haven’t listened to the radio since 1991 and I have no idea who that DJ you keep referencing is or what the wacky morning show guys did this time which is the same tired crap they’ve been doing since about 1924.

Point is, the Nero Wolfe series is probably my favorite book series of all time. I have actually read all of it, or at least listened to all of it, several times and I greatly enjoy it.

It’s a story in the Watson style, which is a name I invented for this style of work. The Watson Style is one in which a less intelligent character describes his or her adventures with a brilliant character. The Watson is usually competent, but less so than the genius. We see The Watson from Sherlock Holmes, to the Jeeves stories of PG Wodehouse, to the Philo Vance and into this series. It’s dropped off a bit the last few decades, but you still find it from time to time.

In this case, Archie Goodwin talks about his boss, Nero Wolfe. However, unlike many of the other stories, Archie is not worshipful of Wolfe. If anything, Archie is sort of contemptible of his boss, calling him a big fat bum and deriding him almost as much to his face as he does in the narration. Archie’s job in the books is to present a foil for Wolfe and as much as anything else, a tack for Wolfe. He prods Wolfe into motion, getting him to work on the problem at hand and not drift off into the sort of ADD lapses that affect all geniuses.

The stories are a bit different from a lot of the mystery you got at the time when they started. Stout was standing between two worlds, writing drawing room murders while they were being turned away by the hardboiled detective stories that were emerging from the pulps. If anything a nice contrast is struck between those two worlds with these two detectives. Archie would have been a rough and tumble hardboiled detective, if not for his association with drawing room style Wolfe.

As a result, the stories a strike a good and at the time anyway, popular balance between the two worlds. Stout’s books sold very well, and were made into movies and radio shows back in the 40s, as well as at least one other television series that I’ve never seen. The A&E series is probably the most popular though, or at least the one that is most well known to the current generation.

The books themselves are a little obscure these days though, most people haven’t ever read one. Like Wodehouse, another formerly popular writer that’s rarely read by kids these days. Probably, the lack of interest is because of a lack of purity about the books. They aren’t pure drawing room, they aren’t pure hardboiled. They’re not completely hetro-normal, but they’re not actually queer literature either. These are muddled books, standing firm at the crossroads of time, and as such must be read for enjoyment rather than actually used as examples of great popular literature from the early 20th century. Of course you can read the books academically if you want, you can read anything that way if you desire, but you’ll have more fun if you just sit back and let Archie think about shooting whatever book Wolfe is currently reading out of his hand. At this angle it would be a cinch and he wouldn’t risk hurting Wolfe at all.

February 4, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment