Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hawk or Ranger: Who is Cooler/Tougher/Sexier?

There's a debate that has come up occasionally among my mystery-loving friends (typically the females) as to which sidekick is cooler/tougher/sexier: Hawk from Robert Parker's Spenser series or Ranger from Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books. Now I actually have a way of determining an answer, albeit a totally non-scientific one.

I have posted a poll on the right side of this page that allows you to vote on your favorite: Hawk, the mysterious, wise-cracking, semi-criminal, always dangerous heartbreaker who has saved Spenser on more than one occasion; or Ranger, the mysterious, serious, ex-military, always dangerous heartbreaker who saves Stephanie Plum in almost every book.

I understand that the results could be skewed by the fact that many younger readers may not be familiar with Hawk. If that's the case, go right now and buy some of Parker's books. You won't be sorry.

As for my own vote, I made the decision this way: if I was trapped in an alley in Hell's Kitchen with only 4 bullets left and the Westies bearing down on me, who would I want by my side (at this point who's sexier really doesn't seem all that important)? Hawk, 100 times out of 100.

And just so the readers who like their sidekick a little more Victorian don't feel left out, I added a third choice to the poll: Dr. Watson of Sherlock Holmes fame.

May the best man win.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day

Here's an idea (and a link) that I think is worth sharing. Saturday December 4th is the first annual "Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day."

Organizer Jenny Milchman explained the goal of the event in an interview with Shelf Awareness: "We all know how much children love books. We've all heard them beg for a story, and seen their faces light up as they listen to one. But we think less about how a child would love the place so many books come from.

"A bookstore can lead a child to a book, with guidance and interest from booksellers, in a way that no website or digital device can. It's a place to read, dream, and play. A world of stimulation, and a refuge in a stimulating world.

"In order for bookstores to thrive and flourish in the future, children have to experience the unique pleasures they offer today."

She's summed it up much better than I could, and it's hard to believe no one thought of doing this before. Let all of your friends (and your local booksellers) know about this event.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Remembering Robert Parker

It's been almost a year since Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser detective series novels, died at the age of 77. Since 1973 Robert Parker has published 38 Spenser novels (and there are additional completed ones awaiting release), and particularly through the early books single-handedly saved the hardboiled detective legacy of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross Macdonald.
It is not going too far to say that nearly every author writing detective fiction today owes a debt of gratitude to Robert Parker. Writers from Dennis Lehane to Robert Crais have acknowledged this fact in interviews, and for you Janet Evanovich fans, just understand that Spenser's Hawk paved the way for Stephanie Plum's Ranger.
It is no secret that Robert Parker idolized Raymond Chandler, and in what had to be one of the greatest experiences of his life was asked to finish the manuscript for "Poodle Springs," a novel begun by Raymond Chandler before his death in 1959. He later wrote "Perchance to Dream," the sequel to Chandler's classic "The Big Sleep." His work on both of these novels is only fitting, as Parker long ago joined the ranks of the Big Three of Chandler, Hammett, and Macdonald.
I first started reading the Spenser novels over 25 years ago, and since that time the trio of Spenser, Hawk, and Susan Silverman have been my companions through long winter nights and lazy summer days. Through them I discovered the city of Boston, not necessarily as it is but as Spenser (and Parker) saw it, which is likely better by far. And I identified with Spenser's unique combination of romantic cynicism.
Various critics have said that some of the books, particularly in the mid-1980s, were not up to the standard set by the earlier novels, but that misses the point entirely. While some of the plots were better than others, what readers cared about was the characters; over the course of the series we got to really know and care about them, and each new book was like a reunion with an old friend. The fact that there will be no new reunions after the final books he wrote are released is still hard to fathom.
I never met Mr. Parker, but I feel I got to know him somewhat in the only way one can ever really know an author: through his characters, particularly the inimitable Spenser. He said in an interview once that there were a number of similarities he shared with his famous character: they were both Korean War veterans, and both loved baseball, jazz, and fine food.
"He does a great many things I don't believe," Parker once said in an Associated Press interview. "I don't know if he's more violent than I am. But he's more willing to enact it than I am. Let's just say we're not dissimilar."
So to Robert Parker I say thank you, for everything. While he may be gone, readers and fans can be comforted by the fact that Spenser lives on, just like Hammett's Sam Spade and Chandler's Philip Marlowe. And through him a part of Robert Parker will live on, both for those of us who grew up reading his words and for generations not yet born. I can't think of a much better legacy than that.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Film Version of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" Will Boost Reading

Two weeks from now Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, the seventh in the phenomenally successful Harry Potter film series, will be released to eager fans who have waited 16 months since the last film. Television, radio, and the Internet are awash with clips from the film and interviews with the stars, particularly "The Trio": Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson.

Make no mistake, the Harry Potter franchise is big business in a way never seen before. The books have sold over 400 million copies, and once the film series is completed in 2011, the films are expected to have grossed roughly 7 billion dollars. That's not a typo: $7 billion. While the Star Wars films posted huge numbers at the box office, the books that were written afterward dramatizing the films only appealed to a small audience. And while The DaVinci Code (inexplicably) sold a mountain of books, the film was less than spectacular. The Potter franchise is a double hit, made more impressive because this is a series of books and films that has continued to captivate audiences for more than a decade.

What may have been overlooked in the frenzy leading up to the film's release is the effect it is likely having on reading this fall. The Harry Potter book series may have wrapped up with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows three years ago, but millions of kids, teens, and adults are re-reading the book prior to the November 18th opening of the movie, and many others are reading it for the first time. Given the fact that Deathly Hallows is a 780-plus page book, this is no small feat.

Furthermore, the book/film relationship has sparked an ongoing debate among readers over what has been left out of the film adaptations, what has been changed, and whether or not it's a good thing. Hopefully, such a debate will move readers beyond the fairly simple fan loyalty stage to a point of realization that many films started out as even better novels. The film versions of The Maltese Falcon, The Godfather, and The Lord of the Rings were indeed classics; the books were no less so.

As good as the Potter films are, the books remain king in this relationship. For more than a dozen years, J.K. Rowling and her boy wizard have done something many thought impossible: they made reading cool again, for adults as well as children. Prior to 1997, who would have imagined that millions of children would attempt to read an 800-page book in one sitting, or that their parents would be anxiously waiting for them to finish reading so they could start?

Each year a new wave of these children discover the books, sometimes before seeing any of the films, sometimes after, and often just before the release of a new Potter film. With the Harry Potter books, Rowling opened up a world of imagination to a generation of kids who thought for anything to be entertaining it had to have a plug, a screen, or an Internet connection. And these kids (and hopefully their parents as well) will keep reading, if only in the hope of finding another book or series that grabs them the way Harry Potter did.

Even if Rowling never writes another word, people everywhere who love books owe her a debt of gratitude for making reading a novel something we, and more importantly our children, look forward to. The newest Potter film may or may not be the best in the series so far, but it certainly has brought attention back to the books once more. That's a win-win situation for everyone.