Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Way Some People Read

Periodically, I get very interesting email from readers of this blog.  Some like to discuss their latest find in a rare or used book shop.  Some ask me questions on where they can find books outside of the vast shopping mall we call the internet.  Some just pass on compliments and "keep up the good work" kinds of messages.  But then I get comments left on older posts that while definitely discussing vintage crime fiction are so intriguing or vital they deserve a post all their own.  Also, since these comments appear on posts from years ago chances are not many of you current readers will ever see them.  And so I decide to share them this way. Leading us to this tidbit of news...

Peter Quinones has a blog he calls Postmodern Deconstruction Madhouse, an academic in-joke if there ever was one.  Here he shares with readers a variety of essays and presentations he has made or plans to make at American Library Association conferences.  He has discussed Shakespeare's Macbeth, Saul Bellow, John Updike and most recently and at length the work of Ross Macdonald.

He has come up with a checklist of recurring themes, motifs and conceits in the Lew Archer novels and in his reading he applies them as they occur (or don't) and writes up his impressions.  So far he has covered The Moving Target (Archer's debut in print), The Drowning Pool, Black Money and most recently The Way Some People Die which inspired the title of this post.  Quinones considers this last book he's reviewed the best of the Archer novels. Bet he hasn't read The Chill or The Galton Case yet.

We always seem to be talking about detective novel tropes on the vintage mystery blogs whether we use the literary term or not.  And I know that I'm always looking for writers who subvert those tropes of the traditional detective novel and private eye novel. Those are the crime fiction writers who most appeal to me, whether they are firmly rooted in the past and were trying to reinvent the genre or are contemporary writers blazing new trails. But for anyone interested in this type of literary criticism in detective fiction I highly recommend you trot off to Peter's blog and read his essays.  I enjoyed them a lot.


  1. Thanks! Sounds like a blog I'd enjoy.

  2. That is indeed a very interesting blog. I have only read two of Ross Macdonald's books (recently enough to remember them) and this will be a great resource when I read more. Thanks for pointing this out.

  3. And here I thought Tropes was a resort town in the south of it's St. Tropes. Yes, that's it.

    Of course you know I'm not serious. Thanks for the steer.

  4. Tropes in the sense of genre convention isn't a literary term, it's an internet term (though it's starting to creep into academic prose too now). Trope in the classical sense (from ancient Greece until the late twentieth century) meant a figure like metaphor or metonymy. I suspect someone influential got confused with topos, which does mean roughly what the internet thinks trope means.

    1. How about that! For years I strictly used the term motif and then I found myself using the word trope, not even realizing that I had fallen under the spell of the internet misuse of the term. Thanks for enlightening me. This is the kind of thing that really bothers me and I am often the one pointing out the misuse of a word. For instance, the fact far too many people now use the phrase "Isn't it ironic that..." when what they really mean is "Isn't it coincidental..." Irony and coincidence are two completely different ideas. Using trope as a synonym for a literary motif is just as wrong and I'm going to stop doing it today.

    2. The first instance of the modern use in the OED is from back in 1975 "Barthelme is funning with the eternal trope of fatherhood", which is admittedly pre-internet. But I think that the use became popular on the internet before it had any real currency in academic circles. It irritates very slightly, because it causes confusion with a well established usage. But to be honest there's not that much need to use 'trope' in its classical sense, so it doesn't really do any harm.

  5. John, I often discover comments in earlier posts, some a year or two old. I assume the post came up when the commentator Googled for something. Thanks for highlighting Peter Quinones' blog. I'd be interested in reading his impressions of Lew Archer novels.


Comment Approval is turned on for this blog. I review all comments prior to publishing them.