Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: The Atlantic

A look back at Elmore Leonard,          America’s best crime writer?

Elmore Leonard’s death last year sparked a wave of, not only glowing obituaries, but retrospective articles on his large body of work.  When he died in August, he was working on his 46th novel.  If you’re not familiar with him, several recent articles in print and online provide a good introduction and suggestions for reading (and viewing) Leonard’s work.

Identified as a crime writer–and before that a writer of westerns–Leonard transcended genres, some reviewers say, raising his literary esteem several notches.

“Many critics argued that, if anything, the reference to the genre slighted his contributions,” says Christopher Orr in the current issue of The Atlantic.  “Martin Amis described him as ‘a literary genius’ and ‘the nearest America has to a national writer,’” says Orr.

Born in New Orleans, Leonard and his family moved to Detroit where he went to school and graduated from the University of Detroit with a degree in English and philosophy.  From there he became an advertising copywriter until his novels started to pay off.  He began writing westerns, but as the popularity of that genre faded in the late 1960s, he switched to crime, the territory for which he’s best known.Elmore Leonard

Sidestepping the crime novels, a New York Times Magazine article at the end 2013 focused on the westerns.   Had the market for westerns not dried up, writes Charles McGrath, Leonard might have continued with them for the rest of his career.

“Leonard’s westerns are not just good for their kind.  They’re good, period: spare, taut, soundly constructed,” says McGrath.

“Leonard’s goal, unlike that of so many self-consciously literary young men back then, was not The New Yorker but The Saturday Evening Post, which paid better and was read by more people,” McGrath writes.  “He cracked it only once, in April 1956, with a story called Moment of Vengeance.”

Many of Leonard’s stories and novels, including the westerns, became motion pictures, but, says Orr in The Atlantic, many of the movies were bad.

“If the sheer number of Leonard adaptations is remarkable, what is more remarkable still is how few of them are any good,” he says.

In his seemingly overly critical analysis, Orr says that the early movie adaptations of his–“3:10 to Yuma,” “The Tall T,” “Hombre”–were successful but that when Leonard turned to crime writing, “studios lost their knack for translating him to the screen.”

More than two dozen movies were based on Leonard’s books.  They provide plenty of raw material for criticism.  Orr praises the successful “Get Shorty” as one of the best and its sequel, “Be Cool,” as one of the failures.

“Get Shorty” is surely one of his most popular and critically acclaimed novels, not a bad place to start reading. For other suggestions, two recent online articles, one in the Huffington Post and another on Litreactor.com, list Leonard’s “ten best.”  Eight of his books, including “Get Shorty,” “52 Pickup” and “Killshot” appear on both lists.

Hyperlinks:

The Elmore Leonard Paradox by Christopher Orr   The Atlantic  

 Leonard obit by Charles McGrath in New York Times Magazine

 Huff Post picks ten best Leonard novels

 Mini reviews of 10 best Leonard novels in Litreactor.com  

Flash of genius part 2:                            Short attention span theory

It can’t all be blamed on Google, but our attention spans are getting shorter.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah. According to a recent BBC report, university students have a 10-minute attention span. Does that seem like a short time? The Associated Press reported in 2010 that many advertisers were switching from 30-second commercials to 15-second spots in an attempt to hold viewers’ flagging attention.

Still reading? Good. A recent story in the UK Guardian, cited a report showing that up to 32 percent of consumers will abandon a slow-loading website within one to five seconds.

“People have been saying that computers are making us dumber basically since computers existed,” writes Adam Clark Estes in The Atlantic Wire. “Then the Internet came, eventually bringing Google into existence, and any hope for the future of intelligent life spiraled off into cyberspace.”

As Estes notes, in 2008, Atlantic writer Nicholas Carr got everyone’s attention with an article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid.” He followed it up with a book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. Both the article and the book provide abundant examples of how otherwise educated, intelligent people are having a hard time maintaining focus on a lengthy piece of writing.

Enter flash fiction? Not necessarily. Tara L. Masih a flash fiction writer and editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, thinks that a short attention span is nothing new. “The reality is that our attention span has been getting shorter and shorter for a long time, due in large part to the Industrial Revolution,” said Masih in an email interview. “So…shorter pieces in periodicals did cater to a population that had less time to read and was more literate in general.”

As attention spans grew shorter in the 19th century, says Masih, it created an opportunity for writers such as O. Henry and Edgar Allen Poe to make a living with short stories.

Regardless of when our ability to grasp more than a paragraph or two at one time started to fade, the Internet, cell phones, 15-second commercials and a variety of other electronic distractions seemed to have paved the way for flash fiction. Even though short stories have been around for a century or two, the term flash fiction seems to have arrived just in time. (See previous blog entry.)

Says Grant Faulkner, editor of the flash fiction magazine 100 Word Story. ”I think [flash fiction] is popular because of the distracted nature of our society these days. It’s something people can get their minds around.”

Next: How well do you know writers of short mystery fiction?

Hyperlinks:
Students’ 10-minute attention span
Is Google Making Us Stupid?
the Atlantic Wire
100 Word Story:
The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

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