This is in response to a challenge from Hawkeye Pete Egan B. — what person, event or thing, if changed, would change everything in your life?
Even though there have been a lot of people without whom I would be a completely different person, and several events that changed the course of my life radically, I am going to go with specific things, the most important things in my life. I cannot imagine my life without them.
Books. I love ’em. Love isn’t a strong enough word. I loooffff them! There isn’t a word in my vocabulary that matches how I feel about books.
My mom HAD to teach me how to read when I was 3 years old because I would not leave her alone to read to me. From that time on, all I needed was a corner, or a seat, or just a carpeted floor — I didn’t need any other company. I had no desire nor need for a brother or a sister when I was a child. Well, I wanted a dog. But that’s a different story.
As a child, I worked my way through the classics, a lot of them American authors — Mark Twain, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, James Fenimore Cooper, to name a few. There were Russian and British writer, poetry and prose, of course.
But the very trajectory of my life as a reader changed when I discovered a serialized story by Georges Simenon. My parents used to get literary magazines, and after a while, they would bind the magazines together, creating a sort of large book. I began reading Simenon’s mystery, starring Inspector Maigret. I remember, very clearly, a passage in it. The detectives studied the bullets that killed their victim, and find them to be sharpened. It showed to them that the killer hated the victim, and was thinking of how to inflict the most damage. However, the killer was an amateur, because sharpened bullets would actually do less damage (not spreading on impact). That detail floored me. That one tiny thing, that bit of wisdom or trivia, it imprinted in me. It was there and then I fell in love with mysteries, and it was a love that never left me.
When we emigrated to the United States, and I began to read books in English, for reasons unknown to me, I began with Agatha Christie. Because I studied British English (rather than American English) in Minsk, her writing didn’t seem strange nor difficult. I preferred Miss Marple mysteries to those of Hercule Poirot, since the little Belgian detective tended to cheat (withhold clues), but read most of them, indiscriminately.
At age 13, I read my first Sherlock Holmes mystery. It was love and admiration at first read. More than that, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books blew my mind with the brilliance of Holmes, and with the knowledge that his skills and methods could be learned.
When I moved to Jackson, Wyoming, in 1990, the first thing I did was get myself a library card (this is something I always do whenever I move to a new place, hence library cards from Cape Girardeau, Missouri and Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa). The library, at that time, was a small, dark wooden cabin, bursting at the seams with books. Armed with my card, I asked the librariann for books that inspired one of my favorite TV show — Spenser for Hire. She showed me the already not-small amount of them. I was thrilled, and promptly checked out the very first one in the series.
Spenser was a tough guy who read, who recited poetry, and came from the background of being in the military and being a boxer. A tough yet sensitive and literate thug. I have read noir before, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler being two of my absolute favorites, but their heroes, while tough, were not going around spouting quotes from classical poets, nor were they fighters prior (although some were cops). Spenser had wit and cynicism, like the others, but he fell in love, and was loyal and monogamous (after the first book) throughout the entire series.
Then came other series with tough guys and women, who were smart as well as courageous, (although not all were righteously moral) from writers such as Dennis Lehane (Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro), Sarah Paretsky (V.I. Warshawski), Mickey Spillane (Mike Hammer), Ross MacDonald (Lew Archer), Walter Mosley (Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins), John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee), Henning Mankell (Kurt Wallander), James Ellroy (way too many to mention), Joe R. Lansdale (Hap Collins and Leonard Pine), Lawrence Block (Matthew Scudder), David Housewright (Rushmore McKenzie) and Chris Knopf (both Sam Acquillo and Jackie Swaitkowski, although they often appear together but also have different books). But then again, Robert B. Parker also diversified from Spenser, with Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall characters.
This is far from a complete list, but I have wondered far into the listicle isle, and that wasn’t my intention when I began writing this blog. It’s difficult for me to stop when writing about books, suffice it to say I am a product of my environment, and my environment is one filled with books. Books, especially mysteries, are the things that have shaped me.