Earlier this summer, I thought, what would be even more useless a career skill than knowing a lot about nonfiction books? And the answer, of course, was knowing a lot more about genre fiction than I used to.* I jest, of course. I am lucky enough to use my small store of knowledge about books and grammar to cobble together something resembling a living (for which I am VERY grateful). But you'll have to forgive me--lately I have just been very pessimistic about our economy and the state of reading and knowledge in general, figuring that some day in the near future I will have to do what my Grandma always wanted me to do, go to school for nursing, and find some job security that way.
Although I really, REALLY, don't want to stick needles into people. Does anyone know? What level of nurse training has job openings but doesn't require that basic skill?
But I digress. When I took a break this summer, I did so at least partly to open up some time for fiction, primarily genre, reading. And most of the books I read were okay; they kept me reading until the end, although I've now, only a couple of weeks after the fact, pretty much completely forgotten what they were about. I have this problem with fiction. With nonfiction I can just look at a title and it seems to stick with me for years (pushing out, I can only assume, other valuable knowledge like my spouse's social security number, where I put the extra filters for my Brita water pitcher, and family members' birthdays), but with fiction, I read it and forget it. Very frustrating.
One book I will not be forgetting was my favorite in the bunch: a classic caper novel, from 1970, titled The Hot Rock, by Donald Westlake. I'd long heard Westlake was kind of a funny crime writer, and this title, the first in the "Dortmunder" series, seems to bear that out. When Dortmunder gets out of jail, he intends to stay clean for all of two minutes...until an old friend picks him up and convinces him to head a jewel heist operation. The heist goes wrong, many times over, and hilarity ensues. I loved everything about this book. I loved the writing:
"...when Dortmunder finally started to walk off along the sidewalk, Kelp started the engine and steered the long black car slowly down the street after him.
It was a pretty good car, a Cadillac with side curtains, Venetian blinds across the back window, air conditioning, a gizmo that would keep the car moving at any desired speed without having your foot on the gas, a gizmo that would switch down your high beams at night when another car was coming, all sorts of labor-saving devices. Kelp had picked it up last night down in New York...he'd gone shopping for a car last night, and he'd found this one on East 67th Street. It had MD plates and he always automatically checked those, because doctors tend to leave the keys in the car, and once again the medical profession had not disappointed him."**
I loved that it smelled old, and had library stamps in it from September 1985 (all the way up to a handwritten 2-19-09). I loved that it was a caper novel without computers or cell phones. I loved Dortmunder, and his entire crew. I loved that Mr. CR blew through it too and seemed to enjoy it as well.
Today's fiction lesson? Donald Westlake rocks.
*To add to my other one skill, my encyclopedic knowledge of BBC programs, as well as of BBC stars and who they're all married to. Congratulations to James McAvoy and Anne-Marie Duff (two of my favorite Scot/Brit actors), by the way, on the birth of their first son earlier this summer.
**My inherent dislike of doctors dictated that I find this paragraph extremely amusing.