Sunday, March 16, 2008

Big hello for 'The Long Goodbye'

Good news for mystery lovers: The Chicago Public Library has selected Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled 1954 whodunit The Long Goodbye as its new "One Book, One Chicago" choice.

The idea is to get Chicagoans -- or as many of them as possible -- reading and talking about books rather than mugging each other. Libraries and cities all over the United States do this now, but Chicago was one of the first early adopters.

Trying to pick a book with enduring literary value and popular appeal is always a tough job. It helps if a good movie was made from it, allowing a multimedia celebration.

The library folks started out well in 2001 with Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird -- a truly inspired choice, although some in the literati sniffed at it -- and in 2002 with Elie Wiesel's harrowing Holocaust chronicle Night.

Then the library stumbled in 2003 with Willa Cather's My Antonia, a novel that reeks of dusty academia. Other dubious choices followed, such as Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of the Maladies and Julia Alvarez' In the Time of the Butterflies, both excellent literary novels with small appeal to the blue-jawed sex. Likewise, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice thrilled every eighth-grade girl in town, but not, I suspect, the boys.

There were two first-rate Chicago-oriented choices: Lorraine Hansberry's play Raisin in the Sun and Stuart Dybek's exquisite short stories Coast of Chicago. Walter Van Tilburg Clark's The Ox-Bow Incident, a 1940 Western, at first seemed an odd choice but its message about vigilantism touched many minds as well as hearts. (The 1943 film was a great one, too.)

The most recent choice but one, Arthur Miller's The Crucible, a play about witchcraft trials with echoes of McCarthyism, is already studied in high schools, insuring a wide readership.

Not a bad record, and one made even better with the choice of The Long Goodbye, a literarily seminal work as well as a hell of a readable popular novel. I plan to reread it -- my first experience came sometime in the 1960s -- and will soon report here on my reaction.

Surely I will learn some new writer's wisdom. I've never forgotten Chandler's casual remark, "A really good detective never gets married." That's what comes to my mind every time anyone asks me if Steve Martinez and Ginny Fitzgerald, the lovers in my mystery novels, will ever go to the altar.

Meanwhile, April is full of celebrations for Chandler in Chicago -- screenings of the movies, readings, discussion groups and the like. The Chicago Public Library has an extensive web page detailing them.

[Full disclosure: Annie Tully, my daughter-in-law, is the coordinator of the "One Book, One Chicago" program.]


  1. I stumbled on your blog, (long journey, longer story) and have to tell you I have spent the last 20 minutes lapping it up. Delicious stuff. I will be a regular

  2. Thank you, David. Leave lots of comments.

  3. This is a great selection, and further proof that Chicago is a wonderful town for crime fiction.

    I think I'll have to dig out my copy and read it again as well. (It's my favorite Chandler novel.)

  4. p.s. I noticed in the Sun-Times story about the selection that they reported THE LONG GOODBYE as "Chandler's last book." It wasn't -- PLAYBACK was published 5 years after it.

  5. It wasn't I who made that error, thank goodness. I make plenty of my own.