Lawrence Block has just collected his non-fiction writings about his milieu in a hefty anthology, The Crimes of Our Lives.
As any DTM reader might guess, this is a soft lob. I adore crime fiction to the extent that I’m kind of an amateur historian; Block is one of the greatest living practitioners and a keen observer of his peers.
I’ve gotten to know Larry and Lynne a bit. Between that friendship, my library, and a certain amount of perpetual internet stalkage, I had seen probably 70% of Crimes of Our Lives already. But how wonderful to have it in one place with a firm editorial hand. And there’s no doubt that pieces I had previously read went down just as smoothly the second or third time.
One of the highlights was new to me: A multi-part overview of Block’s earliest days as a grunt at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency. This collection of reminiscences should be looked at by anyone trying to write fiction.
Among the gems I’d seen before is a profound (this is not too strong a word) analysis of Robert B. Parker. Block’s critiques of Mickey Spillane and old pal Donald E. Westlake are similarly valuable. Other authors discussed include expected names like Hammett, Chandler, Ed McBain, Charles Willeford, plus a few others that aren’t so familiar such as bank robber-turned author Al Nussbaum and the entirely forgotten pulpsmith Henry Kane.
You’ll have to read that one yourself to know why Kane warrants a chapter. I’ll give you a teaser, though: It involves a rather graphic suggestion about the sex life of an extremely famous actress.
In the aforementioned chapters on the Scott Meredith agency, Block praises fellow Meredith jarhead Barry Malzberg and notes that his memoir “Tripping with the Alchemist” covers similar ground. I located that essay in the Malzberg anthology Breakfast in the Ruins.
The book is a good read overall. Science fiction is not my bag in the same way that crime fiction is but there a lot of juicy stuff here even for a civilian. The long comparison of Isaac Asimov to Leonard Bernstein is brilliant.
Malzberg’s style occasionally can be rather overwrought and self-involved for my taste; on the other hand, that passionate reach may just come with the genre.
In these two anthologies, both Block and Malzberg write about Fredric Brown. Naturally enough, Block covers the crime Brown and Malzberg the science fiction Brown.
In either genre, Brown was at his best when writing fantastical ideas with a hard-boiled edge.
However, it was working within a genre that unlocked his genius. Not too long ago I finally got a gander at his rare “serious” novel The Office. Wow, was that a boring read.
Genre is almost always crucial. The older I get the more I appreciate that a picture fits in a frame.
Podcasts are now a medium with a multitude of genres! Even Fredric Brown didn’t see that coming.
On the last TBP tour I skeptically listened to most of Serial.
Essential reading for fans of Serial: The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm.
Also valuable: Laura Lippman’s take. Lippman’s a pro. She was a Baltimore reporter who saw the crimes firsthand, then changed jobs to become one of our best crime fiction authors. I highly recommend her latest novel, Hush Hush.
To add one more thing about Serial not covered by Malcolm or Lippman: Serial‘s genre is ostensibly true crime, but actually the affect is more like “transformational memoir.” The big recent success that comes to mind is Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert.
So, my theorem is: True crime + Eat, Pray, Love + podcast = Serial.