Jan 20, 2010

Robert B. Parker: Farewell to a tough-guy writer

originally published in salon.com

How the crime novelist taught me to stand up for myself and taught my son about the carnal pleasures of reading 

 By Steven Axelrod 

OK, that's a slight exaggeration. He didn't sit with Nick and sound out the vowels and work on the phonics textbooks. But he made Nick want to read and that's more important than all the vocabulary tests and grammar lessons put together. I gave Nick "Mortal Stakes," "Looking for Rachel Wallace" and "Early Autumn" when he was in eighth grade. Up until that moment he had never read a book for fun. Schools aren't too big on fun, and don't seem to understand the carnal pleasures and quiet consolations of a good book, whether you're waiting on line for a movie (I read "Schindler's List" waiting to see "Jurassic Park" -- thanks, Steve), or waiting for your father's funeral, which is when I burned through the Harry Potter books available at the time.

It was my dad who gave me my first Robert B. Parker Spenser novel, "Taming a Seahorse." I had just landed at LAX after a long plane flight from New York. He handed me the novel and said, "This will take care of your jet lag."

Dad loved Spenser's tough, unsentimental style and his dry wit.

I remember Spenser correcting an unamused thug who had just remarked that "Everybody's a comedian," noting, "You haven't said anything funny." Threats like "I'm going to kill you" were always met with a precise and ironic "You're going to try." When Spenser goes back to the crippled billionaire whose family's murder he avenged in "The Judas Goat" to ask for money so he can rescue Hawk in "A Catskill Eagle," the old crank is amused by Spenser's casual admission that his only interest is money and Spenser's complete failure to suck up to him during the intervening years. Spenser never schmoozed and he never faked it. Some friend of Hawk's once asked him, "What do you see in that big white guy?" And Hawk replied, "He does what he says he's going to do." For Spenser that constitutes a whole philosophy of life, but I remember thinking at the time -- "That's it? What's the big deal?"

That was before a thousand missed appointments and a dozen fizzled partnerships, before a hundred letdowns, big and small -- many of them with me at fault. Gradually, I learned the depressing, repetitive fact of life: Almost no one actually does what they say they're going to do.  READ MORE....

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