Saturday, August 13, 2016
Greatest book of twentieth century
I am prone to fits of wild enthusiasm. I'm okay with having them. On the whole they are more enjoyable than my fits of wild rage. But either way there's a lot of spinning tires to all these fits. That is, I've got my engine racing, and the tires are spinning wildly, but things aren't really moving much, maybe at about the same speed as a slow walk.
I'm just saying that I don't expect to convince you with my wild enthusiasm. I don't expect to even slightly convince you. I'm even pretty sure I'll look back at this in half a year and not be convinced.
But I believe it now.
And anyway, it's not about how fast the car goes, because when it comes to all of this, this, there is never anywhere to get to. That is the secret we should always keep with us somewhere, maybe in a spare pocket, much in a way a another kind of person might need to have a note on them that says "Please don't bury me. I'm just a super heavy sleeper!" A fail-safe, if you will.
So just pretend, if you like, that we're merely moseying along, and pay no attention to all the burning and smoking rubber.
The Doorbell Rang, by Rex Stout, is the best book written in the twentieth century.
Yes, I know, there were a lot of books written in the twentieth century. Yes, some of them were super good. But I'm not going to list them for you. I am not here to make your argument.
I know that The Doorbell Rang is just another of 33 mystery novels about Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe. It's not the first of his. It's not the last. As I march along through my middle years as a writer, I rather like that Stout was pushing eighty when he wrote this book in 1965, but that doesn't really make any difference to what it is. It's not unique in his canon. It's not miles better or very much different that his other 33 Wolfe novels. But it is a little better than them, just like it's a little better than everything else.
When it comes to greatness everything is bunched up pretty close there at the top.
Here's the thing, sometimes when one reads one comes across some great sentence or passage that says so very much that one wants to share it. That's how I felt about the sentences in in The Doorbell Rang.
Oh, which ones?
Pretty much all of them.
But fine, here, almost randomly, because I don't go around underlining books, are two:
She did all right. A woman who can toss you a check for a hundred grand without blinking hasn't had much practice listening to reason from a hireling, but she managed it.
The answer was really simple, but of course that's one thing we use our minds for, finding complicated reasons for dodging simple answers.
Yeah, this book is funny, dead smart, and too perceptive by half. It messes with the FBI with a cold, light clarity, as if it's hardly even the point, and it does it right there in the mid sixties. It's a piece of work this book, an easy pleasure that can keep up any day of the week with anything Shakespeare has to say on the human condition.
So should you read it?
No. Not after I went and built it up so much.