Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In Praise of Agatha and LT

In addition to reading some poetry while we were at the (Washington) coast, I read an Agatha Christie novel, There Is a Tide, more recently known as Taken at the Flood. It's taken (so to speak) me decades to warm up to her books, and I still don't like them all, but I'm now very fond of the Poirot books. The Clocks is my favorite. There Is a Tide is a terrific Poirot book, too--and it's also a very good novel of manners--the crime and detection aside.

It includes some extremely astute observations about post-WW II England, its economy, the status and self-doubt of men who did not go to war (some farmers were exempt, for instance), and the views of women who did serve (as nurses, for example), who had "seen the world," and who returned with ambitions to be more than housewives and to live somewhere besides a cozy village. In the book, there's also a sense in which England no longer knows who or what it is when it isn't fighting the Germans anymore.

Christie's novels tend to develop a bit slowly during the first 30-40 pages, but one's patience is usually rewarded because her plotting is superb, deceptively tight, and she works well with an ensemble cast. There Is a Tide turns out to be a gem, and the bonus is that I secured an older, very pulpy paperback with a lurid cover--my favorite. Hats off to Agatha and Hercules.

As if reading Agatha Christie novels weren't sufficiently nerdy, I now rush to heap praise on LibraryThing, a site on which one catalogues all one's books, "tags" them, ranks them, reviews them, and on which one may join groups based on authors, genres, topics, periods and eras of literature, and so on. It's just too much fun. One may instantly generate "author clouds"--the more books you have by an author, the large the font is for that author's name in the cloud. One may also generate a photo-collage of one's authors. I was explaining all this to some people at a restaurant, for some inexplicable reason, their eyes got glassy. ("Check, please!") Gee, I wonder why.

There's a group on LT called The Black Orchid: A Nero Wolfe Group, dedicated (obviously) to Rex Stout's famous detective, and the conversational threads on there are hilarious--for their minutiae, their passion for Wolfe and Archie, their discussions of food, orchids, and NYC, and all manner of things, with wildly circuitous detours. I also started several groups--one called Working Class, one called The Harlem Renaissance, and one called Karl Shapiro and Company--all about mid-20th century poetry. --Also one on Robinson Jeffers and one on Langston Hughes. The latter two have yet to "take off," as it were.

It's astonishing (perhaps it shouldn't be) how much bibliophiles from every culture on the planet have in common. There are versions of LT in numerous nations and languages, but they are also linked to the main (U.S.) LT site, so I can (for example) get to the Swedish site via a group called (with typical Swedish obviousness) Swedish Thing. The conversational threads on that group-site are few, measured, deliberate, serious--and of few words, whereas Americans and Brits do tend to go on a bit (like some bloggers).

It's too bad (or maybe not) that bibliophiles don't have more political clout. --Which makes me think of one of my very favorite droll bumper-stickers: I PLAY THE BAGPIPES, AND I VOTE. Bag-pipe players and bibliophiles--political forces with which to be reckoned. Something arcane this way comes. Mere eccentricity is loosed upon the world, the ink-dimmed tide is loosed, and what rough first edition, its hour come round at last, falls off the shelf in Toledo to be read?
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