I think I’ve said before that one of my favorite quotes from literature is the famous passage from Nelson Algren‘s A Walk on the Wild Side: “Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.” I heard the passage before I knew it was Algren’s, indeed before I knew there was such a person as Algren. I certainly didn’t know about his career as a writer, and the first time I heard of The Man with the Golden Arm, I confused it with a James Bond movie. (In fairness, I was nine when the Bond flick came out, while Algren’s book and the subsequent movie were before my time.)
But even if I didn’t know the man or the work, I heard something in those sentences and that voice that resonated, and if someone asked me the difference between hard-boiled and noir (which I hope doesn’t happen, as folks have talked the issue to death — to no one’s satisfaction), I think I’d point to that passage as an example of the latter.
What called all this to mind was that Norton has published Colin Asher’s new bio of Algren, Never A Lovely So Real. At the New Yorker, Jonathan Dee (a novelist and prof at Syracuse) offers a review that makes me think the bio is worth checking out.
Meanwhile, as I begin to think of my summer reading, I find myself interested in reading some of the writers who influenced my influences. Specifically, I think I may try diving into John O’Hara (Mr. Block is a fan) and Irwin Shaw (cited frequently by William Goldman, including in the semi-autobiographical The Color of Light.) (Side note: Shaw and Algren were apparently both more-or-less blacklisted during the Red Scare era.) And maybe it’s time to re-read Algren as well.
That’s one of the nice things about my line of work — whether I’m teaching or writing, there’s always a reason to read something cool.