Sunday, August 05, 2007

Out of Print

Over at The Bunburyist, Beth Foxwell has been blogging about some of the books on the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstone List of mystery novels. Today she's posted a list of the listed books that are currently out of print. It's a long list, and it makes me wonder: does the list really matter anymore? Like Beth, I've been concerned with a general lack of knowledge (or even interest in) the history of the mystery, but maybe the H-Q list is outdated. Maybe if they were making the list today, they'd put other books on it. Maybe the books they included are irrelevant to today's readers and their concerns. Even if that's so, however, shouldn't people know about the history and care enough to read at least a few of the books that got us where we are today? It's a complicated question, and I'm too limited to answer it.

13 comments:

Todd Mason said...

Well, there are precious few novels from previous centuries, or even just the previous century as these mostly are, irrelevant to today's concerns, I suspect...maybe some of these are a bit pokey, but probably not too many nor too much. Having just read a 2005 interview with E.F. Bleiler, who treasures the historical importance of even work he considers literarily substandard, I suspect most if not all of these would stand up pretty well in comparison with, at very least, the usual run of today's work...if publishers and book chains weren't running scared.

Bill Crider said...

I'm big on the historical importance, too. But more and more people just don't seem to care.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

I believe that we as writers and readers can learn from the HQ list (Dorothy B. Hughes as irrelevant? Please. I consider _In a Lonely Place_ to be one of the finest novels I've ever read). Our colleague Dean James has said that time and again, he's had someone say to him, "I have a unique idea for a mystery," only to have Dean say, "X and Y did that in A and B."

We should also consider what's in print on the list: such titles as _Brighton Rock_ by Graham Greene and _The Moving Target_ by Ross Macdonald. Are these works irrelevant? Others, such as Evelyn Piper, are better known for other works (in Piper's case, _Bunny Lake Is Missing_).

I believe there may be only one person alive on the out-of-print HQ list: the 91-year-old Dorothy Salisbury Davis.

Bill Crider said...

Believe me, I've heard people say that books by writers like Raymond Chandler aren't relevant. They prefer books written within the last 10-15 years and don't care about much else.

Graham Powell said...

Styles have changed quite a bit, so I'm not surprised that they have fallen by the wayside.

But there are a lot of worthwhile books, on the list or off it. I have recently been reading a lot of golden age mysteries by the likes of John Dickson Carr, Rex Stout, and Philip MacDonald, and they are still very entertaining.

It's odd, but since I've started shopping at the used book store I have a real aversion to reading anything written in the last 20 years. I probably only read one recent novel per month.

Randy Johnson said...

I own copies of most Ellery Queens(at least the ones featuring Ellery). But The Tragedy of X is the only one in that series I've read. In today's CSI world, this style of mystery no longer seems relevant. And I've been looking for a reasonably priced Meet The Tiger(no luck) for years.

Bill Crider said...

You're getting a great education, Graham.

Randy, I love those Ellery Queen books, relevant or not.

Jess Nevins said...

I'd certainly agree that the list is important. But I'd also agree--and for my current book I've read nearly all of them in the past couple of years--that many of the books on the list haven't aged particularly well and have a series of buried assumptions which make them not particularly enjoyable to read.

Bill Crider said...

I think those "buried assumptions" bother a lot of current readers. I don't think it's just older mystery novels that are affected, either.

Vince said...

It's an important question, Bill, and I don't know where to come down on it either. Nowadays it seems each generation is inspired by the one that directly preceded it and not much else. I've read interviews with filmmakers who don't feel the need to watch older classics because the directors they take their cues from already did. It's not the same thing. I'm all for each generation developing its own voice, but a sense of history enriches the result.

Bill Crider said...

I agree. I think the same situation exists in the SF field, and I'm often asked to talk on the "old guys" panel at both mystery cons and SF cons. I still remember the ConMisterio panel to which Scott Cupp brought a lot of old paperbacks to give away, and hardly anybody wanted them.

Juri said...

Interesting question to which I have no answer. Sure, some of the books are dated, but as Bill has himself said here, we can attach to the older times and reading habits and cultures. It's like learning a new language. I've been reading some pretty obscure and totally forgotten Finnish writers (not even crime, but mainly mainstream) for a book I'm writing and have come up with some pretty interesting examples. They are dated to be sure, but we can put that aside and learn.

You'd think, though, there might be a niche market for reprints of these books. Isn't that what "the long tail" is all about? (Referring to the term that the Wired mag guy invented.)

Juri said...

Another comment: maybe someone should do another list, the top hundred crime novels that haven't been dated with newer ones that are already classics? I should start, but... it's lunchtime soon.