Before becoming glittery mall hang-outs, bookstores varied from city to city and included dusty holes that somehow fit vast collections of used books. As kids, we used to tunnel for hours through these marvelous places. I discovered Out Of The Night by Jan Valtin, Black Lamb, Grey Falcon by Rebecca West, and My Eskimo Friends by Robert Flaherty. The bug bit and, to this day, I browse the few remaining independents and used bookstores whenever possible.
I became a great fan of long books, having at one time a running joke with pals about convincing authors to sell their fiction by the pound. But then I discovered truly fine writing—such as any sentence by Paul Bowles—and realized that, after a while, reading great fiction was both exhausting and stimulating.
Best of all, over the decades, I have found a few writers whose books can be reread, some even more than once, and yet be fully enjoyed every time—a rare quality that indicates a classic. Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad and Ernest Hemingway wrote such books.
But in “genre literature”, such as pulp fiction, few authors compress mood, atmosphere and character so well that their books require multiple readings. They are not classics, but they can be reread, which for a parched throat is just as wet. Lee Child is a near-classic thriller writer. John LeCarre crafts flawless and stunning spy novels. That both are British is not accidental. They write better than we do. Compare Michael Connelly to Lee Child. No contest. Or Tom Clancy and Le Carre. Ditto. It’s a matter of clear and effective writing—page after page, time after time.