RE: RARA-AVIS: Hardboiled and noir commentary and criticism

From: Michael Robison (
Date: 02 Sep 2006

Chris M wrote:

Looking forward to the discussion this month.
  Let us know some of your favorite criticism books have been? I am under read on this subject when it pertains to hardboiled and noir, but one of my favorites was DIFFICULT LIVES by James Sallis.
  And how has all the criticism you've absorbed influenced your thoughts on new books as you read them? More questions to follow, I'm sure.



Glad you are enthusiastic about it. I am too! I liked Sallis's Difficult Lives, too. I've only read one fiction book of his (Longlegged Fly?), but I like Thompson, Goodis, and Himes, the three authors he discusses in Difficult Lives. If I recall correctly, he was a guest author here for a month.

Here are a few of the books I've enjoyed. Some of them I strongly disagreed with, but I enjoyed reading them because they forced me to form some kind a viable counter-argument. The top four are solid criticism. Gruber and Goulart's books are not technically criticism. Pulp Jungle is a personal memoir of the pulp magazine era between the world wars, while Goulart's Dime Detective Agency is a more distanced but also more detailed description of the pulp period.
 The last three move back into criticism.

Tough Guy Writers, Madden Noir Fiction, Duncan Hardboiled America, O'Brien Difficult Lives, Sallis Pulp Jungle, Gruber Dime Detectives, Goulart Detective Agency, Walton and Jones Saint With a Gun, Ruehlmann Pulp Culture, Haut

And here are three essays (actually Willeford's was a thesis), the last two fairly famous ones, about hardboiled and noir.

Writing and Other Blood Sports, Willeford Boys in the Back Room, Wilson The Simple Art of Murder, Chandler

This is not an exhaustive list, but it's a good one to start from.

This might sound funny, but I think a good way to start out shopping for books on hardboiled criticism is to choose them by the number of pages. Pick the short ones. Criticisms are often a great way to get new ideas on books to read. Oh! I recommend picture books too. Haha! Lee Server's Over My Dead Body is wonderful. Great pictures (even though some are chopped a bit), very short but great text also.

As far as how it has effected my reading experience, one of things I was afraid of when I started reading criticism and theory was that instead of enjoying the fiction I read, I'd become miserable analyzing them. Just the opposite. It opens up a little extra vista that adds to the fun I've always had reading.


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