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100 One-Night Reads

A Book Lover's Guide

100 One-Night Reads by David C. Major
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Readers everywhere know that nothing soothes the spirit like sinking into a really good book. If you're one of that happy band, you'll quickly recognize the authors of this inspired reading guide as kindred spirits. Here David and John Major have chosen one hundred books that can each be delightfully consumed in one quiet evening. Covering categories from fantasy to fiction, history to humor, mystery to memoir, this addictive volume features books to match all your moods—by both celebrated writers and gifted unknowns, including:

•  Russell Baker  •  Willa Cather  • Raymond Chandler  •  F. Scott Fitzgerald  • Graham Greene  •  Edith Hamilton  •  Dashiell Hammett  •  Helene Hanff  •  Ernest Hemingway  •  Patricia Highsmith  • Shirley Jackson  •  Henry James  •  W. Somerset Maugham  •  Mary McCarthy  •  Walter Mosley  •  Vladimir Nabokov  •  Patrick O'Brian  •  Barbara Pym  •  Phillip Roth  •  Vikram Seth  •  Isaac Bashevis Singer  •  C. P. Snow  •  Dylan Thomas  •  Evelyn Waugh  •  Edith Wharton  •  Laura Ingalls Wilder  •  Virginia Woolf

Each selection contains an entertaining discussion of what makes the book special, from an adventurous writing style to a unique sense of humor. The Majors also share insights about the authors and literary anecdotes, as well as recommend other gems on a similar subject or by the same author.

A literary companion to relish and refer to again and again, 100 One-Night Reads is a masterpiece in its own right!

From the Trade Paperback edition.
Random House Publishing Group; December 2008
336 pages; ISBN 9780307480897
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: 100 One-Night Reads
Author: David C. Major; John S. Major

Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago but spent most of his early life in
England. He attended Dulwich College and fought with Great Britain's
Royal Flying Corps during World War I. After the war he re-turned to
America, settled in Los Angeles, and had a successful business career
during the 1920s in California's booming oil industry. He was wiped out
financially by the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression that
followed it, and began to write crime stories for pulp magazines to make
a living. Persevering in this precarious career, he won acclaim in 1939
with the publication of his first novel, The Big Sleep. He wrote six
more novels over the course of the next two decades, all featuring his
tough-guy detective hero, Philip Marlowe. In 1943, Chandler began to
write film scripts as well as novels and stories, and he achieved
considerable success in the gritty and often grim films that French
critics would later call cinema noir.

Chandler's novels were strongly influenced by the work of his
con-temporary Dashiell Hammett (p. 92), to the extent that Hammett and
Chandler are sometimes described as founders of a "California school" of
hard-boiled detective fiction. (A notable feature of Chandler's novels,
especially, is that they convey very effectively the atmosphere of
corruption that was characteristic of Los Angeles politics and the
city's police department and criminal justice system for much of the
twentieth century.) Philip Marlowe is a tough character whose attitudes
and personal code are very much in the mold of Hammett's Sam Spade,
though Marlowe is, generally speaking, a classier sort of detective than
Spade and deals with a richer, more polished clientele. Like all heroes
of the genre, Marlowe is essentially a lone wolf who lives by his own
private moral code. He is interested in justice more than in material
success, and will sometimes (as in this novel) pursue a case further
than his client has asked in order to satisfy his own sense of what is

In The Big Sleep, Marlowe is hired by aging, infirm General Stern-wood
to look into attempts by parties unknown to extort money from him in
what amounts to blackmail. The general's daughters are both involved in
unwise activities. Vivian, the beautiful elder daughter, is a compulsive
gambler, which has given her some unsavory associates; these include her
recently disappeared husband, Regan, an ex-bootlegger and Irish
Republican Army veteran. The younger daughter, Carmen, is a seriously
disturbed personality whose problems include substance abuse,
promiscuity, and a total lack of moral sense. One element of Carmen's
difficulties is that she has been photographed naked by Geiger, a
distributor of illegal pornography. (Given the ubiquity of porn
nowadays, it seems rather quaint that part of the plot of this novel
turns on a conspiracy to distribute dirty pictures. How times change!)
Geiger's business, in turn, is involved with that of Eddie Mars, a
promoter of gambling and other illegal activities, who is someone with
whom Vivian has been involved.

Of course, all of these people are immersed in murky dealings that
involve one another, and other parties as well, in unexpected and
labyrinthine ways. Marlowe's job is to disentangle as much of this as
possible while remaining true to himself and while shielding his client,
the noble and admirable General Sternwood, from learning too much about
the unsavory activities of his daughters (though he guesses a great deal
anyway). Romantic sparks fly between Marlowe and Vivian Sternwood, but
the circumstances under which they meet make it impossible for a
relationship to develop. At the end of the book, Marlowe is as he was at
the beginning, a loner and an idealist.

This is a very entertaining read, even if not every element of the plot
holds together as tightly as one might like, and even though it is no
longer possible to summon up the expected amount of outrage over
Geiger's illegal activities. Marlowe is a wonderful character, and
Chandler's spare, tough language is exactly appropriate for the genre.
It is fun for the dedicated crime-novel reader to observe, too, how
later practitioners have learned from this early master of the form. The
1946 film of The Big Sleep, starring the immortal team of Humphrey
Bogart and Lauren Bacall, is a true classic (William Faulkner worked on
the excellent screenplay).

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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