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I feel a little down in the dumps these days. Mrs. Cohn Zohn is still recovering from her hip replacement and we don’t go out much. And I feel like I have things on my mind, more than usual.

When I go through periods like this one, I read like a maniac. I read a lot anyway. But at times like these I read escapist literature. About 10 years ago, I read about 20 books by P.G. Wodehouse, a comic genius and a prose genius.

This time I’m reading Elmore Leonard. I have read nine of his books in the past three or so weeks. I can’t stop. None of his novels is what I’d call a great novel — although several, like Rum Punch, are very good. But in every novel there is great writing, stuff I drool for. His dialog is a model of how to write dialog. And his prose style, so lean, so American, is up there with any American writer you can name. Anyone.

So, thank you Elmore Leonard, thank you for your crooks and your sociopaths and your wise guys and your protagonists who are like cowboys even if they aren’t cowboys, and your tough savvy women. Thank you. Thank you.

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Comments

30 Comments

  1. NeverWrong

    I agree. He makes some of the lauded “literary” writers look like a bunch of children. I think his only weakness is the way he cites rock and roll songs. He’s just a little too cool for school when he does that, but I suppose he can’t help himself. Even Thomas Mann went to too great length sometimes, to show off what he knew. Now for another “bestseller” who happens to be better than any of the “serious” writers out there. That is Walter Mosley, at least in his superb volume, “Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned.” Irving, Franz, Morrison, Rushdie, Moore can only wish.

    February 26th, 2013 11:46 am

  2. CohnZohn

    Thanks, NeverWrong

    February 26th, 2013 11:50 am

  3. moto

    Dr.Cohn, happy new year and may all go well with your spouse’s recovery and rehab. have you read any of the works of Ha Jin, the Chinese author now living and working in the U.S.? if you have not, consider “War Trash”.

    on your recommendation, we went to see ‘Life of Pi’. can only describe it as a pleasant diversion — too much of it was computer generated effects, and the most interesting section with the family life in India was too brief. understandable that a professor of writing might fancy the movie. the film we enjoyed most last year was “Tree of Life” by Malik, and if you have not seen it yet, perhaps you’ll consider it. Malik transformed the conventional film narrative form and incorporated stunning images of the natural universe. reminded me of great fiction that combines different narrative forms in a single work.

    February 26th, 2013 11:50 am

  4. CohnZohn

    moto, Thanks so much for the recommendations.

    February 26th, 2013 11:51 am

  5. Ben

    it’s a bit on the dime store fiction side, but since you said a lot of your reading is escapist i’m not ashamed to recommend it: i get a kick out of Nelson DeMille, particularly his protagonists. witty stuff, and a few of his books (up country, etc.) have some thought provoking historical scenery. also, since i’m living in south florida for the next six months or so for business, i’ve been turned on to carl hiaasen. don’t know if you’ve ever read any of his work, but it’s light, entertaining and smart.

    February 26th, 2013 12:02 pm

  6. CohnZohn

    Thanks, Ben. Hope you enjoy Florida

    February 26th, 2013 12:06 pm

  7. Stan

    The old chronic Melancholia. I have a bit of that. Its a funny feeling..it can be triggered by a smell,a sound of an airplane,or car,or even a breeze…and its the 1960′s,and up flooding back.
    I think too much brainpower causes it-lol. There’s no cure. I’m not sure anybody wants one.

    February 26th, 2013 12:11 pm

  8. Dr Nick

    P.G. Woodhouse is amazing. Truth be told, he was responsible for my being hooked on the “Jeeves and Wooster” TV series, played by Steven Fry and Hugh Laurie.

    February 26th, 2013 12:33 pm

  9. Jack Orion

    I like Leonard’s Kill Shot the best. Made a decent movie of it too.

    Last time I was laid up with the flu I read through about 8 Charles McCarry spy novels. Funny how idleness can lead to devouring books by one author.

    February 26th, 2013 12:44 pm

  10. Streetglide

    Don’t sell Elmore short. In the past, I told you that you were in his league so stop writing hit pieces on the Coach… ;- ).

    You don’t see his novels as “great,” yet you’ve read how many recently? His cowboy stuff is darker, slower, mostly written in the ’50s when he was a young man. Some of those are truly great.

    Elmore seduces you with his breezy style but no one plots better than him, moves the story at proper pace or keeps track of the details. You know he is great because he makes it look so easy.

    His writing has been the basis of numerous movies and there’s a teevee series based on one of his novels. Elmore is almost 88 now and still writing. I am confident he will be rediscovered 50 years from now and be hailed as one of the best writers of the 20th Century.

    I’m writing a novel myself. It’s about an over-the-hill sports writer of a certain age who takes his wife to a beach town in Uruguay. He spends his days lolling at a café drinking Argentinean Malbec, eating finger food and plotting his book while populating it with oddball characters. Then one day he gets a call from the States; a lawyer tells him his son has been sentenced to six months hard time for plagiarism. It goes on from there…

    Oops! Gotta go…

    February 26th, 2013 2:46 pm

  11. Phil Brown

    I’ve been the hospital most of the time since December-out mid March-and I’ve been rereading the triller/detective canon-Chandler, Cain, and Macdonald mostly. I’d forgotten what a really good writer ross Macdonald was.

    February 26th, 2013 4:30 pm

  12. Streetglide

    Uruguay is a cool country…

    February 26th, 2013 5:05 pm

  13. Steve the cat rescuer

    A few movies you might like, if you don’t mind subtitles: A Separation (Iranian); Headhunters (Norwegian); Monsieur Lazhar (French Canadian).

    February 26th, 2013 5:39 pm

  14. Jim Bancroft

    Lowell, have you read Leonard’s ‘Tishomingo Blues’ yet? It’s one of my favorites.

    Also, if you haven’t read any of the Flashman books, I’d certainly recommend giving them a try.

    February 26th, 2013 10:04 pm

  15. Streetglide

    Tishomingo is terrific and so is “Touch.” I cannot remember then name of the one set near Orlando about the woman who swims wit the manatees. Maybe that’s “Maximum Bob.” Great read…

    February 27th, 2013 6:17 am

  16. Streetglide

    “With” not wit; I knew that. And if you want to watch a fabulouse movie, find “Twilight Samurai.” Japanese title is Tasugari Sebe. It starts slow but is beautifully filmed, acted and directed. It will tell you everything you need to know about Japan as well as being a man. The postscript is something else…

    February 27th, 2013 6:20 am

  17. lameduck

    LC, today is a beautiful day. Get out and go for a walk around Lake Merritt or visit the bay. You live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It will always be there, but today can be a great day. Enjoy it!

    February 27th, 2013 9:45 am

  18. Mike

    One of my math professors, who was also a very good friend gave me “The Most of P.G. Wodehouse” many years ago. I was called to jury duty, and in those days you had to wait in a lobby for days sometimes before being called. I sat reading P.G., and I’m sure many thought I was completely nuts as I laughed out loud several times. I also really like Elmore Leonard–I’ve read everything my local library has in stock. You obviously have good taste. I wonder if your escapist reading a decade ago was when the World Trade Center went down. I immersed myself in some Wodehouse and “The Maltese Falcon” too.

    February 27th, 2013 11:35 am

  19. Stan

    Maybe its time for you to get a dog Lowell. Going for walks is the only help. Working up some endorphins on a nice day,and your new best friend wagging his tail in full enjoyment of life.
    That’s always nice.

    February 27th, 2013 12:07 pm

  20. JohnJPDX

    Jim, I’m on my fifth Flashman book and they are great escapist books. LC should check them out. So far I liked “At the Charge” best. Elmore Leonard I burned out on, good books but same plot – person with training gets in trouble away from his backup and has to fight his way out alone…

    February 27th, 2013 12:43 pm

  21. Bob In Portland

    NeverWrong: Loved Walter Mosley’s stuff. I like a lot of the Lawrence Block stuff. He’s cranked out several great series. There’s one character who’s an alcoholic former cop now PI. In one of the early books he gets drunk in a way which was every bit as convincing as the protagonist in “Under The Volcano”. As the series goes on his capers are interspersed with finding AA meetings around Manhattan and drinking bad coffee while listening to other alcoholics struggle with their burdens.

    He’s got another character who’s an effete bookstore owner who also happens to be a burglar. More light-hearted than his other series but very entertaining.

    February 27th, 2013 1:23 pm

  22. Mike in N. Oakland

    Hope your wife feels better.

    My wife had back issues, so I somewhat know the feeling. You need a good ol’ Jim Harbaugh press conference altercation to make you feel better.

    I’m trying to rack my brain to see what other Bay Area sports person would interact with you in that way. Can’t think of one, can you? Brian Sabian?

    February 27th, 2013 2:42 pm

  23. Jim Bancroft

    John, ‘Flashman at the Charge’ was excellent, but my personal favorite so far (of the five I’ve read) was ‘Flash for Freedom!’, the most un-PC book I’ve ever read.

    February 27th, 2013 4:16 pm

  24. Steve Strunk

    Try “Ridin’ The Rap” & “Pronto”

    February 27th, 2013 7:50 pm

  25. CohnZohn

    Mike in N. Oakland, Sabean and I have an admirable working relationship. The only head coach/manager with whom I have issues — and who has issues with me — is Harbaugh.

    February 27th, 2013 8:20 pm

  26. Streetglide

    And who started the bad blood between you and Jim Lowell-san?

    February 28th, 2013 7:11 am

  27. Stan

    That New Zealand film director eaten by a Great White Shark is was reported had written on his Facebook page that to relax he enjoyed some Pinot wine,catch a movie,and read an Elmore Leonard book.
    You see Lowell? It could be worse. You could have been eaten by a shark.

    February 28th, 2013 4:46 pm

  28. Stan

    Also,I too am reader of fine literature. I just finished the complete works of Dr. Suess. The intricate Kafkaesque plots and dark humor are timeless. ‘Green Eggs and Ham’,I highly recommend.

    March 1st, 2013 4:18 pm

  29. mbabco

    Lowell, you might enjoy the TV series Justified, starring Timothy Olyphant as a U.S. Marshall in Tennessee. It’s based on a book by Leonard. I’ve enjoyed it a lot.

    March 2nd, 2013 12:36 pm

  30. CohnZohn

    mbabco, I’m all over Justified. Thanks.

    March 2nd, 2013 7:18 pm

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