Chandler’s essay “the Simple Art of Murder” is the best essay on any topic I have ever read. He makes his points with clarity and meaningful examples, no cliches except where they make sense, and no convoluted, academic writing. He neatly summarizes at [least] half a dozen mystery stories from various authors and, for each, explains where it is good, bad, or both and why. It’s a long but riveting essay, and is also a lesson in how you can effectively make a case with well-reasoned piece. It taught me more about good writing than any course. It has a flow to it that shows how you go from stating your case, to making your case, to concluding and extending your case. Read and study Chandler’s essay and Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” and you can skip formal “good writing” classes–these two works are the best.
Damn! The hardworking staff hasn’t read The Simple Art of Murder in – what? – 30 years. So we pulled out our Ballantine Books paperback edition from 1972 (95¢) and dived back into Chandler’s famous down these mean streets manifesto.
We’ll spot you the first paragraph from the 1950 essay:
Fiction in any form has always intended to be realistic. Old-fashioned novels which now seem stilted and artificial to the point of burlesque did not appear that way to the people who first read them. Writers like Fielding and Smollett could seem realistic in the modern sense because they dealt largely with uninhibited characters, many of whom were about two jumps ahead of the police, but Jane Austen’s chronicles of highly inhibited people against a background of rural gentility seem real enough psychologically. There is plenty of that kind of social and emotional hypocrisy around today. Add to it a liberal dose of intellectual pretentiousness and you get the tone of the book page in your daily paper and the earnest and fatuous atmosphere breathed by discussion groups in little clubs. These are the people who make bestsellers, which are promotional jobs based on a sort of indirect snob-appeal, carefully escorted by the trained seals of the critical fraternity, and lovingly tended and watered by certain much too powerful pressure groups whose business is selling books, although they would like you to think they are fostering culture. Just get a little behind in your payments and you will find out how idealistic they are.
Sounds an awful lot like today, yeah?
Orwell’s Politics and the English Language coming soon.