Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Robert B. Parker

Trying to gather my thoughts. Still a bit boggled by the news of Parker's passing. As I mentioned earlier, I've been a big fan since the publication of The Godwulf Manuscript. The president of the college where I was teaching called me to his office and handed me a copy of the book. "This is the kind of thing you might like," he said, and he was absolutely right. Too bad it was a book club edition, or I'd have a real treasure (yes, I still have it; what did you expect?). Since that time, I don't think I've missed a single book, and that includes the YA novels.

Lots of people quit reading Parker years ago, for one reason or another. Not me. I stuck with him, and I've enjoyed every book of his that I've read. Some more than others, but I've never been less than satisfied. What did Parker have that made him one of my favorites? I've written about this before, but it's one of my favorite quotations, and so I'll repeat it. When asked why people were so devoted to his books, Parker said, "I think they like the sound of the words on the page." I can't speak for anyone else, but that's what draws me back, time after time: the sound of the words on the page.

I've joked before, and so have many others, about all the white space in Parker's novels, but when it comes to telling a fast-moving story with mostly dialog, and not much of it, Parker has few peers. His stories have a bit of depth to them, too, an emotional heft some people overlook.

I met Parker a couple of times, the first being in San Francisco in 1982 at a Bouchercon in the Jack Tarr hotel, or whatever it was called in those days. Right across the street from Tommy's Joynt, a spot Parker mentioned in one of his books published not too long after that Bouchercon. Parker was the Guest of Honor that year. I met him in the lobby, where he was waiting around for his room, which for some reason wasn't ready. He wore a red windbreaker with Ace (his nickname) embroidered on it. We talked for a while about this and that, probably our dissertations, which we'd written at about the same time about the same three authors.

It's hard to believe, but in those days at Bouchercon, a writer like Parker spoke in a small room with only 30-40 people in the audience, maybe fewer than that. He told a great story about giving up teaching for full-time writing. He said that he taught fewer and fewer classes and was finally teaching only one class a week. When he told his wife that he was going to stop teaching altogether, she said, "But it's only once a week." He answered, "Yes, but it's every week." Maybe you had to be there.

I don't have much else to say except, "Robert B. Parker, ave atque vale."



22 comments:

  1. I came to Parker late, just a half dozen years back, starting with the Spensers. I think I read them all, at that point, over the summer, adding the Jesse Stones and Sunny Randalls, the Marlowes, Appaloosa, and a few standalones.

    Some I liked more than others, but they were all a "comfort food," always delivering satisfaction.

    The first two books this month were the second and third Cole/Hitch novels.

    I will miss him once I've finished the last few books.

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  2. Such a loss.

    I hope his death was as (relatively) painless and quick as the initial reports suggest. I hope he was sitting at his desk, doing what he loved to do, and had paused to think of the next word he wanted to write.

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  3. This certainly is a shock. I think the first few Spensers are as good as anything Hammett or Chandler wrote.

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  4. I think we all forgot that Spenser was an iconic figure. He must have been one of the first one to integrate cooking, a steady girlfriend, a city other than NY and LA and many more things into a satisfying story. And those first six or so books were amazing.

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  5. Anonymous10:14 AM

    As one of those "stopped reading him a long time ago" guys this is still a major shock. We jsut watched the movie version of APPALOOSA a couple of weeks ago and it made me think about reading those books. I have read a few over the years - the Jackie Robinson book for one - but on the Spensers he was just going through the motions lately.

    RIP Ace

    Jeff

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  6. Such a loss. I feel as though I've lost a family member, or at least a close friend. I learned so much about writing from reading Parker's books, including my cherished signed copy of his hard-to-find book, Parker On Writing. RIP.

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  7. Like Jeff, I'm one of the ones who stopped reading Parker at some point. The books get thinner and the plots seemed to get thinner too. I guess I quit after Pastime. I really enjoyed the earlier novels, and will probably reread one or two of them now, though someone dying is a lousy excuse to read his books.

    RIP Robert B.

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  8. I was in shock when I heard the news. In fact, I couldn't believe it. He seemed timeless to me, but, of course, his books will keep him alive forever. I've read almost all his books, love his style. I've met him twice, once at the Edgars Awards and again at Murder By The Book. Such a gracious man. I will miss him.

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  9. I'm new to Spenser - I've read maybe a half dozen and I've more waiting in the TBR pile. I enjoyed the westerns very much. This is most sad news but he will live on through the books. God bless you, sir. Rest in peace.

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  10. I thought the Spenser series peaked with VALEDICTION, and I pretty much lost interest after CRIMSON JOY, but I admired Parker's popularity and durability nevertheless.

    If obits come in three, I suppose Kate McGarrigle is today's third. http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/kate-mcgarrigle-singer-and-songwriter-has-died/?scp=1&sq=kate%20mcgarrigle&st=cse

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  11. Sad news. Parker blew life into a moribund genre and inspired a generation of writers. Although some people hate Susan, I think when Parker put Spenser in a complex, committed relationship, he changed detective fiction forever.

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  12. This is so terribly damn sad.

    I wish I could be Spenser-on-the-spot and pull out a quote that would be immortally apropos. In the absence of a reason to feel anything good at the moment, however, grief is all there is.

    All I can say further is that it takes a damn fine man to create anew what is heroic about the human spirit.

    Make your heroic exit, Robert, with all due recognition of your wonderful valor.

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  13. I've been with Parker since the '80s and, like you Bill, have stayed with him. In mid-90s my wife and I bought paperback editions and re-read the entire Spenser canon together. Jeez, I'm gonna miss him.

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  14. I've enjoyed nearly every Parker I read, altough my reading went from new hardcovers to new paperbacks to used paperbacks (possibly a reflection of my bank balance as anything else). Last month I saw a Jesse Stone movie with Tom Selleck and was much impressed. I love the Westerns. I had no idea Parker was that old; he seemed timeless.

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  15. Yes, and I agree with most of it.

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  16. I discovered Parker just last April and have enjoyed my way thru 28 of the 37 Spenser books...I am never disappointed when I sit down to relax with Spenser and am disheartened to think that when I start & then finish The Professional, I will have read his last. I was looking forward to MORE! I guess that I will go on to Jesse Stone next.
    Thank you, Parker, for all of your wit and research and talent. I will miss you.

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  17. "Yes, and I agree with most of it."

    Well, shoot. That's flattering and more than a little shocking.

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  18. I particularly liked your comments on the individual books.

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  19. Anonymous11:06 PM

    I just started reading his novels 3 years ago while i was in the midst of chemo for colon cancer. i hadn't been reading for fun for years but i loved his books from the first one i picked up. i spent many contented weeks on my couch in the family room reading all his spencer, jesse stone, and sunny randall novels. i read his books thru a custody suit and thru teenage warfare and drama in my own house. just this morning before i left for work i was lying in bed with my dog rereading an old one. for me he was pure comfort, enjoyment ,and entertainment. what a loss but what a gift.

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  20. Great tribute. Thanks.

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