"When I left, Merle was wearing a bungalow apron and rolling pie-crust. She came to the door wiping her hands on the apron and kissed me on the mouth and began to cry and ran back into the house, leaving the doorway empty until her mother came into the space with a broad homely smile on her face to watch me drive away.
I had a funny feeling as I saw the house disappear, as though I had written a poem and it was very good and I had lost it and would never remember it again.”
– Raymond Chandler, The High Window
Writers who get written about become self-conscious. They develop a regrettable habit of looking at themselves through the eyes of other people. They are no longer alone, they have an investment in critical praise, and they think they must protect it. This leads to a diffusion of effort. The writer watches himself as he works. He grows more subtle and he pays for it by loss of organic dash.Raymond Chandler
Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, “Raymond Chandler Evening.”
Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.
I learned about drinking whiskey, specifically bourbon whiskey, from Raymond Chandler. Actually, I recently read in his letters that Chandler was more of a gin man. So I really learned about drinking whiskey from Chandler’s alter ego, Philip Marlowe."Raymond Chandler and the Blue Dahlia Gambit," by Michael Norris.
Most critical writing is drivel and half of it is dishonest. It is a short cut to oblivion, anyway. Thinking in terms of ideas destroys the power to think in terms of emotions and sensations.Raymond Chandler
1958 audio recording of Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming in conversation about writing.
Recently a couple of people have mentioned to me that they are unfamiliar with Raymond Chandler’s books or have outright asked for a recommendation on where to start. So, here’s a quick primer.
Chandler published seven novels, which are (in chronological order): The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, The High Window, The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye and Playback. Reading them in roughly that order would not be a bad course to follow. Don’t start with Playback. It’s by far the weakest. And, even though it’s my favorite, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting with The Long Goodbye, either. I think that book has more power when you’re nominally familiar with Marlowe already.
If you’ve never read any Chandler and only have time for one novel, it’s hard to go wrong with The Big Sleep.
There are also several short story collections, comprised from his early pulp work, and a couple collections of letters. If you get really involved, I would recommend all of these, because even if they are lacking as a formal body of work, there are wonderful Chandler lines and touches scattered throughout them all like gems.
Also, Chandler wrote screenplays. The most famous is Double Indemnity, which was written with director Billy Wilder, but has Chandler’s trademark wit and sharp dialogue all over it. He also wrote The Blue Dahlia, which suffers from lack of restraint and inferior production to the other film, but it’s still a good noir.
I’m honestly not a big fan of any of the film adaptations of Chandler’s books. Most of the 1940s ones are fun watches, but I don’t think any capture Chandler’s spark. Yes, even Hawks’s The Big Sleep. I like Bogey. I like Bacall, but not in this role. It’s just missing something essential the book has.
Now, go forth and read.
Author Raymond Chandler’s wish to spend eternity alongside his beloved wife was fulfilled Monday after her remains were buried over his casket in a Valentine’s Day ceremony in San Diego.
More than 100 literary fans watched Cissy Chandler’s ashes arrive at San Diego’s Mount Hope Cemetery in a caravan of 1920’s-era cars as a Dixieland band played “When the Saints Go Marching In.” (NPR)
I was among the fans. It was one of the oddest, most eccentric groups of people I’ve ever been a part of, which of course thrilled me to no end. There were old men in three-piece pinstripe suits and fedoras with brims as sharp as knives and women in cat’s eye glasses and dresses with ruffled hems around their calves like seafoam. You could tell who were most of the writers there by their jeans and worn leather jackets and pale faces. I met a fantastic couple in period dress who drove up in a cherry red vintage convertible and in all honestly looked eerily similar to Ray and Cissy themselves. I was one of the youngest people there, although later a boy and girl with piercings and tattoos came by.
It was a strange experience, honestly. I listened to an actor who once played Marlowe read through his favorite Chandler lines and passages with all the music and slyness those words require. I met the woman who wrote this book, which I just finishing re-reading before my trip. I listened to tributes and prayers and a jazz band that, by coincidence, included the daughter of a mystery collector who had been one of the very few people at the location fifty years earlier for Ray’s funeral. The whole affair had a sincere and yet playful attitude to it. Which, of course, was perfectly fitting.
Do I feel better knowing Cissy’s ashes now rest with Ray’s casket? Yes, a little. Not for them, however. Just for us. Just for us and our conviction that the best in ourselves actually does matter and can even, sometimes, become reality.
P.S. I wrote a whole, ridiculously long essay on Chandler at my main website. If you’re into that sort of thing. There are also a few more photos, including the aforementioned fantastic couple, over at Flickr.