Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Literary Traditiions Have To Begin Somewhere

When one thinks of traditions & observances, one typically thinks of religion based holidays; Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Easter, etc...; or a national observance; Independence Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving, and so on. One usually doesn't think of the literary realm as a source of inspiration for annual traditions. Yet, there are many traditions centered around honoring significant authors and their works.

Readers of The Bard flock to the Annual Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations in Stratford-upon-Avon each April. Mark Twain enthusiasts from around the world congregate at the Mark Twain Saloon, in Comstock, every 30th of November to celebrate the birthday of the classic American author. Inspired by the novel Ulysses, Joyceans in Dublin, and many other cities, celebrate Bloomsday every June 16th. The Old Man and The Sea inspired the formation of the Hemingway Fishing Tournament, which has been held at Marina Hemingway, 9 miles west of Havana, for over 60 years.

For the last few years, I've observed my own tradition in memory of my favorite mystery writer, Robert B. Parker. On January 18th, 2010, Parker and his wife, Joan, had breakfast together. She went out to do her running and when she came back, about an hour later, he was dead at his desk.

I didn't have the means to travel to Boston to attend his funeral. Since many fans call his books "Beer & Bullets Books," I spent the day of his funeral drinking beer and enjoying one of his novels. I spent the first anniversary of his death the same way, and plan on repeating the tradition on the upcoming second anniversary.

Some, who consider "genre fiction" to be a lesser literary form, may find it odd to center a tradition around the memory of a mystery writer. I'd remind such scoffers that he wasn't just any mystery writer. I'd remind them that in 1973, Robert B. Parker’s first Spenser novel, The Godwulf Manuscript, breathed new life into the hard-boiled mystery genre, which had essentially been dead for a number of years. I'd remind them that his career spanned over 50 novels, some of which were the first such books to feature gays, blacks, and other minorities as heroic characters.

Even the Novmber 17 issue of Publisher's Weekly recognized Robert B. Parker's work as having influenced many current writers of detective fiction. In fact, the article by Lenny Picker begins, "Thriller author Harlan Coben, who read Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels in college, once observed, 'When it comes to detective novels, 90% of us admit he’s an influence, and the rest of us lie about it.'"

I don't know if my particular tradition will catch on, on any kind of larger scale. I tend to doubt it. Nevertheless, out of respect for the enjoyment his works have given me, and out of gratitude for inspiring me as writer, I plan to honor the tradition for years to come.

1 comment:

  1. A very fine post, James. It reminds us of the power of words on the page and how we can find some writers who really speak to us.