June 04, 2011

Mystery: Solved?

I can't really explain my daily blogging all of a sudden, except to say that it feels like some sort of dam has broken and I'm just enjoying writing again. It's also nice to know that people are reading and enjoying the posts, so thank you for your feedback.

Not that I expected anyone to catch it, but the title of the last post was a play on the title of one of my all-time favorite books, Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout. There was a reason I chose it, as the Nero Wolfe novels played a huge part in that teenage desire to learn "real cooking." Aside from the fact that I have always just loved food and both my parents were good cooks, the lavish attention paid to the cuisine prepared by Wolfe's chef, Fritz, and the passion that the ΓΌber-intelligent Wolfe displayed toward that food made an impression.

My dad, who was a big mystery novel fan, introduced me to Nero Wolfe around the time I was 12 and I was completely hooked. I read every one I could find -- which wasn't terribly easy at the time because the
vast majority of them were published prior to 1970 and many were out of print -- in record time and then dove into the 600+ page biography of Rex Stout over a summer vacation as I was semi-obsessed with all things Nero Wolfe by that point. Many of you might only know the series from the A&E show in the last decade, but I didn't watch much of it because it couldn't compare to the what my imagination had created out of the books. I did watch the short-lived series in 1981, and was crushed when NBC canceled it because it came a lot closer to how the world of Wolfe's brownstone existed in my head. But still, it was the books that held me in thrall.

It's hard to convey just how much influence these books had on me. In addition to sparking a desire to learn about food and how to cook, they got me interested in orchids (and flowers in general) and, more importantly, opened up a world of vocabulary and expression that had a major impact. The characters were created in the 1930s and continued on into the 1970s and, while they don't age in the series, they do adapt to the time periods in which the books were written, so you have a wide spectrum of language and a character who loved words and used them with precision. As Wolfe's confidential assistant and the stories' narrator, Archie Goodwin, once said, "Which he loves most, food or words, is a tossup." And he was unapologetic about his love for them both.

Nero Wolfe was, among other things, a blazing eccentric and I think the series taught me that it was okay to be my own person and have my own beliefs and way of doing things, and to stick by them, even if they weren't the way "everybody else" did them. That's a pretty powerful lesson as a teenager, I'd say. It probably took another decade or so for that to translate into genuine confidence because I don't know if any books can conquer teenage angst completely.

I do believe, however, that the books did one me one grave disservice, and it's something that has only occurred to me over the last few hours while I've been writing this. I fell in love with Archie Goodwin some thirty years ago and I think that I've been looking for him in real life ever since. Needless to say, I haven't found him.