Friday, December 21, 2012

Aaron Elkins

Edgar® Award–winning author Aaron Elkins’s creation—forensics professor Gideon Oliver—has been hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “a likable, down-to-earth, cerebral sleuth.”

The latest novel in the series is Dying on the Vine.

A couple of weeks ago I asked I asked Elkins what he was reading.  His reply:
When people ask me that question, they are usually surprised to learn that I read almost no mystery fiction. Actually, I never was much of a mystery fan (with a few towering exceptions, Conan Doyle above all), but in the last couple of decades I've cut back to almost nothing. The thing is, when I read fiction, I'm not really looking to be enlightened or to be made more aware of what's happening in the world, or of what is "true," or to have my consciousness raised. When I open a novel, what I want is to have my consciousness lowered. I want to forget the world for a while and float away on the story and the words. I can't do this any more with mysteries. The authorly devices jump out at me now: the hooks, the red herrings, the planted clues, the sneaky plotting. In other words, the structure gets in the way of the substance. Seeing and analyzing how other people do it is probably instructive for me as a writer, but for me as a reader it's a killer. It turns reading into a hard slog, something closer to chore than to pleasure.

But there are other novelists that I do enjoy, and these are generally master wordsmiths as opposed to master plotters or deep thinkers. Patrick O'Brian's series about Aubrey and Maturin (the first is Master and Commander) is a good example. They are all set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, not a period in which I'm much interested, but the magic of the words carries me away, even when I'm ploughing through a full page or more of nautical jargon about the meaning of which I'm clueless. These books are witty, too, which doesn't hurt. There are seventeen in the series. I've read them all, and I'm in the process, the slow process, of going through them again.

I keep PG Wodehouse on my bedside table too, for the same reasons—words and wit. The plots I can't follow half the time, but who cares?

In the interests of full disclosure: I admit that some of my other favorites are David Lodge, Alison Lurie, Richard Russo, VS Naipaul, and Ann Tyler, even though they're pretty deep thinkers, in my opinion. It must be because they're not so bad with words either.

Non-fiction? At the moment I'm reading two books by Oliver Sacks: An Anthropologist on Mars and Seeing Voices. Sacks is the neurologist best known for Awakenings (the basis for the movie with Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams) and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

On my list (on my shelf, in fact) are two biographical works: William Manchester and Paul Reid's The Last Lion, the final volume of Manchester's magnificent trilogy on the life of Winston Churchill, and Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President (James Garfield). I'm reading the Millard book largely on the basis of the excellent account she wrote of Theodore Roosevelt's post-presidential Amazon adventure, The River of Doubt.
Visit Aaron J. Elkins' website.

My Book, The Movie: Aaron Elkins' "Gideon Oliver" novels.

--Marshal Zeringue