On the day before our 20th wedding anniversary, my wife Beth said she bought me a book for no particular reason. “Just because,” she said. She had stopped at a local bookstore (okay, you dragged it out of me — The Book Nook at Second and Spruce in Gallipolis) to pick up some used paperbacks for her mother, a voracious reader who can knock off a book faster than anyone I know.
Beth presented me with a collection of novels by Mary Roberts Rinehart, considered by some fans and critics to be the American equivalent of Agatha Christie, although Rinehart (1876-1958) began publishing almost two decades before the appearance of Dame Agatha’s debut detective yarn, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles,” in 1920. The collection, to my delight, included Rinehart’s best-known tale, “The Bat” (1926), novelized from the famous 1920 stage thriller Rinehart co-authored with Avery Hopwood that was adapted three times by Hollywood, twice within the first 10 years of the play’s premiere.
“The Bat” gained some latter-day recognition when Batman creator Bob Kane revealed the story’s first cinematic version, a silent film which coincided with the novel’s appearance, influenced his conception of the Dark Knight and the world he inhabits. Check out that version and you can see how its imagery fired a budding artist’s imagination.
Here I have to explain that my taste in reading, aside from non-fiction, veers toward what used to be called melodrama and of a classical vein. The casual reader may not have ever heard of Mary Roberts Rinehart, but take my word for it, she was highly popular in her heyday, and at least some of the conventions of traditional mystery stories can be traced back to her works.
Discovering the basis of those traditions in stories going back to Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle informs my choice of reading and will probably continue to do so, even if there are worthy and certainly more up-to-date examples I could be enjoying. And why do I enjoy literary thrillers from almost a century ago? Because even the least of them, down to the lowliest and most obscure paperback original from the 1950s and ’60s, succeeds in transporting me mentally to a time and place the author has created in which to tell the story. And isn’t that the goal of any well-written and plotted piece of fiction?
Of course, there is an empire of great literature out there, with the bestseller lists telling us every week what we still seem to like reading, from Nicholas Sparks romances to Tom Clancy-like tales of international intrigue. Or check out any beach this summer where folks are getting in their reading while soaking up sun. It tells you that reading tastes are as diverse as the rest of our culture, proving that what we like to read is entirely up to us.
And that’s how it should be. But it doesn’t hurt to mix up choices on your book program, evidenced by “The Great American Read” on PBS that will reveal what the top American novel is from a list of 100 books compiled by critics, fans and experts. This eclectic survey lists everything from Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” to the entire series of the “Game of Thrones” works by George R.R. Martin, and the program’s overall intent is to encourage reading.
“The Great American Read” list also looks to get people out of their comfort zone, challenging them to try old and new, the entertaining and the thought-provoking. Among the list’s selections is Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus” from 1818 with its central theme becoming the foundation for what we recognize as horror literature and film today.
“Frankenstein” the novel does live up to its inspiration as a chiller but also explores questions and the consequences of man assuming God-like powers by creating life. Anyone expecting laboratory pyrotechnics and a grunting monster made from the remains of the dead may be surprised (or perhaps disappointed) to discover that there’s more to the book than can be found in the movies.
So go ahead and mix up that reading list with a classic or a newer book, as well as an entry from another genre like historical or science fiction. At least you’re reading something, and in a world where people turn toward the visual for their stimulation simply because they find reading bothersome or old hat, that’s saying a lot.
Speaking of reading, we regretfully note the end of an area newspaper, at least its print version. The Jackson County (Ohio) Times-Journal published its last edition July 8. Its owner, Adams Publishing Group (APG) Media has opted to continue with the Times-Journal’s online presence and include some Jackson-area news in a sister publication, the once-a-week Vinton County Courier.
APG cited the now-familiar factors of readers’ defection to online news sources, “market pressures” and production costs as reasons to end the newspaper as a physical presence in the community.
Departure of the print Times-Journal, which appeared three times a week, still leaves Jackson, Wellston and Oak Hill with the twice-weekly Telegram News, which also supplies content to its own online version and affiliated radio stations.
Yet this development is sad, at least for those of us who love our newspapers, holding them, scanning them and being informed by them. Closing of another news outlet robs the public not only of a differing editorial voice, but a diverse approach to covering local news. Although rivals, both newspapers complimented each other with their individual strengths in reporting civic activity, lifestyle, sports, even their design. True, the Times-Journal will continue after a fashion, but we cannot help but feel a certain loss in realizing there’s one less journal to take off the news rack anymore.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.