Thursday, January 1, 2009

Donald E. Westlake 1933-2008

Bad news on his Wikipedia page:

Donald Edwin Westlake (born July 12, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, died December 31, 2008, in San Tancho, Mexico) was a prolific American writer, with over a hundred novels and non-fiction books to his credit.
More here.

And here. Scroll down to p. 3.


Tulkinghorn said...

75 seems, well, not old....

As Sarah Weinman points out, the prolific post-pulp hacks are leaving us. And much of their work is unavailable - like Westlake until just a couple of months ago. Science fiction has much the same problem.

At the heart of the matter: a writer named Hillary Waugh died just a week or so ago, credited as having pioneered the police procedural. As Weinman says:

And I wonder, with the publishing industry's current turmoil (not to mention larger concerns looming globally) if my current gravitation towards older books owes to some attempt at finding a larger context for the books published today that, more and more, I find wanting. There's so much preoccupation with technology, the latest gadget, and moving forward, forward, forward that there's a substantial loss of institutional memory. I don't mean to sound a "those were the good old days" alarm; those days weren't so good and nostalgia is a dangerous exercise. But it troubles me when writers like Waugh or Fast or Helen MacInnes - whose suspense work is supposed to be up there with the likes of Ambler and Dorothy B. Hughes, but her once-entrenched place on the bestseller list has dissipated so much she's completely out of print now - just disappear. The same thing has happened with Ed McBain just three years after his death. An effort to bring back Ross Thomas's works into print stalled out. And when a brand-new author is published with the blurb of being "the next Hammett or Chandler", to cite an oft-quoted example, it says less about the author and more about how those with the money to acquire books do so with an utter lack of context.

Howard A. said...

I couldn't agree more with Tulkinghorn. There are writers whose work is now legendary, but unread. And there's a generation coming up that knows the work only through its epigones. Burn After Reading is readily available on DVD, but Ross Thomas is out-of-print.

When I was coming up, the only way you could read Goodis or Thompson, let alone Westlake (or Stark), Thomas (or Bleeck), Vin Packer, Peter Rabe, John Franklin Bardin, Harry Stephen Keeler, was to scour the used-book bins, or worm your way into the heart of a mystery bookselller.

Then, miraculously, many of the above were restored to print. Less cultish, but far more democratic-- And better. All around.

Today we're back, in many ways, to where we were in the 1970s: searching for 20thc incunabula.

I don't think 'online' is an adequate substitute: not at all.