Recent Reading: 14 March: Crime Fiction, Money Tips, Profound Amnesia and Identity Loss

This is a busy time for me, as my spouse has recently accepted a new job in another state and we will therefore be moving (relatively) soon. So we’re working to get the house ready to show and sell, by repairing, replacing, painting, cleaning, and de-cluttering — this last activity both so that the house will show better and to keep from moving items we don’t need or want.

Meanwhile, here’s some of what I’ve been reading lately:

*** 25 Useful Financial Rules of Thumb at Get Rich Slowly:  They really are rules of thumb, such as how much house you can afford, how long it takes an investment to double, how much to save, how much you should have in an emergency fund, how to know when to refinance your home, and when should you buy a new appliance vs. when should you repair it.  I’ve never followed their advice to buy a new appliance if one  is on the fritz and it’s more than 8 yrs old — and I wouldn’t, not with a spouse who can repair things; our washing machine is 15 yrs old and has been repaired at least once, with a very cheap part.

*** Crime Fiction of Place

Two recent articles on the topic. One is by Tobias Jones in The Observer, about the genre of travel mysteries. He examines the appeal of these books and recommends five series set in various places, none of which I’ve read. I do concur with the comment he cites to open the essay:

Raymond Chandler once wrote of crime fiction that the “mystery and the solution of the mystery are only what I call ‘the olive in the Martini’.” You don’t order a Martini just for the olive, he implied, and you don’t read a whodunit merely to find out who did it.

Jones’ assertion is that now more than ever “crime writing has been spliced with travel-writing.”

A week or two earlier, John Crace, writing in The Guardian, took on Scandinavian crime novels. Since I have recently begun reading the Kurt Wallander police procedural series (backwards), written by Henning Mankell and set in gloomy, foggy, grey Sweden,  this particularly interested me.  The subtitle of the article nails it pretty well: “The plotlines are bleak, the locations are forbidding and the main characters are usually angst-ridden alcoholics. So why is Scandinavian crime writing suddenly the hottest genre in town?”

Manning’s protagonist Wallander isn’t an alcoholic — maybe a bit of a binge drinker, but his dietary and fitness habits improve as the series goes along, after he learns he has diabetes. He’s definitely melancholic, though. The plotlines of the books are very bleak; the one I’m reading now features revenge borne out in much personalised torture.  And the locations are certainly forbidding; the sky is relentlessly grey, driving rain and deep mud makes working the crime sites a misery, the fog is often so dense that people are forever hitting hares with their vehicles, and those hares inevitably kick their hind legs spasmodically after being hit and have to be hit in the head with rocks to put them to rest.

Anyway, back to the essay:

“Crime writers can come up with any number of serial killers and paedophiles with ever sicker twists, but as long as they are situated in LA, New York, London and Edinburgh there will inevitably be a sense of familiarity. The Scandinavian locations dislocate British readers and help take them beyond plot and genre to the human condition.

Crace recommends eight Scandinavian series, set in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. (Whither Finland?)

*** “A Life, Interrupted” in the NYT explores the fragility of identity through the amnesia of 23-year-old Hannah Upp, who lost three weeks of her life last summer.  She was rescued from New York Harbor suffering “hypothermia, dehydration and a sunburn” as well as a blister. She apparently experienced a dissociative fugue, a rare kind of amnesia that “demonstrates the glasslike fragility of memory and identity” and which “causes people to forget their identity, suddenly and without warning, and can last from a few hours to years. … The memory of how to perform mundane tasks like hailing a cab or even using the Internet remains intact. Victims lose only the memories tied to their identity.

“‘We tend to experience our identity as a thing, as if it’s a constant,’ added Dr. [Richard] Loewenstein, who … has treated five patients with dissociative fugue. ‘But it’s a lot less stable and has less unity than we want to believe.‘”

Upp says,

“‘How do you feel guilty for something you didn’t even know you did? It’s not your fault, but it’s still somehow you. So it’s definitely made me reconsider everything. Who was I before? Who was I then — is that part of me? Who am I now?’

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