Sunday, 29 January 2017

PD James and Northrop Frye in January


In 1986, I worked for a short time at The World's Biggest Bookstore in downtown Toronto. I ran the Literature Department, since I had just finished an English degree.

One January day, the great Canadian literary academic, Northrop Frye, came into the store. I panicked. I was sure he was going to come to the literature department and quiz me on the Anatomy of Criticism (his masterwork which I'd somehow never read), and ask why we didn't carry it in the store!  I ducked behind the stacks, but he didn't make his way into my department.

Instead, he walked into the fiction department, where  you'd find Harlequin, westerns and mysteries, that is, everything that wasn't literature. (*sniff*)

But what was Northrop Frye doing in the fiction department? He took a book off the shelf! He carried it to the cashiers. I had to know what it was!

I lurked, and discovered that the great Northrop Frye was buying a PD James novel! He had her latest mystery clutched in his brilliant, academic hands. Hey, if PD James was good enough for Northrop Frye ... I started reading PD James then and there, and I've been a fan ever since.

Now, when the dark wintery nights of January hit, I settle down with a PD James novel. I've read The Children of Men and Death Comes to Pemberley (which she wrote at age 93) many times, and I pick up an Adam Dalgleish novel (there are 17) sometimes, too. But there's no plan, I just read whatever PD James novel presents itself when January hits.

There's plenty of tea, and gentle English countryside, and eccentric English villagers, all wrapped up with grisly murders and mystery, the perfect antidote to a dark, cold Canadian winter. Over the years, she's also become a literary hero. What other female novelist wrote into her 90s, and made her last work a mystery based on Jane Austen?

I hope I can be half as prolific, and write for 50 years, too. This month's read? The Murder Room. I guess we all have our guilty pleasures, and in January, PD is mine. Until next year, Mrs. James!

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