Summer reading: Michael Koryta on Raymond Chandler & Stephen King

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As summer gets underway, we’ve created the L.A. Times list of 60 books for 92 days. All of these are new titles, being released for summer 2010, a plethora of great summer reads.

At Jacket Copy, we’re asking bookish types about their favorite summer reads of the past. Thriller writer Michael Koryta, who won the 2008 L.A. Times book prize for mystery for “Envy the Night,” has taken a spookier turn with his new book, “So Cold the River.” Koryta, who splits his time between Florida and Indiana, where this book is set -- in a creepy hotel, and with water that isn’t quite right -- is coming to Vroman’s on Wednesday at 7 p.m. to read and sign “So Cold the River.”

Jacket Copy: Do you remember reading a specific book or books during summer?

Michael Koryta: Wow, there were so many different books in so many different summers. Tough to pick, but two that stand out vividly from summers past are “The Long Goodbye” by Raymond Chandler and “Bag of Bones” by Stephen King.


JC: What year was it, or how old were you?

MK: I would have been 16 when I read “The Long Goodbye” and 19 when I read “Bag of Bones.” In both cases they were tremendously important summer reads in that they were my first brushes with the fiction of writers who would become incredibly influential to my own work. I came to Chandler from Hammett, and discovering Marlowe was, well, discovering Marlowe. That should really say it all for a detective fiction fan. It was seeing the best of the best. From Chandler I found Connelly, and Crais, and Ross MacDonald, and all of these other great Los Angeles noir writers who really shaped my idea of what I wanted to do as a writer and demonstrated how well it could be done.

JC: Where were you?

MK: I was in northern Wisconsin for “The Long Goodbye,” on a fishing trip at a place called Willow Flowage, where I later set a book called “Envy the Night,” which, in a nice karmic twist, won your L.A. Times Book Prize for best mystery. All things return to Los Angeles even for a Midwestern boy, I guess. For “Bag of Bones,” I was house-sitting after my freshman year of college, the summer I wrote my first novel, and I read most of it on their screened-in porch.

JC: What about the books was significant to you then?

MK: I’ve already elaborated on this with regard to “The Long Goodbye,” which was significant in the way reading Chandler has been and always will be to countless writers. His prose, his dialogue, his stories -- they all stand up so well against the test of time. As for “Bag of Bones,” that was the first King novel I’d read after discovering his book “On Writing” -- which was a profound influence -- and I still maintain that “Bag of Bones” is one of the best summer reads you could ever hope to find. It has the right blend of ghostly chills and deep heart, it has the right setting, it has plenty of pages in which to happily lose some hours on the porch or the dock or the couch.

JC: Have you reread the books? If so, have they changed at all for you? If not, why not?

MK: I’ve reread them both, yes. They both hold up extremely well, and I’ve picked up details that I missed the first time through. With that said, there’s nothing like that first time through, with any book you love.

JC: Have you picked out anything to read this summer?

MK: I just finished “Hellhound on His Trail,” by Hampton Sides, which was outstanding, and I’m now reading a galley of Michael Connelly’s “The Reversal,” which features both Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch, and it’s just fantastic. That will come as no surprise to any of his readers, I’m sure, but this one is really, really good. It will be huge when it comes out in October, and deservedly so.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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