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Being Cool: The Work of Elmore Leonard Hardcover – August 13, 2013
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"Rzepka’s close reading of Leonard’s fiction is an insightful, thorough and timely addition to scholarship on the author."(Library Journal)
"Few people are as versed in Elmore Leonard’s world as Charles Rzepka."(BU Today)
"Rzepka uncovers interesting patterns that link the individual works and identifies connections between incidents in Leonard's life and his fiction. This is an important work on an important writer."(David Geherin, Eastern Michigan University)
From the Back Cover
Widely known as the crime fiction writer whose work led to the movies Get Shorty and Out of Sight, Elmore Leonard had a special knack for creating "cool" characters. In Being Cool, Charles J. Rzepka looks at what makes the dope-dealers, bookies, grifters, financial advisors, talent agents, shady attorneys, hookers, models, and crooked cops of Leonard's world cool. They may be nefarious, but they are also confident, skilled, and composed. And they are good at what they do. Taking being cool as the highway through Leonard's life and works, Rzepka finds plenty of byways to explore along the way.
Rzepka delineates the stages and patterns that characterize Leonard’s creative evolution. Like jazz greats, he forged an individual writing style immediately recognizable for its voice and rhythm, including his characters' rat-a-tat recitations, curt backhands, and ragged trains of thought. Rzepka draws on more than twelve hours of personal interviews with Leonard and applies what he learned to his close analysis of the writer’s long life and prodigious output: 45 published novels, 39 published and unpublished short stories, and numerous essays written over the course of six decades.
"Rzepka’s close reading of Leonard’s fiction is an insightful, thorough and timely addition to scholarship on the author."―Library Journal
"Few people are as versed in Elmore Leonard’s world as Charles Rzepka."―BU Today
Top customer reviews
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I enjoyed the way Rzepka threads the biographical account of Leonard's life throughout his analysis of various aspects of Leonard's prose, character development, and themes. As a reader you never feel too far from Leonard's life story and Rzepka effectively shows how Leonard's work reflects his inner attitudes and values.
`Being Cool' is not a book-by-book catalog of analysis, although the broad sections run roughly chronologically from Leonard's early westerns and experiments with crime fiction through his mastery in the 70's and on through the 80's.
I was struck by the commonality of themes and the consistency of Leonard's mature style. Leonard is a jazz fan and the parallel between a great improviser who tells endless variations of his story using the same prescribed vocabulary seemed unavoidable and perfect.
Hemmingway was a seminal influence on Leonard and I enjoyed what amounts to a lesson on `Free Indirect Discourse' that Rzepka presents by comparing passages in Leonard's `Trail of the Apache' to one from `For Whom The Bell Tolls'. There is a certain academic flavor to the book but it's not oppressive and the book doesn't read like a textbook. It feels meaty and substantial without being pedantic.
If nothing else, `Being Cool' certainly inspired me to pick up a few more Leonard titles. And it was fun to discover that my personal favorite, `Freaky Deaky' is also one of Leonard's favorites.
I was very interested to see Rzepka strips down Elmore's work. We know that his writing and characters work. We know his dialogue is in a league of it's own. Rzepka looks at Leonard's life and writing. He breaks down how Elmore wrote. He explains what makes Elmore's deceptively simple writing brilliant.
As a writer known for his great characters, it is no surprise the Leonard was a bit of one himself. The book is very enjoyable. But this book is a treasure because it makes the case for Leonard being a great writer and it offers insights that can help writers improve their own work.
Surprise: Charles J Rzepka is an academic, a Professor of English, and the book is a “close analysis” of Leonard’s 45 published novels and 39 published and unpublished stories. Rzepka says one of the reasons for writing this book was “to enhance the reading experience of the nonacademic Elmore Leonard fan”.
Anyone who has read Elmore Leonard knows he invented dozens, if not hundreds, of off-kilter, distinctive, often weird characters. Leonard was called the Dickens f Detroit for the menagerie of characters he created. Rzepka attempts to penetrate Leonard’s characters, define their essence – their inherent “cool” – and in turn define Leonard himself.
“Being Cool” is far more dense than your average biography, but still quite readable. Be dissects Leonard’s writing, such as key sense and dialog from a scene in “Mr. Majestyk” among many others, examines how Leonard crafted the character and infused it with life and often refers back to a trait of Leonard’s such as not letting characters go.
Definitely a far cry from the ordinary biography, but a delightful and informative read for any fan of Elmore Leonard’s work.