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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Friday, May 27, 2011 3:40 pm
Happy Birthday, Dear Dashiell . . .
Posted by: Keir Graff

As the Writer’s Almanac reminds us, today is the birthday of Dashiell Hammett. Even if you think you know his story, give it a read:

In 1931, Hammett began a 30-year affair with a script girl who would eventually become a playwright: Lillian Hellman. Their relationship inspired the characters of Nick and Nora Charles, the heavy-drinking, wisecracking, crime-solving couple at the center of his final novel, The Thin Man (1934). The Charleses and their terrier Asta turned into a six-film franchise starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, and later a radio play, a TV series, and a Broadway musical. Author Donald Westlake later said of The Thin Man, “It was a sad, lonely, lost book, that pretended to be cheerful and aware and full of good fellowship, and I hadn’t known you could do that: seem to be telling this, but really telling that; three-dimensional writing, like three-dimensional chess.”

When I took Don Herron‘s Dashiell Hammett walking tour last fall in San Francisco, I was startled to learn that Dashiell was not pronounced “DASH-ell” but “duh-SHEEL.” But, if memory serves, his friends called him “Sam.”


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