I've been participating in the NEA's BIG READ program at my local libraries. Mike Black and I have been facilitating discussions about Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon:
Our favorite discussion to-date has been a comparison of the three film versions, The Maltese Falcon with Ricardo Cortez, Satan Met a Lady, starring Bette Davis (who claimed this movie was the dog of her career) and the most famous version from debut director John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre.
The more we talk about the book and the movies, the more I appreciate the beauty of Hammett's prose. He did what we're all taught *not* to do today - he shifted POV at random - and it works. I love the fact that we don't ever get into Sam Spade's head. It makes it all the more intriguing at the end when we're left to wonder ... did he love Brigid, or did he not?
If any of the talks Mike and I have been giving encourage folks to pick up this book, then I feel as though it's been time well spent. The NEA chose The Maltese Falcon because it's considered literary, despite the fact that it's a detective novel. (Let's not go down the literary path today, but suffice it to say that although Hammett's Falcon is great, I believe there are many other crime writers who are worthy of a "literary" title.)
Working with libraries is always a joy, and I know that my in-depth study of The Maltese Falcon has brought me a new appreciation for the work. I hope the Big Read program continues with more exciting novels to explore next year.
By the way, Warner Bros. has a fabulous Falcon DVD set out there -- it includes all three film versions. If you get a chance to see them all, you'll be surprised at the difference in each story's tone.