Are you a fiction or a nonfiction person? What’s your favorite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?”
My guiltiest pleasure is Harry Stephen Keeler. He may have been the greatest bad writer America has ever produced. Or perhaps the worst great writer. I do not know. There are few faults you can accuse him of that he is not guilty of. But I love him.
How can you not love a man who wrote books with names like “The Riddle of the Traveling Skull”? Or “The Case of the Transposed Legs”?
I get into arguments with Otto Penzler, of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York, when I say things like that. “No, Neil!” he splutters. “He was just a bad writer!”
Otto still takes my money when I buy Keeler books like “The Skull of the Waltzing Clown” from him. But the expression on his face takes some of the fun out of it. And then I read a paragraph like:
“For it must be remembered that at the time I knew quite nothing, naturally, concerning Milo Payne, the mysterious Cockney-talking Englishman with the checkered long-beaked Sherlockholmsian cap; nor of the latter’s ‘Barr-Bag,’ which was as like my own bag as one Milwaukee wienerwurst is like another; nor of Legga, the Human Spider, with her four legs and her six arms; nor of Ichabod Chang, ex-convict, and son of Dong Chang; nor of the elusive poetess, Abigail Sprigge; nor of the Great Simon, with his 2,163 pearl buttons; nor of — in short, I then knew quite nothing about anything or anybody involved in the affair of which I had now become a part, unless perchance it were my Nemesis, Sophie Kratzenschneiderwümpel — or Suing Sophie!”
And then I do not give a fig for Otto’s expression, for as guilty pleasures go, Keeler is as strangely good as it gets.