Sunday, January 12, 2014

Where Was I When I Read That?: A Potential Series

One feature I'd like to add to my blog in the coming weeks is "Where Was I When I Read That?" I was looking through the "mystery series" section of my Goodreads account to see when I read Fonduing Fathers, the previous White House Chef Mystery novel by Julie Hyzy, and if I had marked Hyzy as one of my favorite authors, so I could add the latest novel, Home of the Braised, to my "Currently Reading" section and mark it accordingly.

Just now, while writing this, I reached Fonduing Fathers and discovered that I indeed marked her as one of my "favorite authors," making her part of that section. But on the second page of the "mystery series" section while searching for that one, I spotted Archie Meets Nero Wolfe by Robert Goldsborough, his prequel to the entire Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout, which tells of how Archie Goodwin, while an ex-security guard, met Nero Wolfe, based on the bits of insight dropped by Stout through his novels. I started it on May 11, 2013, a Saturday, and finished it the next day. I remember that Saturday well, because it was one of the days of the San Gennaro Feast on Blue Diamond Road in Las Vegas, held in a large swath of parking lot in a shopping center containing a decrepit looking Sears, for one, and a Fuddrucker's nearby. We went not only to see what Italian food there was, but I wanted to meet Lena Prima, the daughter of the great Louis Prima, who, besides being an excellent trumpeter and singer, was the voice of King Louie in The Jungle Book. I wanted to ask Lena if it was true that her father and Phil Harris actually recorded "I Wanna Be Like You" separately due to schedules that could never meet. It seems impossible that they could have, since the call-and-response between them toward the end of the song is so immediate, but apparently, it's true. The editing of that song is flawless.

The time to meet Lena Prima was when the concert portion of the day was going on, from dusk until well into the evening. There were a few acts before Prima took the stage, and during the second-to-last act, I spotted her at the side of the stage and went to meet her. She told me she had never knew about that story, but figured that it might have been true, and was impressed at my enthusiasm for The Jungle Book. She also autographed the two-disc Jungle Book DVD set I brought with me.

But Archie Meets Nero Wolfe remained closed during the concert. It had the most action when we four were sitting at a table under one of the many tents spread around for people to be able to sit and eat. Dad and Meridith had gone to walk around to see what there was, Mom was resting from the walk from an adjacent parking lot to this point, and I was reading.

I haven't read any of Goldsborough's other Nero Wolfe novels, which continued the series after Stout died, but I want to. I was impressed by this one because of Archie and Nero Wolfe meeting, and also the instant rapport between them, even when Archie was just one of the crew Wolfe employed to look into the kidnapping of the son of a wealthy New York hotel tycoon. Yes, Wolfe can get brusque with Archie at times, but his respect never wavers, and here it forms. There were times while reading at the San Gennaro Feast that I was vaguely aware of where I was. I was deep in the tycoon's mansion, witnessing the crew being assigned their roles, Archie as the chaffeur.

The one time I put down the book was when I went to look to see what I wanted to eat. I found a stand selling sausage and pepper sandwiches and bought one. it was over $6, and I wish it had been cheaper, because I wanted another and another and another. Mom agreed, because even from her one bite, she was amazed at how good it was. The sausage snapped in all the right places, and the red and green peppers were perfectly grilled. The bread should have been more crusty, though. And even though there were other stands selling sausage and pepper sandwiches too, including one that was selling them at a discount at the end of the night, the last night of the feast, in fact, one was enough. We didn't go to the September San Gennaro Feast, and aren't likely to go back to another one, because once was enough. It felt disorganized, and the one major booth selling pasta did not know how to do it well. It was mushy more than it was pasta. And with the prestigious exception of Lena Prima, and Italian singer/tenor Aaron Caruso, whose CD I bought for my mom, who autographed it, and who graciously spent a few minutes chatting with my mom and I, the rest of the concert was worryingly mediocre. There was one woman on before Prima who has never met a song she couldn't murder. Even the quietest, most subtle love song would not stand a chance against her.

But Archie Meets Nero Wolfe remains, every time I look through that list, reminded of the San Gennaro Feast and the time I had with it that day, well-spent time.

My next post in this attempted series will either be about Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby, or The Neon Rain, the first Dave Robicheaux novel by James Lee Burke, which relates to what seems to be our annual visit to Steak 'n Shake at the South Point Hotel Casino Spa on Las Vegas Boulevard South, because one novel I read just before this past Christmas, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski, was with me on that latest visit. In fact, if it is The Neon Rain, I might cover The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow in the same post.


  1. That story about The Jungle Book is interesting. I love that movie.


    1. It's one of my favorite making-of stories. In fact, amidst all my writing projects is a possible biography of Phil Harris. I'm deciding what I want to write this year, what I think I could stand working with every day, and that's on my shortlist, not least because I'll get to listen to a lot of old-time radio.