An Evening In: The Big Sleep

Gritty streets, fog rolling off the Pacific, rain over orange trees. It’s LA some time after Prohibition, and Philip Marlowe’s got a job to do. A job for a couple of half-crazy dames and an old man with a lot of money and a little pride.

Sooner or later, we all sleep the big sleep.

Raymond Chandler wrote his classic hits of pulp fiction in the 1930s having lost his job during the Great Depression, and people have lapped them up ever since. It’s a dangerous world of deceitful women and hard-faced men (the two kinds of people Ella Fitzgerald couldn’t understand), guns, shadowy figures in battered coats with their collars turned up, roulette being played in dilapidated old mansions and pornographic libraries being run from Main Street. Marlowe is a kind of a good man – the kind who can shoot straight.

It’s not just the gang-land plots and the seedy under-belly setting that sets Chandler’s work apart from the general flotsam of pulp fiction, however. He has a gift for a neat phrase – women with ‘enough sex appeal to stampede a businessmen’s lunch’, ‘a nice neighbourhood to have bad habits in’, the old man ‘using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work showgirl uses her last good pair of stockings’ – and sketches Marlowe’s straight talking, hard drinking ways in short, sharp sentences that don’t waste words in plots that are fairly convoluted and draw in plenty of characters who all get their face time with our hero.

The Big Sleep is such an immersive book, the setting, the language, the characters all belong together so neatly, that you do have to be in the right frame of mind for it. Best to read it, perhaps, in a dim room while it’s raining outside and huddled figures are waiting under street lights, with something amber at your elbow.

Marlowe drinks a lot of Scotch and soda in the book, and if you want to go along with him Laphroaig is always a safe bet. If, on the other hand, Scotch isn’t your thing perhaps try pairing The Big Sleep with one of the heavier white wines, something full-bodied enough that you know you’re drinking. Australian or Californian Chardonnays have the reputation of being heavier and fruitier than their European counterparts, while Chardonnay from the Montrachet region should be both dry and heavy. As anyone who keeps an eye out for cheap bottles knows, buying Chardonnay can turn into the Russian roulette of wine drinking, but these are solid starting points to try and find one you enjoy! Since dirty Hollywood is such a star of The Big Sleep, my recommendation is to show some loyalty and go for a Californian bottle.

Book: Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

Pair With: Laphroaig and soda, or a Californian Chardonnay

Important Things Off YouTube: This shit’s gone nuclear

A Time Lapse Map of every Nuclear Explosion 1945-1998, by Isao Hashimoto

This went viral a while ago, but is still worth a watch during a contemplative evening. If you know anything at all about nuclear explosions, you know they’re not considered good for your health. So watching this video, the oddly elegant beeps and hums of the explosions, the barely contained fireworks of these behemoth bombs, makes you sincerely worried for anyone living, say, around Mongolia, or in Nevada, or on those little islands in the Pacific that don’t even warrant a place on the map. I want someone to do a ‘Wear Sunscreen’ style poem over the top of this, it’s an oddly soothing backbeat.

But then, of course, it makes you worried for all of us, because there have been far more of these than we usually think about. This poor old planet’s taking a beating. If you want to know more about the impact of nuclear explosions, read Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything. Bill does his usual generous trick of making a subject that seems huge and distant and complicated into something that is meaningful for an individual. This video helps do the same thing, by simply presenting what happened between 1945-1998, the merest speck of time. If watching the whole thing seems like a drag, you can cut to the end where each countries efforts are shown one by one. There are 2053 individual explosions shown on this video, by the way. I’d say that’s too many by about 2053.

If you’re looking for a more personal and horrifying understanding of what this brave new tech is for, read Hiroshima Notes by Kenzaburo Oe. Even if you’re not, read it anyway. It’s one of those books you read because you have to, not because you’re going to like the story.