Some people were surprised when The Maltese Falcon, a detective novel, appeared on The Big Read list. Yes, it is a detective novel—one of the best ever written. It’s also a brilliant literary work, as well as a thriller, a love story, and a dark, dry comedy. The only criticism one could offer Hammett’s private-eye classic is that it is so much fun to read, it might be hard the first time through to realize how deeply observed and morally serious it is.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American popular culture. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 NEA report, identified a critical decline in reading for pleasure among American adults. The Big Read addresses this issue by bringing communities together to read, discuss, and celebrate books and writers from American and world literature.
A great book combines enlightenment with enchantment. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our humanity. It can even offer harrowing insights that somehow console and comfort us. Whether you’re a regular reader already or making up for lost time, thank you for joining The Big Read.
Dashiell Hammett, c. 1932 (Courtesy of Josephine Hammett)
Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo, Mary Astor as Brigid O'Shaughnessy, and Sydney Greenstreet as Casper Gutman in a scene from the 1941 movie of The Maltese Falcon (Bettmann/Corbis)
San Francisco, 1925 (Library of Congress)