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Quoting Raymond Chandler

“To say goodbye is to die a little.”

“There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.”

“She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.”

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

Stylized portrait of Raymond ChandlerEveryone should know at least one great Raymond Chandler quote. If you do, you probably hold on to it, waiting to pull it out and apply it to life’s moments at every opportunity. Like pulling out a good Shakespearean quote at a party, being able to cite one of Chandler’s unique snippets can dramatically sum up a conversation, emphasize a point or add wit to an otherwise dry discourse.

Yet quoting Raymond chandler is not like quoting Shakespeare. Chandler’s place among American authors is confused and confusing. Critically, he has been lionized for his ability to craft descriptions that convey more than the sum of their words. He helped define a writing style and literary genre that endures. Conversely, he has been condemned for adherence to a specific and limiting genre of fiction, and for his failure to recognize how that genre, and his own writing, portrayed women and minorities as two-dimensional and stereotypical window-dressing often in need of white male protection.

It helps to know that Chandler began as a writer during the Great Depression after being fired as an oil company executive at the age of 44. It is easy to imagine the desperation he felt as he turned his hand to writing, a profession he had tried before as a poet. This time, he wrote to be sell and be read.

Cover of the Black Mask Magazine, December 1933

He admired the work of Dashiell Hammett and like him, he sought to sell his writing to the popular media of the day, the often derided “Pulp Magazines.” Filled with cheap stories, bad art and ad scams, printed on bad paper, these lowbrow publications filled an entertainment niche for minimal budgets during the economic hard times. Chandler’s first story was published in The Black Mask Magazine in December 1933. For that effort, chandler was paid $180.

That paycheck may seem a strong motivator for Chandler to pursue “commercial” writing, but he admitted that it provided him with little long-term financial or artistic satisfaction. He said, when looking back on his writing, ” I have never made any money on writing. I work too slowly, throw away too much, and what I write that sells is not at all the sort of thing I really want to write.”

Although the publications that Chandler wrote for were deemed by literary critics to be little more than “throw-away” fiction, Chandler’s use of precise language to set the scene through his characters’ personalized and carefully observed reactions to natural objects and human behaviors was unique and compelling.

Set in the growing urban and mobile Southern California lifestyle of the early 20th century, most of Chandler’s fiction is told through the eyes of a strong white male character. Chandler developes and defines his story through that character’s observations. It is that character’s unique and personalized observations of 1940’s and 50’s Los Angeles that are the foundation of so many of Chandler’s universally applicable quotes.

““She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight.”

Chandler writes this as the observation of a simple man, a man who has most likely never seen the Taj Mahal. The speaker impossibly compares two observations, a woman’s smell and the sight of a building he has never seen at night. And, although the sentence is perfectly at home in a Raymond Chandler hard-boiled detective story, it is magical. It is fabulist. It could have been found in a Latin American Magical Realism novel.  Most importantly, to the average reader, it is the thought of a normal white male swallowed up in a large urban environment which is mostly out of his control. Someone trying to keep a moral compass in a corrupt and corrupting environment. Someone trying to just get by. Someone not unlike them. They too have poetry in their head.

So, choose a few favorite Raymond Chandler quotes from below, or find your own. Commit them to memory. Their application to life will astound you, and you may find you, too, have poetry in your head.

“Some days I feel like playing it smooth. Some days I feel like playing it like a waffle iron.”

 “It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.”

“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”

“You talk too damn much and too damn much of it is about you.”

“You’re broke, eh?”
“I been shaking two nickels together for a month, trying to get them to mate.”

“It got dark and the rain-clouded lights of the stores were soaked up by the black street.”

“He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake.” 

“I was neat, clean, shaved and sober and I didn’t care who knew it.”

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