Newly published book by alumna delves into detective fiction, authors’ lives

Books have played a vital role in the life of Karen Huston Karydes ’68. Karydes, who turns 70 at the end of March, now has published a book of her own, an adaptation of the dissertation she wrote while getting her Ph.D. in her 60s.

Since graduating from Ripon, Karydes received a master’s in English degree from New York University and taught English for several years. She also had a nearly 24-year career as a fiction acquisition and reference librarian at the Arlington Department of Libraries.

At the age of 60, Karydes decided pursue a Ph.D. in English at the University of Maryland. “I signed on for a Ph.D. because I wanted the experience,” Karydes says. “When you go back to school, you remember that there’s a kind of academic, rigorous thinking and conversation that you did long ago, and it’s invigorating to be doing it again. Also, I wanted to see if I could make myself do all the work. I was pleased to find out that yes, I could.”

While some may be discouraged about pursuing education later in life, Karydes was met with nothing but support. “Everyone cheered me on, they really did,” she says. “A nice synergy was that the professors on my dissertation committee were close in age to me.”

In 2010, Karydes earned her Ph.D. with her dissertation, “Hard-Boiled Anxiety in Hammett, Chandler, and Macdonald.” The dissertation delves into a deep Freudian analysis of these hard-boiled detective authors, and the interplay between their prose and their lives.

After receiving her Ph.D., she began working as research assistant to Lewis Dabney of Wyoming University, helping him write his book about American author John Dos Passos. It was because of this work with Dabney that Karydes has been able to convert her dissertation into the book, “Hard-Boiled Anxiety: The Freudian Desires of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald and Their Detectives.”

“Helping Lewis taught me how you write a book,” she says. “When I tried rewriting my dissertation into a manuscript, I found I enjoyed doing the exercise,” Karydes.

The new book was published this month and is available on It offers thought- provoking questions to all readers. “After you read my book, you’re left with three questions: First, were Ross Macdonald and Sigmund Freud (and other literary critics the likes of Leon Edel), right? Can you always find the author in his fiction? Second, if you can, does that buy you anything? In other words, does knowing about the writer enrich your experience of reading his book? Third — and here’s the queasy one — is this exercise fair game? If a novelist isn’t writing confessional or autobiographical fiction, where do we the readers get the right to delve into his private life?”

For Karydes, the answers are clear. “I think the answer to all three questions is ‘yes.’ If an author writes books hoping to get them published, then he’s not keeping a journal, he’s writing for readers. I haven’t interest in fiction written by a computer; I’m human and I want to read something created by another person.”

Megan Sohr ’18
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

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