Friday, July 10, 2015

On The Porch With....

By Art Taylor

Which book have you read that makes you wish you could sit down for a gab fest with the writer, living or dead? 

Like many of us in the mystery community, attending events like Malice Domestic and Bouchercon and the Edgars has already given me the opportunity to meet and chat with authors whose books I adore—so in addition to sparking some speculation this week's question also brought back a lot of memories about good times in the past. For example, at the Edgars in 2008, I searched down the banquet list to find where Tana French was sitting just so I could tell her how much I loved loved loved In the Woods, which I'd reviewed for the Post the year before; shaking her hand and chatting briefly meant that I couldn't review any of her future books for the Post, of course, but it was well worth that sacrifice, and we've remained friends since.

Gazing across the current landscape of writers and looking back over the long history of literature—over my own long history of reading—I'm sure I could come up with a whole roomful of writers whose books have prompted me to want to meet them and talk with them. But one jumped to the forefront of my mind as soon as this question came up: Walker Percy.

Percy's first novel, The Moviegoer, won the National Book Award for Fiction, but it's some of his later books that really rank higher among my own favorites: Love in the Ruins and its sequel The Thanatos Syndrome and at the top of the list Lancelot, a dark and sometimes daunting book steeped both in Southern literary tradition and Arthurian tradition and in the traditions of crime literature, with Chandler in particular and his hero Marlowe as part of the network of motifs undergirding the title character's own sleuthing: about himself, his wife, her adultery, the nature of love, the South, the past, the 1970s, the future, the American social fabric and on and on. All of it, we quickly learn, may be the ravings of a madman, talking from a hospital room or a prison cell—and trying to come to terms with which parts of this are Lancelot's view and which parts might be Percy's own is challenging and occasionally even disturbing.

In addition to being a great novelist, and one of my own favorites clearly, Percy was also a philosopher—and not just the homespun armchair kind. Existential querying lies at the core of both his fiction and some of his nonfiction too, and I could picture sitting on the porch with him and discussing some of those philosophical interests and observations and the way he explored those ideas in his fiction, where he was being truly pensive and where just provocative, just trying to shake a reader's sensibilities—and why.

Plus, Percy was a big fan of bourbon, so we'd have something to drink while we talked too—always a plus.


Art Taylor said...

Reading this myself, I really wish I'd been able to write more--but time was tight this week and behind on various projects. I'll need to talk more another time about Percy's work and what's it's meant to me!

Meredith Cole said...

I just read THE MOVIEGOER this month! Really enjoyed it.

I was just thinking that this would be a good week (or day!) to mention Harper Lee as well... To celebrate her book launch, of course.

Art Taylor said...

Oh, yes, Harper Lee! Absolutely.

I need to reread The Moviegoer. I read it in college, part of a class, and have enjoyed others of Percy's more—but haven't gone back and looked at it again.

Copy on the shelf here, of course.... Just calling to me now. :-)

Paul D. Marks said...

I love The Moviegoer for a variety of reasons. Also Lancelot. But haven't read some of his others. They're on the list though...

Art Taylor said...

Yeah, I've read all of the novels EXCEPT The Second Coming, which I just wasn't able to get into... Don't even remember why, except that I ended up putting it aside and moving on. Need to give it another try, I'm sure.