Category: Books

A writer passes

I was thinking that I should start reading the work of Tony Horwitz. I was intrigued by early notices of his latest, about Frederick Law Olmstead’s trip through the South before the Civil War. These notices reminded me how interesting his other books look.

Anyway, he’s gone now, at 60 years of age. He left an impressive body of work, but he gives hints that it came at a price. I just reserved his John Brown book from the library. Perhaps Katja and I will stop by the Brown homestead in Lake Placid next month.

WSJ obit.

NYT obit.

Since I’m thinking about writers and death: I learned new things about Bill Buckner, who died a couple of days ago. After a fateful night in 1986, Buckner spent his life in infamy for the grounder that went through his legs. Yesterday I replayed that inning on YouTube. His notoriety seems profoundly unfair: All these years I’ve assumed his error let in both the tying and winning runs.

But no: Relievers Schiraldi and Stanley blew the two-run lead. The score was tied when Mookie Wilson dribbled the grounder that he had a fair chance of legging out anyway.

OK, if Buckner had fielded it cleanly, he might have preserved a tied game, allowing the Red Sox another inning. But that’s not the same as blowing a World Series. It was an unfortunate error, but it was deeply unfair for him to be subjected to so much abuse.

What do writers have to do with Buckner? Why, of course, it’s writers–unimaginative hack writers–who have written the legend of Buckner’s error, reinforcing and reminding and inflating and embellishing.

Rainy day between Christmas and New Year’s Day

What a Cover of The Roadstrange, aimless time of year this is. It’s 3:25 pm. Outside it is forbiddingly gloomy. Warm, humid, and pouring rain. It’s like when we were in Brighton, UK, back in December 2012. I drank all afternoon and evening on a night like this, talking supporter-owned football with one of the experts.

But that was in England, and this is Durham, NC, where I sit with a variegated group of people who are as disoriented as I am. Nobody’s working at this hour on the Friday between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

If it was 20 degrees colder and windy, it would feel like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which I finished reading this morning.

McCarthy’s bleak scenario is plausible and well-earned. But there were a few off-notes that distracted me.

At one point the boy uses the term “retard” in the way that children do. The problem here: Who did he learn this word from? We’re told that he was born shortly after the apocalypse, and we’re not told of any playmates he had during the chaotic first years of his life.

Late in the story, the man and the boy are ambushed by a sniper using a bow and arrow. The man is hit, but he returns fire and kills the archer with… a flare gun. It’s the kind of brilliant, lucky marksmanship that only occurs in movies and in Dealey Plaza, so it was distracting here.

Finally, the man is well aware during much of the book that he is gravely ill. So, I found it odd that he spent so little time preparing his son to go it alone. He talks a lot about “carrying the fire” (more movie talk), but I’m not sure he ever actually made sure his son could make a fire.

But these are small quibbles about a haunting, evocative book. One thing I particularly appreciate is that McCarthy absolutely does not glamorize survivalism. Among young boys and middle-aged men there is a longing for a catastrophic event that destroy the dull routine of our lives and let us prove our mettle. But nobody finishes The Road wishing to have a similar experience.

It’s 4 pm. This is a time for neither work nor play, but the bar is filling up. There are a couple of families with young children here. One of the kids even has a tricycle that he’s rolling. He leaves the trike in the middle of the barroom floor and walks away. The barback sees it a few minutes later, and returns it to the family’s table in the corner.