Tuesday, February 26, 2008



Sheila's got a really good post up on Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and I highly recommend you stop by her site to give her thoughts a read. She's been going through her book collection for a few (several?) months now, and I've had to mark so many personal recommendations down that if the end of the world really does come, I doubt I'll run out of reading material before I die, even if I live 73 more years after the fall....

I'd had Cormac McCarthy recommended to me, dating back to college, and possibly before (the late Mrs. Godsey recommended book after book to me, and like the dunce that I am, I didn't write a one of them down to look up later...).

I have a small thing about recommended books. Not a huge thing, as I've probably read a half-dozen of the books Sheila's recommended, and not come away disappointed. But it's still there, when somebody says "You Gotta Read This!!!!" I think I get my hopes up. I don't read it, at least until there's some space. I've come away disappointed a time or seven, so usually I'll wait.

Cormac McCarthy was that way. College professors (including one Professor Kerrick, who wrote the words underneath a grade of "D" on a paper: "I will not tolerate this bullshit...I have no qualms about failing you...."), friends, and one Brother-in-Law.

I'd held off.

Then, back around Christmas, I saw No Country for Old Men. Helluva a movie, even without The Academy saying so a couple nights back. My favorite movie from all last year.

I was smitten by the dialog from the flick, and had to know whether it was The Coens or the source material that had the bigger influence on that....

Turns out, 85% (and as high as 95%) of what's said in the movie is Word for Word from the book.

Difference being: I tend to read too quickly, sometimes. My eye, too trained by reading for facts, is too intent on what's being said, instead of slowing down, savoring, and thinking about how it's being said. That said, McCarthy's prose in No Country is very short, very choppy, with no allowance given for the traditional punctuation of dialog. There were times I found myself bull-rushing through the book, not appreciating what's there on the page as much as I should. That's my bad, and it's something I find myself working on.

I saw the movie before I read the book. I almost wish I hadn't...I kept falling into Javier Bardem's and Tommy Lee Jones' cadences whenever I read their words. Not a horrible thing, because both were pitch-perfect in their performances. I just hate having such a great book painted for me before I got there.

But then, if I hadn't seen the movie, I might not have read the book. It's all good, I reckon.

My point in this digression is that McCarthy gives a lot of credit to the reader to figure out who Llewelyn Moss, Sheriff Bell or Anton Chigurh are. He doesn't tell you who they are. At the end of the day, it's almost as if he doesn't give a shit...he's not gonna help you along.

Sheila calls McCarthy "brutal," and I don't disagree. Very fact-of-the-matter. I've probaby written "terse" more times in the past several minutes than I have the past two years, but there's nothing romantic about what he does when he tells a story. It's a stark difference to my own mind, which seems to want to pour out words like diarrhea more often than not, instead of just getting to the ever-loving point.

And, I'll say this about No Country for Old Men: It's a rare book that I've read, put down, and picked up to read again the very next day. The book is that damn good. I wish I were eloquent enough to be able to sit here and tell you why.

Except that I will say this: It was late in the book that I came to appreciate a couple of finer points in characters that I didn't get when I watched the movie (there are a couple points where Chigurh is a little more philosophic on his roll in life, for instance). When I finished the book, with a better understanding of who these people were...I went back to apply that which I knew to what had happened then....

I've already given the book out as birthday gifts to a couple people. I dig it.

I'll The Road in brief...Sheila does a much better job of speaking on it than I could. I actually bought The Road first. Found it at a used bookstore, for cheap. I'd actually picked it up after seeing it recommended on a list of Post-Apocalyptic classics (The Stand, The Earth Abides, A Canticle for Liebowitz...etc...)

My love for those books comes from the same place as my love for zombie movies, disaster tales, and Krystal hamburgers.

Read the first few pages of it, said "this'll be a rough one..." and put it on the shelf. I was going through a rough couple of weeks, and actually wanted to be entertained a touch more...I needed something a little more escapist than what this son of a buck is.

Picked it back up after I read No Country.

Stark. Frightening. I commented after Sheila's post that I don't have enough distance from it to fairly call it "the scariest book I've ever read," but it's definitely near the top of the list.

As a brief aside...Sheila's attention was drawn to the same word mine was. "Catamite." I'd run across the word only once before, and from the context of this book, I knew it wasn't good. Googled it.

Yeah. Horrid. No words for it horrid.

Anyway. The Road? Powerful. I called it my second-favorite book I read last year (after No Country). Who knows what time will bring, but I have an odd feeling that when I go back to re-read a book several years down the road, I'll probably pick up The Road before I will No Country.

I'm now starting to work my way backward through McCarthy's publishing. Found Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horses at the used bookstore three blocks from my house the other day...How the heck about that, by the way? In amongst the 300 copies of Patriot Games, the 400 copies of The Firm and 300 copies of The Dark Half, you get a couple by a guy you're really starting to dig.

So. Gonna put a plug on this little bit of wordy mush. Read the books. Go read Sheila's post. Have a good day....


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