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Friday, May 22, 2009

A Second First Time

I think this week's "Booking Through Thursday" meme is one of the best yet. The question is what book would you like to experience all over again just like you experienced it the first time around.

There's no way that I can limit it to one, so let's see what happens once I get started. The funny thing about these books is that I've generally been afraid to read them a second time because I don't want to spoil my great memories of the impact they had on me.

One that comes to mind is Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire. I don't remember exactly where I found the book but, once I started reading it, I could hardly put it down and raced through the whole thing in just a couple of days. I had never heard of Anne Rice and had seen no advance publicity on the book that predates all of today's vampire craze. Remember this was 1976 and there was no internet for publishers to spread the word about their new books, so this one caught me completely by surprise. Rice did something in Vampire I would have believed impossible - she made some vampires into sympathetic characters and even had readers thinking about the pros, not just the cons, of that kind of life.

Then there's Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides. I knew Pat Conroy's writing well by the time The Prince of Tides came along, but there was just something special about this one that had me so deeply identifying with the main character that I fell completely in love with the story and its setting. I may have already been a Pat Conroy fan, but it was The Prince of Tides that elevated Mr. Conroy into that handful of authors I consider to be the very best in the business. I was so taken with Prince, in fact, that I bought copies of the book for everyone in the office the Christmas after I read it. People thought I was crazy, I think, but I know that several of them still read Pat Conroy.

I can't skip Larry McMurtry and Lonesome Dove here because I've often mentioned how Lonesome Dove is my favorite book. Similar to my relationship with the work of Pat Conroy, I was very familiar with Larry McMurtry (a Rice University graduate and a man who spent a lot of good years in Houston) so when Lonesome Dove hit the shelves I grabbed the first copy I saw in my local bookstore - and it blew me away. It was nothing like any of McMurtry's earlier work and I was completely taken with the book's two main characters, Gus and Call, and the touching relationship they had. Even the secondary characters jumped off the page and made me, as a reader, care about what happened to them. The book won a well deserved Pulitzer and turned into a famous television movie that is still one of my favorite movies. Come on, Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones - does it get any better than that?

Finally, I want to mention James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, another Pulitzer winner (1988). I have been a Civil War history buff since I was a kid, so we're talking several decades here, but for the first time I found a book that put the entire war into an understandable perspective - and did it in less than 700 pages. McPherson's style makes the book very readable and, in my opinion, is still the standard by which Civil War history books should be judged. I gave a few of these as gifts, too, but they didn't go over as well as I had hoped because some readers are mistakenly intimidated by a book like Battle Cry. I suspect that the ones I gave away are sitting on a few shelves in the same mint condition they were in when I gave them away almost twenty years ago. Maybe I should tell those folks that mint, first editions of Battle Cry of Freedom sell for well over $100 a copy today.

These are four of the books that really got me excited when I discovered them. I could list others, but you get the idea - books can excite a person like nothing else in the world, including songs, movies, and art. I really believe that.
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