But...this is World Book Day and the celebration continues in the U.K. and Ireland in a big way. With that in mind, I will mark the day by highlighting some of my favorite books:
This 1985 (30 years, can you believe it?) novel was a breakthrough in more ways than one. It transformed Larry McMurtry's whole career, instantly turning him into one of the hottest writers in the country, and he has never looked back. McMurtry's portrayal of life in the American West was fresh and colorful - and it focused on the characters as much as on their exploits. Literary Westerns...who would have thought that could be pulled off successfully? My once-read, first-printing of Lonesome Dove sits proudly on my bookshelves.
You Must Remember This is the novel that placed Joyce Carol Oates firmly and forever on my literary map. I had been reading her novels for a couple of years before this one came along to astound me with the power and passion of Oates's writing. The story, set in the 1950s, centers on the Stevick family, a family that appears to be almost perfect from the outside but is hiding terrible secrets - one of which involves the greatest sexual taboo of them all, incest. After reading this one, I became a dedicated Oates-collector, and now have something over 100 of her first editions in my collection. And she continues to surprise me with both the volume and the quality of her output.
Ball Four, Jim Bouton's 1970 autobiography, came along at the perfect time for me. A baseball fan for ten years by 1970, I still looked at baseball and baseball players through rose-colored glasses. Bouton changed all of that forever. His stories about what the players were up to on the field and, more importantly, off the field ripped the blinders off the eyes of baseball fans forever. Those same stories also got Bouton ostracized by his fellow ballplayers and unofficially blackballed from the game by its owners. This is the classic baseball book. Thank you, Jim.
Time and Again is a reminder of why I so much love bookstores. One day in July, 1970, I was browsing a small bookstore in an even smaller town, and stumbled upon what is now recognized as one of the best time-travel novels ever written. Up to that moment, I did not know of Jack Finney, and about the only time-travel book I had ever read was The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. All of that changed with this "illustrated novel," and now I am in constant search of well written time-travel novels and stories. (The illustrations are mostly actual photos of the period the central character travels back to.)
Seldom has a book claimed my complete attention to the degree that Pat Conroy's Prince of Tides did back in 1986. I was completey enthralled by Conroy's story, and I barely came up for food and water while reading it. This is the only novel I have ever bought multiple copies of to give as gifts (over the years, I have probably given away close to 20 copies). Conroy was not a new author to me in 1986, but this is the one that placed him on my very selective group of "must read everything they write" authors. It's also one of the few novels I plan to re-read a few times.
Happy World Book Day, y'all.