I'm re-reading 'The Sportswriter' by Richard Ford. I don't often read a book a second time. Debbie gave me all ten of the New York Times Top Ten Books for Christmas in 2006 and Ford's 'The Lay of the Land' was among them. It was unlike anything I'd ever read - equally hard-nosed realistic and dreamy-headed magical. The writing was alive, crisp, startlingly present and read as though every word had been polished – while at the same time seeming to flow like water from the mind of its protagonist Frank Bascombe - a man surprisingly recognizable to me.
I soon learned that 'The Lay of the Land' was the most recent of three books chronicling Bascombe's complicated, yet in many ways pedestrian, life from 1986 (The Sportswriter) to 2006 (The Lay of the Land). 1996's 'Independence Day' covered the years in between.
I dug out 'The Sportswriter' a few days ago thinking to check it as a benchmark of sorts. I've held all three books in such high esteem, I'd started to wonder if my current reading still held up or if, maybe, I'd placed the Bascombe books on an undeserved pedestal - creating an unrealistic and unfair reference point.
On the plane to Toronto and back this past weekend I confirmed that, in the case of 'The Sportswriter' at least, the power of the writing remains undiminished.
I have to use a post-it note to mark my place in the dog-eared paperback because so many pages have been turned down (or in some cases up) to mark favourite passages. Here's one on the subject of teachers, a profession Frank has tried, but run from, terrified, referring to his former colleagues as "anti-mystery types":
"Real mystery – the very reason to read (and certainly to write) any book – was to them a thing to dismantle, distill and mine out into rubble they could tyrannize into sorry but more permanent explanations; monuments to themselves, in other words."
Or this from earlier in the book, about Franks habit of "looking around" what he feels to something else he might be feeling:
"When you are fully in your emotions, when they are simple and appealing enough to be in, and the distance is closed between what you feel and what you might also feel, then your instincts can be trusted. It is the difference between a man who quits his job to become a fishing guide on Lake Big Trout, and who one day as he is paddling his canoe into the dock at dusk, stops paddling to admire the sunset and realizes how much he wants to be a fishing guide on Lake Big Trout; and another man who has made the same decision, stopped paddling at the same time, felt how glad he was, but also thought he could probably be a guide on Windigo Lake if he decided to, and might also get a better deal on canoes.
Another way of describing this is that it's the difference between being a literalist and a factualist. A literalist is a man who will enjoy an afternoon watching people while stranded in an airport in Chicago, while a factualist can't stop wondering why his plane was late out of Salt Lake, and gauging whether they'll still serve dinner or just a snack."
These ruminations arise from Franks confusion about whether or not to tell Vicki Arcenault he loves her.
These are not easy books to read and I'm not necessarily recommending them to you. An online check will show you that they are about equally hated and revered out there in the world. But since the books aren't as famous as some, and Richard Ford is still not a household name, I thought I'd share them here like I share the sometimes less-than-well-known music I love.
Also, I want to write as well as Richard Ford - a goal that, although probably unattainable, will pull me forward like no wishing or hoping could do. Writing this post is, then, part show-and-tell - but also part declaration. I want to write as well as Richard Ford.