McCarthy and Wolff

Yesterday was the Lit Sweepstakes.  An afternoon discussion panel on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and an evening with Tobias Wolff to support the Center of Literary Arts in San Jose.

First, The Road.  I think I read this in 2007 and still remember so many of the images.  I had been wanting to read Cormac McCarthy but was intimidated at the prospect.  I’d tried to read All the Pretty Horses and also his masterpiece Blood Meridian and was scared off.  The violence, the dense language, the need of a dictionary.  So I initially picked up The Road because it seemed accessible and might get me in the door, so to speak, of McCarthy’s work.  I read The Road in 2 days and loved it.  McCarthy gets you with a simplicity of prose (so unlike Blood Meridian) that drives you smack into a post-apocalyptic world.  In the end (no pun intended) it’s the story of a father and son’s bond and so compelling you cannot (can not) stop reading until it’s over.  And I’ve since read — with the support group of a literature class — Blood Meridian.  And while I understand how and why this book is a great piece of literature, it is also one of the toughest books I’ve ever read (in subject matter, in vocabulary, in just getting through).  I’m glad I read it, but I think once was likely enough.  I just heard that Mary Karr loves this book so much that she listens to it on her iPod.  Wow.  She is one brave soul.  If I did that, I would not be able to sleep at night.  Kudos to you, Mary Karr.

Then last night …. Listening to Tobias Wolff reminded me what a great short story-teller he his.  He started with the books and influences of his early reading / writing life and was just charming as hell.  He read “Her Dog” which grabbed the attentions of every single person in the room.  He had us right off.  I know I never took my eyes off him until the very last word.  Loved the story.  Loved his reading of the story.  As happens every time I see a writer in person, I am compelled to read his work.  Right now.  So as soon as I finish Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley I think I’m going to try Wolff’s very short novel Old School. I’ve read some of his short stories (albeit not enough) and his prize-winning memoir This Boy’s Life but never a novel.  I have Old School on my bookshelf but have never read it.  Now must be the time.

Happy reading.