Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Crooked Way We Come To Books

In the middle of PATRICK WHITE: A LIFE, I got waylaid by a novel called HONKYTONK MAN, by an Oklahoma native named Clancy Carlile. Even though I lived in Oklahoma many, many years, I had never heard of Carlile. What a pleasant find! It's strange that I had to come all the way to South Korea and find the novel which had languished in an Australian used bookshop before Pablo's friend bought it and gave it to him a couple of years ago. It languished on Pablo's bookshelf for those 2 years, then one day last week, he gave it away to me.

Readers who are also moviegoers will recognize HONKYTONK MAN as the title of a Clint Eastwood movie. This copy of the book was a movie tie-in, with Eastwood's picture on the cover. I was leery of the book at first, thinking it was a dreadful movie novelization, but no, HONKYTONK MAN was a novel first (1980) then a movie (1982).

HONKYTONK MAN is the story of country-and-western musician Red Stovall, who is loosely based on Jimmie Rodgers, "The Father Of Country Music". It's the mid-1930s, and the Dust Bowl days in Oklahoma are at their cruellest peak. Red Stovall shows up at his sister's home there broke, drunk, and sick. He's come from California and is trying to get to get to Nashville to audition for The Grand Ole Opry. He enlists the aid of his 14-year-old nephew, Whit, and soon they're off an a picaresque adventure with Whit's grandfather also in tow. One of the original participants in the 1889 Land Run, the grandfather has decided to return to Tennessee to die there.

I enjoyed this book much in the same way that I enjoyed ADDIE PRAY, a.k.a. PAPER MOON, another Depression-era road-trip/coming-of-age novel. Carlile didn't really accomplish anything new or groundbreaking with this novel. In fact, one scene between Whit and his grandfather is stagey and overwritten. But HONKYTONK MAN is a magical book for me because it's worked that strange alchemy that certain books work on me: It acted as a springboard to interest in other books.

After I finished HONKYTONK MAN, I was curious to learn more about Jimmie Rodgers, the real-life model for Red Stovall, so I went to amazon.com and found a book about Rodgers called JIMMIE RODGERS: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AMERICA'S BLUE YODELER. I was able to preview some of the first chapter, and judging by casual references (e.g. driving down the road and Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue is playing on the car radio), it looked as if the book was written sometime in the late 1970s.

Further investigation revealed that it was written awhile back, [1979] but it was reprinted by a university press about 12 years ago, which means that it's probably no slouch when it comes to well-done research. Even better, the writing is fine and lively, not the usual dry and deadly stuff one associates with academia.

You guessed it: I really want this book!

But it doesn't stop there: The author of the Jimmie Rodgers book is Nolan Porterfield. The name rings a distant bell in my memory, but I'm damned if I could tell you why. Anyway, Porterfield is also a novelist, and he wrote a novel called A WAY OF KNOWING. Of this novel, written in 1971, a reviewer at amazon fervently wrote that Porterfield's novel would definitely fill the bill for those who like Larry McMurtry, and that in some ways, it was even better than McMurtry's stuff.

Well, I'm a big McMurtry fan, so that alone would be enough to pique my interest, but there's also the knowledge that Porterfield is a country music scholar! Furthermore, he, like McMurtry is from Texas. How could I go wrong??? I'm just downright jonesing for this book as well! It's time for a Lost Weekend that takes place at abe.books.com

Some of my fellow bookcrossers at bookcrossing.com have tidy, prescribed lists of what they'll read for the coming year. I can't do that. For one thing, it smacks of that tight-assed regimentation that is the hallmark of formal schooling. In addition, it doesn't seem to allow enough room for the almost mystical way you can find books...or books can find you. The most I can do is make up a rough list of my reading interests for the coming year, then wait with pleasure to see how and where and why I get waylaid.

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