John Clark with a slightly different look at literature. It all started when the above cryptic phrase swam up from the memory pool. How many books are published annually? The best answer I found is this: There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. Scary, eh? As a compulsive reader (238 thus far in 2017), I’m prone to accumulating far more than I could possibly read. In fact, I’ve started working on accepting my powerlessness over books and triaged the monster TBR pile in my bedroom, the computer room and the closet in our back bedroom. As a result, close to 300 books are headed to other libraries on my sharing list across Maine. That doesn’t mean I won’t relapse, but I’m trying to do more with the eight page borrow from other libraries list on my computer. see image below.
Anyhow, when the above three words surfaced the other morning, I started thinking about the timeline of books that have remained with me in memory form over the years. When we were little, our parents read to us almost every night and among the books that stand out from those years, perhaps Stuart Little and the trio by Ruth Styles Gannet (My Father’s Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland) stand out. From ten or so until I went off to college, I devoured plenty of books, thanks to the Vose Library in Union as well as ones I found while exploring my grandmother’s home in New Portland. I suspect my late uncle Leland Look’s love of hunting, fishing and trapping in and around New Vineyard may have influenced some of what I read, as there were numerous series about brothers and cousins and best friends many of whom roamed the outdoors of Maine. What really hooked me in my teen years were the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Everyone remembers him for the Tarzan books, but he wrote many others and I’m pretty certain I read every one of them. I was particularly intrigued by his ending almost every chapter with a mini-cliffhanger, going to a different character in the next and ramping up the suspense for page after page before resolving what was whirling in the back of the reader’s mind.
Burroughs’ work funneled me into serious science fiction and fantasy. A.E. Van Vogt, L. Sprague De Camp, Harry Harrison and Isaac Asimov all took me to places that were far more interesting than my high school was. Slan and The Incompleat Enchanter are titles that still resonate in my brain today.
We got a lot of the books accumulated by my Clark grandparents. Among them four stand out some fifty years later and were the origin of the title of this piece. Sewell Ford wrote lots of books, but I fell in love with his Torchy series. They featured a poor fellow named Torchy who worked in the mailroom of a New York company. When he encountered Miss Vee (Veronica), the owner’s daughter, sparks of the old fashioned kind erupted and over a series of books, Torchy and Miss Vee developed as dandy a romance as you’d want to read about. In Torchy Private Secretary, Torchy found a note that said “Grebel out. Larkin melding. Teg morf rednu.” He asked a card playing friend who explained the rules of penuchle. The upshot was that Miss Vee’s aunt was about to be fleeced in a stock deal. Torchy saved the day by convincing a young dandy to let him fly over the yacht where Miss V and her aunt were cruising and dropped a ripe melon with a note warning them not to sign papers completing the deal.
The other book was George Barr McCutcheon’s Brewster’s Millions. Later made into a movie starring Richard Pryor. I liked it because of the novel idea that Brewster had to spend one million dollars in a year (back in the early 1900s) and have absolutely nothing to show for it. He was forbidden to tell anyone why and would lose a much larger inheritance if he did. The ways in which he blew it, how he had to evade being institutionalized and avoid losing his lady friend made it a dandy read.
Who knew Miss Agnes came in two colors?
Next up were some great mystery series. I devoured the Travis McGee series and fantasized about having my own Miss Agnes, did the same with Ross McDonald and early Spencer before discovering Tony Hillerman. Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn can be my neighbors any time. Ditto David Robicheaux and Matthew Scudder.
Each of these books and authors had a hand in creating how I see the world and think today. Most I probably won’t read again (Curse you TBR pile), but parts of them live in my head to this day. What does your literary timeline look like?