My mother always said, “Always get doctors and lawyers and such much younger than you are.” This never made any sense to me. Wouldn’t we want older doctors with lots of experience? Shouldn’t we hire lawyers with age and gravitas and lots of courtroom hours? NO! Why? They die on us. My mother was right. I saw her suffer as her beloved and trusted doctors kicked the bucket and left her with a file five inches thick and nowhere to turn. Starting with a new doctor when you’re sixty or seventy or eighty is just no fun. For one thing, she could not pronounce their names. (She just called them Dr. T or Dr. A.) For another, they were all now much younger than she was; indeed, they looked like teens. (We won’t even go into how young your psychiatrist should be!)
However, for me, my mother left out the most important choice of all: your authors. All my favorite authors have slowly gone to the Big Pencil in the Sky and left me here all alone suffering withdrawal symptoms with no really good place or page to turn unless I want to read about Snookie or vampires.
Once, all my favorite writers were older than me. I still have not forgiven James Michener for leaving his Smith and Corona, though I realize he had no choice. Each summer I took three entire wonderful humid, hammock months to read one of his whopper, thousand page novels. Who else today could or would write what seemed like a thousand pages alone on the birth of an island? I loved his generations-churning books with so many characters he had to include a family tree or three in the frontmatter. Acknowledgements alone ran 20 pages. Michener was my writing hero back then. They kept a writing desk for him at the Denver Public Library. He had a wife who took care of “everything else.” I can only imagine.
Flannery O’Connor died way too young. Many of us still mourn the loss of this voice that only gets more contemporary with the years. A Good Writer is Hard to Find. They should live forever, or at least outlive you. Poor Flannery never even lived long enough to marry and have children, not that I’m sure she would have wanted to do either. She did have kids, of sorts, peacocks. She loved her peacocks. Her childhood home is here in Savannah and we celebrate her birthday each year. She died of lupus at about age 41, as I recall, leaving us a legacy of southern perfect books, just not enough of them. I need someone to write about men biting heads off chickens; really, I do. At least once a summer.
Humorist Lewis Grizzard was not the greatest writer. Indeed, in his younger years, I despised him. However, after he was diagnosed with heart disease and endured a good many operations, he mellowed into a lovable author with more than hokey humor up his sleeve. When he died at a way too young age, I felt just like the title of one of his books regarding an operation he'd had: They Took My Heart Out and Stomped That Sucker Flat. My heart was stomped flat, too, Lewis, when you left us.
That dadgum Tennessee Williams died too; I know…I was there. Not kidding. But that’s a story for another day. I miss a writer who can rake your heart and soul over the coals and you love every painful minute of it. I could make a longer list and I know I am heavy on southern writers, but it’s not that as much as writers who could really tell a story, tell it big and bold and with drama and language to bring you to tears. You did not read the books of these writers to enjoy them, you read to suffer along with their characters, to live the life of another for a while, and never to forget them.
This week, Maurice Sendak even had the gall to leave us. We loved his words and his art. He said he liked kids fine, just not too many and not too close. I know how he feels. At least he's gone on to where the wild things are. We are stuck here left behind without him. What will I read my grandkids at bedtime?
I have a list of non-fiction authors, too. It really hurts to see your favorite biographers and historians tumble into the tomb of tomes. Grrrrrrrrrrrr. Maybe they did not have young enough doctors? My mother could have warned them. My husband, Bob, complains of the same thing. He’s so old all his doctors and lawyers and such are definitely younger, but his favorite writers long ago left their legal pads and no. 10 pencils behind. He reads their books over and over, western writers from the great heyday of western writing. He caves and reads their “new” works, as in written by SO-AND-SO (the famous writer) and so-and-so, the writer who’s really writing them in the style of SO-AND-SO. Ain’t the same thing, he insists.
There are many good writers today. But great? Did you notice that a recent big national writing award skipped handing out a few? You can replace a doctor. You can replace a lawyer. But replacing a beloved writer who could really “bring it” is just not doable. Nor, I guess, should it be. But it doesn’t make me happy, especially not with summer coming, and I have a new Hatteras hammock (after 40 years—even my damn hammock died!) and I heard summer in the south is supposed to be especially humid.
You can argue over real book, ebook, but that’s not nearly as important as what’s on the page, print or electronic. If I could conjure up another Michener or Faulkner or O’Connor or Williams or Ludlum, or…
OH, NO! OMIGOSH!! HOW OLD IS MY HAIRDRESSER?