Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rob Rereads, part 1

I read a lot when I was a kid, started before I began school because I just didn't want to wait that long. My first literary love was biographies and I plowed through every one that Jackson Davis Elementary School Library had --- which pissed off my Elmira Gulch-esque librarian, but that's another story for another time -- but somewhere along the line I graduated to fiction and it's still by far my favorite genre. Most novels I just plowed through on my way to the next one, but some of them made a bigger impression on me. Some of them I had to go back and reread, either because I missed something or because I wanted to go on living in that world with those people. One of the first books I remember that sort of blew me away was "If I Loved You, Am I Trapped Forever?" by M.E. Kerr, which is about this boy in high school who seems to have everything going for him -- he's popular, he's got a hot girlfriend -- and this new kid (Duncan Stein, nicknamed "Doomed") who starts school. He is a weirdo and a misfit, but he and his philosophy of unrequited love being the only kind of love that's real become a phenomenon at that school, much to our hero's chagrin. I think the reason I had to keep going back and rereading it was because it may have been the first book I ever read that did not have a happy ending and that fascinated me.
I reread this book a couple years ago and I'm happy to say it was just as good as I remembered it. I wrote to M.E. Kerr to tell her how much I liked that book and I received a very nice letter from her in return. Kerr never attained the status of her contemporary Judy Blume, but all her books -- and she was quite prolific -- are worth seeking out.

On the other hand, I also used to just devour Carter Brown books. Part of the reason was the great covers by the incomparable Robert McGinnis, but I also thought the books were funny, sexy and exciting. My favorite of his protagonists was Danny Boyd, who was always talking about how irresistible his profile was. But when I try to reread these, I can't get even halfway through. Carter Brown uses so many damned adverbs -- several per page, nobody ever whispers, they state "softly" -- that I find myself tensed up waiting for the next one like a prisoner expecting another lash from the whip. Not a pleasant experience.
Although the McGinnis covers are still breathtaking.

So, my results with rereading favorites from my youth have been mixed. So maybe you'll understand why I'm feeling a little trepidation about revisiting "Old Glory and the Real-Time Freaks" by Ralph Blum. You want to talk about being blown away by a book, this is the one that did for me. It's about a guy named Quentin Ells. (And isn't it interesting that I can't remember the names of the characters in the book I read last week -- not to mention the names of many of my co-workers -- but I cannot forget Duncan Stein, Danny Boyd and Quentin Ells?) Quentin is a teenager, but the book is a letter to his unborn son (or grandson maybe, I forget) and spends most of the book high; he tokes up on Air Force One, drops acid with his grandfather. He refers to himself as QED (Quentin Ells Deceased) because he expects he'll be gone by the time his grandson reads the letter.
How much did this book affect me? It made me decide I wanted nothing more than to be a hippie, and for better or worse, I've pretty much stuck with that career plan. When I decided I wanted to write a book I basically stole the letter to unborn progeny format.
I've been looking for this book a long time -- and by looking I mean looking for a cheap copy -- thanks anyway, Alibris) -- and I've finally found it and ordered it. Now I'm a little nervous. So much so that I haven't even opened the package and it arrived last Thursday and that is not like me at all. I usually rip open packages while standing in front of the mailbox. Will it be as good as I remember like "If I Love You. . . " or will it be adverb-addled crap like Carter Brown? Or will it be somewhere in between, just your typical mediocre novel? I'm going to find out soon, but for now I'm enjoying the anticipation. While we're waiting here's some more Robert McGinnis art. Is this guy good or what?

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