To fulfill my first semester requirements in my master’s program, I recently read In Our Time by Earnest Hemingway. This short story collection was written just after World War I, a war the author witnessed apparently in horrifying detail. His memories and, ultimately, thoughts and feelings of battle appear, not so subtly, in these stories. Being reminded during my subsequent research of the collection that Hemingway took his own life, I began to wonder how well we can get to know authors from reading their fiction. Did Hemingway leave hints of his eventual suicide in his writing?
Readers of The Ball Player, my only work of fiction in print, certainly have a feel for who I am. The novel was inspired by my own experiences in professional baseball, and while I used my imagination to create a fictional world, the readers who enjoyed The Ball Player most likely would enjoy finding me on a neighboring bar-stool at some local haunt with an hour or two to chat.
So would I want to hang with Earnest? The MFA student in me would of course, but I’m thinking more of offering him my second ticket to the football game, or inviting him to fill out a weekend poker table. Suffice to say, based on my limited reading of Hemingway, the above short story collection and The Old Man and the Sea, I would put him way down on my list of guys to call.
If an author’s fiction can indeed give us a sense of the man himself, than my first call would be to John Grisham. He’s not winning a Pulitzer anytime soon, but there is an air of cool that runs through all his books, good (The Firm, A Time to Kill) and bad (The Appeal, The Summons). If Grisham is busy than I’ll ring up Harlan Coben. I’m not bringing him along because of anything I responded to in his stand alone best-sellers. While these novels were entertaining and well received by the masses, I want the guy that wrote the Myron Bolitar books, witty sports agent/ amateur sleuth with a ninja warrior, Bruce Wayne wannabe side kick. Michael Connelly is a close third.
Also on the top of my list are Baldacci and Rollins. Never a dull moment in their fictional worlds, they paint their female leads strong, sexy, and sharp, qualities that remind me of my wife. Even Jonathan Kellerman will get a call. His seemingly unending affection for all things MENSA might make some think that hanging with JK could get exhausting, but he’s got great taste in cars and houses, and he knows how to kill a bad guy. There’s no doubt he’s down to take in the latest Soderbergh flick.
I’m hoping I don’t have to resort to calling Tom Clancy. I’m thinking I could only handle him in small doses. I do love fighter jets and some political back and forth, and I’m a big Jack Ryan fan, but I imagine Tom telling me how it is all night, not letting anyone else get a word in edgewise. And I’m thinking I’ll pass on Koontz as well. Sometimes being close to genius is cool and sometimes it can get creepy. Same goes for Jeffery Deaver. The guy has come up with one too many creative serial killers for me to think he’d be the perfect addition to a Friday night dinner party. And while I may not send the Evite to Deaver, I will invite Stephen King, if only to pull him away from his keyboard for an evening and as a result hopefully lessen the word count a bit for his next book.
With the thought of a dinner party and wives and girlfriends joining the fun, one might ask, why not Nick Sparks? The answer is simple. When I start dialing a well-manner Carolina boy with southern flavor and sensibilities, Pat Conroy answers that call.
At the end of the day, I know that I could share some good fun with any author, for the simple reason that if they write, we share a common bond, a bond strong enough to last at least the whole of a grande soy latte. I’ve also recently discovered, I enjoy conversation with almost anyone who reads, if only to feel their excitement as they describe the novel they recently purchased for their kindle or the paperback that now sits on their nightstand.
Perhaps in the days, weeks and months ahead I’ll read an author brand new to me and he or she will get Grisham’s ticket to the Titans’ game.