Richard Ford’s books – Read ’em all — well, except one …

Written By: sherridaley - Aug• 09•12

I began my love affair with Richard Ford (I wish!) when I read The Sportswriter in 1986. Actually I think it was Frank Bascombe I fell in love with, that hapless, overly intelligent hero of Ford’s triptych: The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land. Bascombe, twice divorced, grieved father of a son who died at 9 years old, earnest lover, failed writer, and successful realtor, attacks every happenstance with the sensible bewilderment of a true thinking man.

It’s almost as if Ford writes his novels in real time, as the books, each one nearly 500 pages long, take place over a couple of days – Easter in the case of the Sportswriter, Fourth of July for Independence Day, and Thanksgiving in The Lay of the Land – and it takes just about as many hours to read each book, not counting the hours both you the reader and Frank Bascombe are sleeping.

I am a bad girl reader.  When the book is not to my liking, I flip to the back to see who gets the girl or what country got pillaged and throw the book on the floor beside my bed.  If the book has some merit, I’ll read ever other paragraph, speed read, as they say — but Ford is too good a writer for either of those.  I didn’t want to miss a thing.  Not a word.

I’m a bit of a word snot. I love words, their etymology, literary allusions, spelling, blah blah, blah. So when I come across a book that has words I absolutely don’t know, I am impressed, hooked. While reading The Lay of the Land, I jotted down words that I simply didn’t know, and their meanings from context were, well, foggy.  Who, except you folks in the medical professions, knew the name of the symbol for medicine, those entwining snakes on a staff (“caduceus”)?  And I challenge anyone except the Pope to tell me where you would find an “aspergill” and what you would do with it once you found it. What would you use a “muleta” for, if you had the balls to use one at all?

“Bosky”?  “Adumbrations”?  I love this one: A “claque” is a group of people hired to applaud!  But “quiddity” didn’t made sense to me even after I looked it up. It can be “the essence of something” or “a trifling point” or “an eccentricity”.  WTF? Don’t those definitions contradict one another?

I do love Ford’s metaphors and similes, a handful of singularly unique ones every page.  My favorite in Lay of the Land was “bored to concrete”.

My love for Richard Ford suffered a little when I read The Ultimate Good Luck, a story of drug-dealing losers in which I didn’t care if any of the characters lived or died.  Not a good sign for a readable book.  It ended up on the floor after I skipped ahead and read the last few pages and still didn’t care if the brother ended up dead.

I love Ford, even though all his book jacket photos make him look intimidatingly serious and frighteningly smart.

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