Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Cap Cod Lighter -- John O'Hara

When I was in high school, I developed a real interest in reading John O'Hara. At this late date, I have no idea why. Maybe it had something to do with the movie version of Butterfield 8. Elizabeth Taylor never looked better, believe me. At any rate, I consumed a lot of O'Hara's books, including Appointment in Samarra, Butterfield 8, and From the Terrace, along with some of the short stories. It's impossible for me to explain how excited I was when I read about the publication of Sermons and Soda Water, and I rushed to the library to be the first one in town to read it. The collection was published as three slim volumes in a slipcase, which I thought was the ultimate in coolness. I hoped that if I lived long enough and was very, very good, God would let me publish a book like that someday.

Didn't happen, of course, but that's not the point. The point is that the collection was a best seller, as was The Cape Cod Lighter, which I've been reading for a couple of days. It's a collection of stories published in 1962. The copy I have is the Bantam paperback edition, the third printing from 1969. The Random House hardcover went through five printings between November 1962 and February 1963. A short story collection. Hard to believe, right? And these aren't just short stories. They're New Yorker short stories. What in God's name was the reading public thinking? I'm sure this couldn't happen now. Tastes have changed, and hardly anybody reads O'Hara anymore. He's out of favor with the people who decide on the literary canon, and that's a shame, because he was a heck of a writer. Great insight into characters, great ear for dialogue, and he knew how to put together a story.

Even more entertaining than the stories is the introduction. O'Hara clobbers critics and talks about the importance of fiction. Great stuff.


Anonymous said...

Tastes have changed, and hardly anybody reads O'Hara anymore.

I do, Bill. A few years back I discovered O'Hara too and read through all the stories I could find - close to 300 in the end.

Great stuff.

Kent Morgan said...

I could go right to my garage (except that it's below zero) and find PBs of all those O'Hara books and more that I actually read. Easy for you to pull them out when they are filed under O in your office.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Bill, don't let Mike Robison see that you've written that no one reads O'Hara any longer...when I was writing a Lot on Rara-Avis, but not as much as Miker, he was very enthusiastically boosting him, having, I think, just discovered his novels (has Mike learned to love short fiction yet? I just don't read enough on RA of late...). I did recommend JO to a librarian looking to help a patron who'd gone through all of Hemingway and was looking for more in some way in the same vein...along with Hammett, and JDMac, among a few others.