The sun was shining, and I settled in with my classmates for my first class with a legend of my graduate school. My graduate school is about 40 years old, and this professor had been there for nearly 30. His style was to have everyone pick a different book each week and report on it, so we'd learn from one another. His comprehensive lists of excellent books were legendary. The way some alums talked about them, it sounded like they were practically planning to get them bronzed. He only kept us for a few minutes that day, but before we left, he confided to us his desire to read every book ever written. "I keep trying," he said, "but the bastards keep gaining on me."
Two days after that, we were all at a barbeque when one of the other professors gathered us all together. She had some terrible news for us. The legendary professor had been killed in a car crash that afternoon.
Sometimes I wonder, did he waste much time on crappy books? Did he push through books he knew he wouldn't enjoy, just to get to the end? I'll never know. But in his memory, I have decided, to my great surprise, to set aside Last of the Southern Girls by Willie Morris, only 20 pages in. It's a weird book -- it doesn't sound like him. I think maybe he's at his best when he's drawing more on his own life, like in My Dog Skip or Taps. I know he had a successful career as an editor before he wrote either of those books, and I'm sure he's had experience around the Beltway, with women like Carol Hollywell, but he's failed to suck me in. I will continue to love him for the two books listed above and for My Cat Spit McGee, but I think I'll have to forego this one, in the recognition that no one's perfect, life is short, and better books await.