What’s the best book you ever read?
July 30, 2016
SEVERAL YEARS AGO, I came across a blog where the subject was the favorite books of various authors. I don’t remember whose blog it was, so I can’t give you a link to it, and I’m working from memory.
Many of the selections were obvious, but then I came across one attributed to Stephen King. According to the blog, Stephen King said the best book he ever read was THE END OF THE NIGHT by John D. MacDonald.
He didn’t say it was one of his favorites. He said it was the best book he ever read.
People have different views of Stephen King’s writing. But when I see an author who has sold as many books as King has who gives a book that kind of endorsement, I want to know more about that book and that writer.
I got on Amazon and found a copy of THE END OF THE NIGHT at a used bookstore. I paid about five dollars for it and had it in my hands in a couple of weeks. The copy I have is a paperback original, copyright 1960, published as part of the Fawcett World Library series.
It is one hundred and ninety-two pages of yellowed cheap paper and writing brilliance.
Philistine that I was at the time, I had not heard of John D. MacDonald. He died in 1986. Here is a brief bit of bio about him from a website dedicated to keeping his memory alive. You can find a complete bibliography of his works on the site.
Born In Sharon, Pa., MacDonald , as a young boy, wished he had been born a writer, believing that they were a separate “race,” marked from birth. By the time he died he had published 78 books, with more than 75 million copies in print. He graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in business; worked at several menial jobs before earning his MBA from Harvard; married and produced a son; and served in the OSS in India during WW2.
MacDonald wrote the famous best-selling Travis McGee series among others.
If there is a word out of place in this book, I haven’t found it. THE END OF THE NIGHT is the story of the Wolf Pack Murders in which four young people, three men and a woman, go on a killing rampage and eventually face the death penalty for it.
As MacDonald unravels the story, we see things from various points of view and enter into the very souls of the characters, the killers, the victims and their families, the lawyer for the accuseds, the law enforcement officials who track them down.
Since I can’t copy the whole book for you, let me give you a taste of it. Back to back on the same page fall two paragraphs about a sheriff in Monroe, Louisiana, and one of his deputies.
First the sheriff, Gus Kirby:
On the pale-gray walls of his office were the framed evidences of many small triumphs. On the desk, mounted on a cherrywood base and a slender silver pedestal was the misshapen slug, a .38 caliber, which in 1949, had punched a raw hole under his collarbone, nicked the top of his right lung and cracked the shoulder blade and won an election. With the slug in him Gus had disarmed his assailant with such emphasis that he had snapped both the man’s wrists.
Just think how much we learn about Gus in those three sentences.
Here’s the bit about the deputy.
Gus Kirby sighed mightily as he watched his favorite deputy, Rolly Spring, working on the map. Rolly was a spare little man, a crickety fellow with seven kids, a genius for loyalty, a sour outlook, and the single flaw of being entirely too quick and willing to put random patterns of hard knots on surly heads with his hickory nightstick.
I don’t think I would want to mess with Sheriff Kirby or Deputy Spring.
By the way, I have not finished THE END OF THE NIGHT yet although I have been reading it off and on for probably a year. I have not finished it because I don’t want it to end. I prefer to read a page or so and set it aside for a while so I can think about all that MacDonald packed into that beautiful writing.
But, this brings us to the question of the day: What is the best book you ever read?
I’d love to see your picks.
Stephen Woodfin is the author of Last One Chosen.