Welcome to The Travis McGee Book Club.
The first question… why?
Well, I guess I could say this is a countdown of sorts to whoever finally wrestles Travis back up onto the big screen. Someone will. It’s inevitable now that there’s a script and a studio’s spent money and there are various producers and talent attached. Even if it doesn’t happen exactly the way they’re considering right now (Oliver Stone directing Leonardo Di Caprio was one recent configuration), it’s going to happen. At least once.
But the truth is, I don’t have the stomach to contemplate what they’re doing to him to turn it into a movie. And I don’t have to. The books are the thing here. John D. McDonald’s voice… that’s the thing.
I can honestly say there’s no writer whose work gives me more reading pleasure than McDonald. And those are big words. My favorite novel of all time is John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany, and the writer who I’d say is the biggest influence on me because of when and how I read him is Stephen King, but in terms of sheer pleasure, a sort of meditative joy that I get lost in with each of his books, it’s McDonald, pound for pound.
I occasionally talk about how much I love and respect McDonald as a writer, but I think it’s time to do more than that. I think it’s time to build a shrine to the guy, one month at a time, and I want to invite you guys to participate in a very direct way. One of my best friends, Kevin Biegel, is as big a fan of the novels as I am, and over the last couple of years, we’ve been enjoying the conversation about the books and the author and gradually turning other friends on to the books. But it’s small-scale evangelism, and McDonald deserves better. I love that Kevin named a character on his TV series “Cougar Town” Travis, and I’m pleased that he’s also staking his claim on a corner of Florida with the show. He’s walking the walk, and even if I can’t imagine Travis McGee ever sitting down to watch an episode of “Cougar Town,” those types of tributes speak to just how deep Kevin’s love for the character goes.
About a year ago, I first mentioned to Kevin and to another friend, D.C. Pierson, the idea of putting together a Travis McGee Book Club. Basically, I was looking for an excuse to hang out with some buddies, talk about one of my favorite writers, and drink Plymouth gin. But we never quite got around to it, and as I’ve thought about it over the last year, I realized that the point of this sort of exercise should always be to bring the word of McDonald to a larger audience. Since HitFix has grown exponentially each month since we arrived online in December of ’08, I figure it’s time to step up and do this right. I want to make the case for Travis McGee as one of the great literary creations of the 20th Century. I want to make the case for John D. McDonald as one of the great writers. Period. Not just of one specific period or one specific region, but ever. And more than anything, I want to hear your reactions as you encounter Travis for the first time, or as you re-read the books with us from month to month.
So… August 1st. We’ll be here, and I’ll post a fairly lengthy piece on The Deep Blue Good-by, the first book in the series. There are 21 Travis McGee novels in all, and we’re going to do each and every one. We’re going to discuss plot, dig deep with some analysis, and I’m going to reprint some of my favorite passages and lines. It’s not just the story or the characters that attract me to these books, keep in mind, but the language itself. McDonald did a better job of capturing Florida in all its contradictory beauty than any other writer past or present, and if you’re a fan of someone like Carl Hiaasen, then you owe it to yourself to get familiar with the guy who paved the way, the guy whose work even Hiaasen acknowledges as the road map that he’s followed.
I want this series to stand as my ultimate homage to a writer who should be taught in schools everywhere, and I want these books back on the shelves of every Borders or Barnes & Noble in America. If you want to participate, all you have to do is go to Amazon, where they all appear to be readily available for no more than $7.99 a pop, and you can start with our August, September, and October titles, which are the first three books in the series. The Deep Blue Good-by, Nightmare In Pink, and A Purple Place For Dying will set the stage for what we’re going to do over the course of this series of articles, and if you’re not 100% hooked by the time we finish those, I’d recommend you opt out. But I’d be shocked. I’ve never had someone tell me that they didn’t like the books after I turned them on to McDonald’s work. What I hope will happen is that you will show up on the first of each month to participate in some real discussion in our comments section, and that we can turn this into a living, breathing, back and forth about what these books have to say right now, where we see signs of McGee’s influence in pop culture, and what McDonald’s writing means to you, or if it ends up meaning nothing to you at all.
There’s more to this, of course. I’m looking for ways to create some conversation with you guys, ways to encourage real participation. I have been thinking about the nature of the Internet recently, and as much as I love being a pontificating blowhard, I also believe that the real value of this medium is in the way we can make it interactive. The Internet is at its very best when it is participatory, and when you give back just as much as you get as a reader. I don’t do this because I think mine is the only opinion, or the best opinion. It is just that… my opinion, and I want to hear yours as well. I want real debate, not insulting jabs at personal character, and I know you guys are out there. I see it in your e-mails. I see you on Twitter. And for the most part, I do think we have great commenters here. But there’s always more we can do as a group, and a project like this is a chance to help build that community through a common shared ongoing experience, something with a timetable, where we all know that we have something to do on the first of the month. I view this as an experiment, and it only works if you guys actually read the books and then jump in with me.
I have every faith it’ll happen. I know the power of McGee. I know what happens when people start reading the books. And that addiction is what I’m counting on. For me, great series have to have a great central character that draws you through, and Travis McGee is that character. McGee is a guy who takes life as a series of small retirements, earning enough money to coast for a while, then enjoying it, then working only when he needs to. He is not a detective or a cop or a federal agent or anything. He’s just a guy who knows how to get things done. He calls himself a “salvage consultant,” and what he does is step into situations where someone has lost something of great value but has no legal recourse to do anything about it. He’ll recover the money or the thing of value, but he takes half of its value as a fee. He’s driven by a code of honor that is very strong and very personal, and he often finds himself pulled into a situation simply because he can’t walk away and feel good about it. He’s joined in the books, frequently, by his good friend Meyer, another great character, and I think as you get to know the two of them and the world they navigate, you’ll get as excited about this as I am.
So let me know if you’re up for this. Several of you have weighed in already on Twitter, and I look forward to kicking this off on the other side of the lunacy of Comic-Con. Until then, I’ll be making my notes and getting ready to kick this off.
Hope to see you then.