Last week I wrote about two childhood favorite authors. This week, another of my longtime guilty-pleasure reads passed away. Clive Cussler wrote unabashedly men’s action-adventure books, although the last few years I’d stopped looking for his stuff – it just wasn’t ‘feeling’ right to me, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. When I was a kid, though… I used to read everything I could get my hands on. Although my parents prioritized reading… actually, I’m going to stop there and go down a rabbit hole for a minute.
The First Reader and I came together through a shared love of books and reading. We met, close to two decades ago, on the Baen’s Bar, which was an is a forum established by a publishing house devoted to getting authors and readers together and talking about books. There are some differences, though, as we’ve discovered in talking through the years. He grew up in a house with no books. I grew up in a house with more books than shelves to put them on, and have fond memories of building bookshelves with my mother, actually. He learned to read when he went to school, and sometimes feels a little left out when the avid bibliophiles on the Bar would start talking about learning to read almost before they could walk. They, unlike he, had a parent like mine, I’m guessing (or a sibling). Mom read to us from before we were born, I’m pretty sure. I know she read aloud to us daily well into my teens. I can’t remember learning to read, but Mom tells me I was about four and a half. I have just always read. And I have always read a lot, at least until the last few years! My First Reader loved to read as a little tow-headed boy, and it wasn’t until he was well into adulthood that he finally realized why his mom would hide her magazines she liked to read, and why his father would grump and growl at the little boy who would rather read than watch television. His Mom felt guilty about her pleasure in reading, because it was something her husband could not enjoy with her. And his father felt guilty that he was unable to read.
We talk about feeling guilty reading certain kinds of books – and sure, there are books that have all the mental nutrition value of candy bars and popcorn. Sometimes? That’s not a bad thing either. I’ve cracked jokes about bon-bon books I read in the bath when I am trying to relax or feel better from being sick. I don’t want the biography of the man who first organized American Military Intelligence or my HPLC for Pharmaceutical Scientists while I’m doing that. I want a book that I can sink into, escape from the cares and pains of the world, and emerge from at the end refreshed.
Which brings me out of the rabbit hole and back to Cussler. Obituary notices popped up everywhere – considering how many books he wrote, and the impact he had on the literary world, this is hardly surprising. It’s also not terribly surprising that some of the obit writers couldn’t pass up the opportunity to poke a little at the late great popularity of the man with lines like this “American author of more than 80 books forged path as prolific commercial writer who sometimes published four books a year.”
The man was epic. Not only did he manage to put out multiple books a year, he was an explorer, an adventurer who lived some of the wildly improbable things he wrote into his books, and he knew with unerring accuracy how to write an appealing tale. We who look at his life in awe could do worse than to revisit some of his earlier work and study it for just what made them so dang popular and fun to read. I suspect that whoever wrote his wiki article had a clue. “Cussler’s novels, like those of Michael Crichton, are examples of techno-thrillers that do not use military plots and settings. Where Crichton strove for scrupulous realism, however, Cussler prefers fantastic spectacles and outlandish plot devices. The Pitt novels, in particular, have the anything-goes quality of the James Bond or Indiana Jones movies, while also sometimes borrowing from Alistair MacLean’s novels. Pitt himself is a larger-than-life hero reminiscent of Doc Savage and other characters from pulp magazines.” You know, I’ve read some Crichton. But I found myself rolling my eyes at the messages he liked to insert with a ham-handed fist, so I stopped. Dirk Pitt and Al? I just liked them and had fun knowing that their adventures were sheer fantasy.
Sometimes, you want a flight of fantasy. No need to feel guilty about it. That’s the beauty of reading: we can step outside our own vale of tears and sorrows for a time, to ease our minds and relax a little.
(header image: my First Reader about the age he would have learned to read)