Monday, December 30, 2013

Tributes: Elmore Leonard, Tom Clancy, Barbara Park

This is the time of year I pay tribute to authors who have left us and left an indelible mark on my reading life. Elmore Leonard is one of my all time favorite authors. His quirky but realistic style of writing is like no other. Tom Clancy’s international thrillers were just that: thrilling. And Barbara Park influenced reading for children like no other author could.

About a decade ago I saw an interview by Larry King with Tom Clancy who said he couldn’t believe how lucky he had been because he got to lead a life of make belief in creating scenarios where the good guy always won, usually his hero Jack Ryan who has been portrayed on screen by three actors, Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck or his second hero Mr. Clark who has been portrayed by actors Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber.  The last novel by Clancy that I read was The Bear and the Dragon. He collaborated with other writers in continuing his war games. He died of an undisclosed illness at age 66 but one of his friends suggested that his heart wore out.

Barbara Park was the complete opposite of Clancy and Leonard but her influence in inspiring young girls to read goes without parallel. Sometime in the late 1990s, I was looking for books for my then youngest granddaughter Mallory. I had no problem finding books for her older sister Brittany. But Mallory was just learning to read and all I could find were simple books about animals. Then one day as I was standing in the book section of Wal-Mart and wondering if I would ever find something cute for Mallory, it happened. Out of nowhere Junie B. Jones appeared! Of course, it wasn’t like that exactly but Junie B., a mischievous kindergartner, stood out like no other fictional character. I bought one of the books and sent it to Mallory and she was off and reading! Barbara Park’s sense of humor and creativity have helped instill a love of lifetime reading as no other author could have done. She died at age 66 of ovarian cancer but Junie B. and other characters she created will live on forever.

Elmore Leonard's sense of humor and quirky style captivated me the moment I started reading his work.  The first of his novels that I read was Glitz where his “hero” goes to Puerto Rico (a place where I lived for four years) and in it he mentions the Carmen Apartments where a friend of mine lived with her young son. But it wasn’t just Puerto Rico that captured my attention, it was the characters and the plot. I have now read twenty-two of his books, the last one a compilation of nine short stories titled Fire in the Hole. And the last story in that series, Tenkiller, is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. First of all it takes place in Okmulgee, Oklahoma where I was born. Second, he gives a hilarious portrait of the town and its inhabitants. The ending literally left me laughing out loud. He died at age 88 still at the height of his popularity.

I could go on forever extolling the virtues of these three writers. Each was unique and each contributed literature without parallel.