Thanks so much to John Tanner for sending us news of what he’s been up to, how he came to love Brautigan and write a Phd thesis on him and then write this book. Keep writing in, folks. We always love to hear from you – tell us how you discovered Brautigan, what his work and his life have inspired in you – did you eat some trout, write a poem, rediscover your love of reading (as I did), meet your soulmate, go for a walk?
Have a read of John’s message below.
Warmest wishes, Vera
In 2006 I walked into Starlight Books, a small second-hand shop in Flagstaff, Arizona, and bought a copy of Trout Fishing in America that still had the stamp of a local school’s library on it, Coconino High. Four years later that unplanned purchase turned into a PhD thesis on Richard Brautigan, and that, in turn, has become a book: Landscapes of Language: the Achievement and Context of Richard Brautigan’s Fiction.
I’d read Trout Fishing once before, a long time ago, when it was one of those cult fictions that you had to read if you wanted to appear hip. I couldn’t remember anything much about it, really, and hadn’t gone on to read anything else by Brautigan, so I imagine I hadn’t been impressed. Just, puzzled, probably. Still, some kind of after-image must have lingered, because when the shop owner said to me, “You do know that it’s not about fishing, don’t you?” I was able to give him a what-kind-of-fool-do-you-take-me-for stare.
Why did I buy it? I can’t leave second-hand bookshops without buying something; it looked like a piece of Americana and I was in America; I wanted to give myself a second chance to like it. That’s as close as I can get. What I found I now had was a book whose lyrical strangeness charmed me and whose bravura demolition of traditional narrative conventions mightily impressed me. I could see how its iconic cover shot, with Brautigan looking part rock star, part hippie and part gunslinger, must have appealed to the Sixties’ college campuses where Brautigan became a counter-cultural hero. I could see how the surreal quality of the writing, the outsider point of view and the rejection of conventions would have been in tune with the times. Brautigan’s novel caught a wave. So, although it is an avant-garde book, the kind that might have been expected to fail commercially, it went on to sell more than 2m copies.
I read more Brautigan, researched the background to his work, and discovered that, in barely a decade, he went from celebrity to literary outcast, neglected by both readers and critics. When the hippie ship sank, he went down with it, even though he had never really been a hippie nor, previously, a Beat. You could measure the extent of the decline from all manner of statistics, but a conversation I had in San Francisco encapsulated it for me. I went into a large, prestigious bookshop 5 or 6 years ago and looked for books by Brautigan, who had spent his most productive years in the city and was part of its literary DNA. There was nothing. Close by, an assistant was talking to a friend about the novel that he was writing. He was not long out of university, I would guess. Probably about the same age as Brautigan had been when he came to San Francisco. The young writer had not heard of Trout Fishing in America. He had not heard of Brautigan either.
One reason for writing Landscapes of Language is to take a small step towards removing the possibility of encounters like that. It is the first book-length, English-language study of Brautigan’s work for some 20 years, building on previous critical accounts to establish Brautigan as a more radical innovator than American peers who have become more celebrated. The focus is on his work in the Sixties, and includes important cultural, literary and biographical influences, especially those from the bohemian San Francisco scene. It’s available in print from lulu.com, as a Kindle download from Amazon, and as an ebook from the publishers, Humanities-EBooks. Enjoy!
Dr. John Tanner, Bangor University john dot tanner at live dot co dot uk