RIP Charles Portis. He’s the only writer whose novels I’ve read twice. (I re-read all five of them last summer when I was in a real funk.)
If you’re wondering where to start, you can’t go wrong with True Grit. After that, I’d probably read the books that came after in order of publication — The Dog of the South, Masters of Atlantis, Gringos — and then swing back for his first novel, Norwood.
Portis was a master not just of opening lines, but opening pages. (Levi Stahl posted all five of them on Twitter.) Here’s the opening of The Dog of the South:
When I re-read Gringos, it not only became my personal favorite of his books, I’ve adopted several of its sentences into my (mental) file of life-guiding aphorisms:
“We had both known the despair of trying to sell things that nobody wanted.”
“The trick is to make yourself first useful and then necessary.”
“Short was good in a book.”
There are many nice remembrances of him out there: John Brummett sat next to him at his regular bar, Jonathan Rogers’ mom used to quote Mattie Ross to explain her teetotalling, and Wells Tower says he feels less mean when he reads him. (Same.)
I used to hope he was working on a final novel, but I also sort of wished he was on his porch somewhere in Little Rock, sipping whiskey, just hanging out and enjoying life. (Unfortunately, he spent the last six years in a memory care unit.) But it seems like he lived right: kept his overhead low, kept away from unhelpful fame, wrote, traveled to Mexico, and shopped yard sales to find extra parts to keep his typewriter working.
Since there aren’t any more novels to read, I’m off to finally read his miscellany, Escape Velocity. (And maybe sip some whiskey.)