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by Walker Percy

Pub Date: July 17th, 1991
ISBN: 0312254199
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A pungent, revealing collection of lectures, essays, and interviews—some previously published in Harper's, The Georgia Review, etc.—by the late novelist (d. 1990). Percy was a quintessentially American writer with a voice of his own that was never compromised. His observation that the purpose of the novel is to give pleasure can be applied to this work as well. The nonfiction has a droll, dry, carefully laid-back honesty that shares something important with such masters of American English as Russell Baker, James Thurber, and Mark Twain; but Percy can also be as intense as Graham Greene in the earnestness of his Catholicism. He wrote novels with plenty of thought-content, and his nonfiction has plenty of storytelling. He writes about science, linguistics, literature, and the South, in ascending order of success, and while he is no threat to Chomsky and his successors, his essay on bourbon puts him up there with Flann O'Brien on the subject of whiskey. The title of his 1957 essay "The Coming Crisis in Psychiatry" is prescient, as are his queries into a profession that has since splintered in all directions. This is diligent, unassuming writing, always as clear and simple as the subject will allow, and sometimes deadly. It does not have the brooding elegance of his best fiction, but it has a stubborn integrity and a sense of the future. Always, Percy strives to keep in balance a very real spiritual talent, the abstract theories of science in which he was trained (as a doctor), and the precise, forgiving sense of human frailty in which the best southern writing is grounded. Percy was that rarest of creatures, an educated gentleman, a true man of the humanities; like the bourbon he writes about, he has a complex, heady flavor all his own. A good book to travel with.