Posthumous vindication has its drawbacks, to be sure. But the novels of John Williams, who died in 1994, are drawing more acclaim and readers now than the irascible University of Denver professor ever imagined he'd have.
The latest laurel to come his way? A piece last week on National Public Radio's All Things Considered naming the Williams anti-western Butcher's Crossing as one of three books to take to a fistfight.
Williams' savage account of a Colorado buffalo hunt and its startling consequences is "a western masterpiece, an unflinching parable of endurance," proclaims Idaho author Alan Heathcock, who also singles out Bonnie Jo Campbell's American Salvage and Brian Moore's Black Robe as inspirational material for those headed for a dust-up. (You can listen to the whole segment here.)
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As noted in "Like an Open Book," my 2010 feature on Williams, Butcher's Crossing is now in development as a big-budget film, with director Sam Mendes (Jarhead, American Beauty) reportedly at the helm. That could mean a serious surge in the book's current sales figures -- which experienced a notable uptick in Amazon's rankings after the NPR plug.
But Stoner, Williams' brilliant study of a university professor striving for dignity in a life steeped in disappointment and failure, remains his most popular work, while his journey through imperial Rome, Augustus, trails the other two in sales. I would argue that Augustus, the only work by a Colorado author to win the National Book Award for fiction, is the best book to bring to a hostile takeover.
And who takes a book to a fistfight, anyway?
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Top five ways to improve One Book, One Denver -- and great Colorado authors to consider."