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The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy Paperback – May 17, 1998

4.2 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Mississippi has produced some of the nation's finest literary voices, includingShelby Foote and Walker Percy. Foote spent much of his career reconstructing the Civil War in a 1.6 million-word trilogy (he was the smooth-drawling storyteller in Kenneth Burns's television series on the conflict). Percy was a philosophical novelist whose work includes The Moviegoer and The Thanatos Syndrome. Not only were the two friends, but they corresponded for years, leaving behind a series of letters unearthed by biographer Jay Tolson. Tolson, the author of an exhaustive book on Percy, Pilgrim in the Ruins, shows that, unlike other Southern writers such as William Faulkner, Foote and Percy always acted as quite decent fellows, Southerners with manners and brains. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

That two writers?good friends from boyhood?could be so different in outlook and lifestyle gives this correspondence its interest. Even their attitudes toward each other's work can be seen in Walker Percy's preserving most of Foote's letters while his easy-living, thrice-married, allegedly unmoneyed pal began keeping Percy's letters only after 20 years of neglect. The reason becomes obvious. A slow starter but eventually a distinguished novelist whose wry fiction belies his letters, Percy (The Moviegoer) was rigid in thought and rather dull. A Roman Catholic convert and a physician by training, he was often gibed at by Foote, who claimed that the best writing emerges from doubt rather than certainty and that there was "something terribly cowardly... about the risks to which you won't expose your soul." Rejecting prayer, Foote confided, "I do know that the closest to God I ever come is when I'm at my work. Otherwise I don't even feel that I'm part of creation." Both products of Mississippi, Foote, largely unsuccessful in fiction, produced a now-classic three-volume The Civil War: A Narrative. His feisty opinions on writers and writing are of far more interest than what one learns of their very different lives, the exchange ending with Percy's death in 1990. Now 80, Foote has gone on to popular recognition as commentator in Ken Burns's TV documentary The Civil War. Tolson (Pilgrim in the Ruins: A Life of Walker Percy) has done an inadequate job of annotating the letters, leaving many titles, names, events and other obscurities unidentified. Photos through the text take the principals and supporting players from their teens into old age.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (May 17, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393317684
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393317688
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #898,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I don't know when I have enjoyed a book of letters so much. Usually such things represent only a given writer's letters to a variety of people. This volume is a correspondence between two friends that covers five decades and in it one is able to see them grow, change and take delight in a constant verbal duel that must have been going on from the time they first met as teenagers. For two decades this 'conversation' is mostly a monologue because Foote didn't start saving Percy's letters until the 70's, but it is often easy to imagine Percy's letters from Foote's responses - his answering specific questions and arguing against certain statements.
It is so much fun to see Foote trying for 50 years to get Percy to read Proust, and Percy simply ignoring the injunctions. This is just one of the ongoing literary 'wars' that are fought between these two significant writers who, while being diametrically different in style and theme, were the closest of friends from the age of 14.
I found that once started, I couldn't stop reading. From the first chatty letter from Foote in which he proposes his desire to be a great novelist to the last 'letter' - a message read at Percy's memorial service - the book has the forward momentum of a good novel, the intellectual give and take of a Platonic dialogue and the warmth and humor that only good friends can bring to lifelong disagreements. I think this is a great book and, for all who think that literature is important, a wonderful window into the thinking of two fine minds.
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Format: Paperback
Pity Shelby Foote. Most people know his as a writer of books on the Civil War. But when you read this book of letters you see that what thrilled him most was reading great literature.
The reader of this book of letters between two friends will be thrilled by talk of literature. Foote is like Herr Settembrini of Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain". He is so overwhelmed by humantistic learning that he finds he must educate his friend and mentor Hans Castrop, in this case Walker Percy.
It is ironic that the prodigy in this case, Walker Percy, soon eclipses the mentor. Walker Percy agonizes in his early letters about his inability to have his novels published while Foote publishes his books in rapid succession. But today Percy's "Moviegoer" and other books are still read while only Foote's "Shiloh" is really still popular. It seems Foote is stuck with Civil War fame have written his long classic on the war.
Reading Foote's letters is where I discovered Flanney O'Connor. Walker Percy and Shelby Foote spoke highly of her here. They also talk about the important of reading Marcel Proust, Faulkner, and a dozen others. Toward the end Foote begins to spew forth on the merits of reading the Greek classics. It is his description of these books and their authors that adds to one's own literary education.
The first part of the book is a little annoying because Shelby Foote threw away the letters that Walker Percy sent to him for the first many years of their correspondence. So you keep reading Shelby Foote but are not privvy to what Walker Percy as to say.
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Format: Hardcover
It is a rare treasure to find a book like this. "Correspondence" gives insight to the artistry, friendship, and psychology of two gifted writers/curmudgeons.
A little advice to the prospective reader. Forgive Shelby Foote his apparent crankiness, which may be the most notable feature of this book. As other reviews note, Percy is absent through much of the volume. Foote's tone, already tinged with youthful didacticism, is transformed into a soliloquy which is boastful and (at times) rude.
Appearances may be misleading, however. While on the surface egotistical, Foote's often incisive letters betray far more complex motives. He searches for true conversation, for a way to gauge his art (his central pursuit). Percy may come across as aloof, or even vague, but this may be due to the hidden lifelong friendship behind these letters.
A wonderful read
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Format: Paperback
Foote and Percy are masters of the English language. This book provides an enjoyable and witty look at a dying lit form, letter writing.( The phone, e-mail and fax are killing it) The two southern writers were friends from boyhood in the thirties to Percy's death in1990. The letters give us two insights to that slice of American history.
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By TSO on December 16, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Hellaciously great read. Answers the query 'what happens if two great writers correspond in total honesty'?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What a great find! Foote and Percy open us to the world from Memphis to the Gulf of Mexico and the whole Mississippi Delta where the Percy's were/are political and literary royalty. Their discussion of the place of Charles Sanders Peirce (p. 152) is amazing..."I thought last year when I finished the last that I'd write a book on the theory of language. I still think it would be important as I told you. I would even say that it is revolutionary: that 100 years from now it could be the Peirce-Percy theory (not Pierce, but Peirce and so pronounced Perce-Percy). No kidding. I'm not even being vain. It just so happens that this old fellow, Charles Peirce, a U.S. philosopher very few laymen ever heard of (by contrast say, with William James who got his idea of pragmatism from Peirce).....

An Anglophile to the core, Charles Peirce was the "father of pragmatism," but is the American experiment first and foremost "pragmatic"? Democracies are by definition pragmatically sloppy. Anglophilia is exclusive moving toward less and less slop. There is a strange inconsistency, therefore, not so much with Percy or with Foote who told CSPAN's Brian Lamb (www.c-span.org/video/?165823-1/depth-shelby-foote) that he consulted no original material in his Civil War histories...."it's all been gone over before," but with our acceptance of their definition of American exceptionalism.
Equally surprising from these letters is Walker Percy's flirtation with Charles Sanders Peirce. It's as if these two dyed and died in the wool Southern princes are like Margaret Mitchell....from the deep South, but Smith College educated!
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