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Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany Hardcover – October 1, 2012

4.7 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

ONE OF THE BEST REVIEWED BOOKS OF 2012
BOOK OF THE YEAR, BOOKS & CULTURE
  
"My heart soared when I learned about Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany. It brings together pieces that we cultists have been passing around like samizdat literature.... He's our funniest living write
r."
-John Powers, NPR's "Fresh Air"

"I tore through Escape Velocity and then went back and read most of the works again, because they are that compelling."
-Alex Balk, The Awl

"The overviews, tributes, and selections from Portis's work make this book just right for any reader.... His satire sings without condescension. ... He's a kind of American Chaucer." 
--Clyde Edgerton, Garden & Gun

"Escape Velocity is a major Portis event."
--Alex Heard, The New Republic



"Jay Jennings has done a great service in putting together Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany and providing it with an excellent introduction and appreciation.... Delray's New Moon, the single example here of Portis as a dramatist, is a wonderful black comedy and tour de force of inspired dialog."
--Katherine A. Powers, The Barnes & Noble Review

Escape Velocity is "a thoughtfully composed selection of published work spiced with rare and fresh material.... Portis really shines in this collection as an essayist, especially as a travel writer...."
--Carlo Rotella, The New York Times Book Review

"Escape Velocity pays off in more ways than I could have dreamed.... Oh my. Let's get this out of the way: it's hard to tell how it would stage, but as a read, Delray's New Moon is a fitting addition to the canon. I'd dare to call it his sixth major work. It's that funny."
--Glen David Gold, The Los Angeles Review of Books


"The book's introduction, which notes the hallmarks of Mr. Portis's brand of humor without talking them to death, provides an ideal primer for readers coming to Mr. Portis fresh.... His newspaper writing is as richly textured as any of the New Journalism that emerged in the 1960s but with none of the fireworks that betray the writer's effort at innovation."
--Wes Davis, Wall Street Journal

"The comparison [with Mark Twain] is apt -- more than for any other writer I can think of, including Kurt Vonnegut and H. L. Mencken."
--Maud Newton, The New York Times

From the Inside Flap

For those who care about literature or simply love a good laugh (or both), Charles Portis has long been one of America's most admired novelists. His 1968 novel True Grit is fixed in the contemporary canon, and four more have been hailed as comic masterpieces. Now, for the first time, his other writings--journalism, travel stories, short fiction, memoir, and even a play--have been brought together in Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany, his first new book in more than twenty years. All the familiar Portis elements are here: picaresque adventures, deadpan humor, an expert eye for detail and keen ear for the spoken word, and encounters with oddball characters both real and imagined. The collection encompasses the breadth of his fifty-year writing career, from his gripping reportage of the civil rights movement for the New York Herald Tribune to a comic short story about the demise of journalism in the 21st century. New to even the most ardent fan is his three-act play, Delray's New Moon, performed onstage in 1996 and published here for the first time. Whether this is your first encounter with the world of Portis or a long-awaited return to it, you'll agree with critic Ron Rosenbaum--whose essay appears here alongside tributes by other writers--that Portis "will come to be regarded as the author of classics on the order of a twentieth-century Mark Twain, a writer who captures the soul of America."
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Butler Center for Arkansas Studies (October 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935106503
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935106500
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #315,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. BAXTER on September 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Charles Portis is perhaps our best-known unknown writer. I happen to think he ranks with Mark Twain as one of the greatest comedic writers America has ever produced. Like the editor of this collection, I too have tucked into a folder every bit of Portis' non-novelistic output that I've been able to find here and there over the years. It's great to have it now all packed into one tight volume. "Combinations of Jacksons" alone is worth the price of the book.
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Format: Hardcover
It's been two decades since we got a peek into the fictional world of Charles Portis, the author of "True Grit" and four other highly acclaimed novels. But his new book "Escape Velocity" fills the gap nicely. The book brings together in one place almost everything that Portis has written outside the novels, both never-before-published work and hard-to-find stories that fans have known about for years and that new readers will delight in discovering.
The book also contains a full-length, three-act play, "Delmar's New Moon", previously unpublished, which shows off Portis's trademark dead-pan style. Especially interesting are the non-fiction pieces, including some he wrote for newspapers during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and a long essay, "Combinations of Jacksons". These early pieces show the writing style that later shaped his fiction.
This is a must-have book for Portis fans and a thoughtful introduction for those new to the work of Charles Portis.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Here is all the Portis miscellany collected in one book! I cannot say how happy I was to receive it. I immediately went and pitched out magazines and files with articles written by and about Portis, for now I have everything in one place. Thank you Jay Jennings and the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies for this splendid collection. For those who have loved the 5 novels of Charles Portis and wished for more of Portis' works, here it is. The book even has something new in the play "Delray's New Moon."
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An absolute must for any fan. It is hard to describe, but the man cannot be uninteresting. This includes almost everything the editor could find, and it is all worth it. His reporting on the racial struggles and desegregation in the south is unforgettable - he has led quite a life. Thank you for going to all the trouble to put this together for us. I only wish it were 1000+ pages. When I get back home I am rereading my collection again starting with my favorite, Dog of the South.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As of 2015 Charles Portis is best known for his comic-tragic novel True Grit. Mattie Ross, the lady with grit, has a voice that, once read, is unlikely ever to be forgotten. The novel uses period language (and thought patterns) to distill something distinctively American and as pertinent to the current state of our Union as it is/was to the American "southwest" of the 1870s,

Yet it would be a mistake to equate Mr. Portis's range of diction with Mattie's. In fact, he is a true post-modern author, with a palette of available voices -- many richly southwestern -- that mix irony, sharp observation, and emblems of unfulfilled sincerity in ways different from the good and great eastern, southern, mid-western, or western American writers I've read. His closest antecedent is perhaps Thornton Wilder in Heaven's My Destination, though the two writers could hardly be mistaken for one another.

The generous anthology Escape Velocity allows us to observe Mr. Portis writing in several habitats. His is a flexible yet recognizable craft. He was a newsman first, and on the evidence here one who did not shrink from covering the difficult subjects of his era, including the Civil Rights movement. Even the earliest reportage gathered here, three pieces on the death of Elvis Presley's mother, aims for something that pierces the veil of appearance, not to mention PR. A few years later Mr. Portis quit a distinguished career with the New York Herald Tribune in London just as soon as he was sure he was ready to to write fiction.

While True Grit is, thanks to Hollywood, his best known story, in the world of fiction Mr. Portis is no one-hit wonder. Many acquainted with his other four published novels think at least one or two of them even better than True Grit.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the world of Charles Portis' fiction, odd characters are a given, indeed a necessity. You wonder where he got the inspiration for some of those people. Now, thanks to "Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany," you get some sense of an answer: from the very people that Portis was around, either as a reporter or in some other function.

The pieces in this collection go a long way towards making the case that Portis is one of the great men of letters in American literature post-1945, with a keen ear for sayings and characters that most other people might miss (or dismiss) entirely. The non-fiction pieces in particular are revelatory: Portis earned his stripes as a journalist, and here we see him covering the death of Elvis' mother while picking up on the nuances of the moment (how Elvis had to balance his private grief with his public obligations, not just to his fans but to the Army into which he was drafted). I was hesitant about the short fiction pieces: Portis' novels contain such fantastical moments that often times they need the space that a novel provides to give them weight, and I worried that short fiction might reveal the man behind the curtain, in a sense, as not being the same at the great novelist whose works I'd read and enjoyed previously. But not to fret: the short fiction, while not being up to the same standards as his longform work, is sparkling with intelligence and wit. I did skip over the play included in this volume, however (I do plan to return to it some day), as well as the long interview towards the end. I wanted to save some Portis for another day, as I've read all his novels and didn't want to necessarily come to the end of his published work.
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