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on September 28, 2012
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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on December 18, 2014
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.

The section I read first, actually, wasn't written by Portis at all: the appendix contains testimonials (essays, book reviews, etc.) about Portis and his work, by some famous fans. I heartily recommend it, as Portis is the most often-cited "neglected American novelist" of the recent past, and to such an extent that his status is more solid now than it was beforehand. All of his work (the novels, not just "True Grit" but lesser-known works like "The Dog of the South" and "Norwood") have been republished, and Portis has a stature in American literature not afforded to him prior to the turn of the century. The essays and reviews help give the neophyte Portis reader an appreciation for what his work has meant and will continue to mean as time goes on.

Charles Portis could have been Cormac McCarthy, (as Roy Blount Jr. says), but he'd rather be funny (and use quotation marks to seperate his dialogue from the other text, I should point out). Thank goodness that he did decide that years ago. He may be a recluse, but he's said plenty in his work (the novels and the pieces collected here). If you're already a fan, this is a welcome addition to your shelf. If you're a newbie, this might not be the place to start, but it doesn't hurt to help get a sense of what Charles Portis does. He does it very well, and he has done it often enough to be an American treasure.
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on August 11, 2014
There is no one like Charles Portis in American letters.
He wrote five novels, all of which are revered in different orders of preference by his ardent fans. Perhaps a main reason for this is simply that they are funny. Not just funny, as in amusing, but laugh out loud funny. I say this obviously as one who finds his writing singularly appealing. There is a quirky exactness in the dialogue and descriptions which is his alone, and makes this reader feel fortunate to have encountered his books.

I'm not saying this will apply to every reader across the board. But I can't think of one other author, alive or dead, who consistently makes me laugh. I was finishing this book in bed the other night and my wife was having trouble falling asleep amid the snorts and other bursts of suppressed laughter I couldn't keep inside. I probably should have left the room.

Which brings me to Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany. The title comes from a line spoken by the main character in his third novel, The Dog of the South: "A lot of people leave Arkansas and most of them come back sooner or later. They can't quite achieve escape velocity.”

Since there have been no other books of his published after the novels, this collection is like water to a desert crawler. Yes, it's a mixed bag - reportage, stories, a play, a bit of memoir, travel - but for those who have read the novels, it's all we have to ingest now and for that reason it's a treasure of sustenance.

If you don't know Portis, you've probably heard of True Grit. Don't for a second think the movies based on this novel define its true quality, certainly not the John Wayne film of 1969, nor even the recent and much improved Coen brothers version. Neither of these can touch the novel, not by a mile. It's simply an American Classic, and the only one of the five novels that's not more or less contemporary. It followed Norwood, his first novel, which can serve as your litmus test if you want to try Portis. If he suits you, go from there. None will disappoint you.
Anyway, I hope my point is clear. Read Portis, an absolutely unique American treasure.
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on October 17, 2012
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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on July 14, 2014
Charles Portis has always had a small group of fans but after the early success of True Grit, most of the reading public lost track of him. When his all of his five novels were republished in the last few years, I was able to read them all and realize his subtle humor and marvelous characters, but I still didn't know much about the author. This collection of some of his early writing and reporting and a few short stories along with a play and an interview tell us more of his life as a writer, but I still don't know much of the private person which is disappointing. I would guess that he is a very self contained person who avoids the limelight and that is OK with me. The writing is uneven but gives you a good insight into his development as a writer
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on February 20, 2016
Lots of gems in here, but I gave it five stars for Portis's essay "An Auto Odyssey through Darkest Baja," one of the funniest and most perfect pieces of writing I've ever read, about driving down unpaved roads to the tip of the Baja peninsula in the mid-1960s in a "rat-colored 1952 half-ton Studebaker pickup" he and his buddy nickname "The Rattler."

I keep trying to figure out how Portis got everything important about life into a 22-page travel essay.
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on November 7, 2012
Whenever we become interested in an author, especially someone with skills as unique as Charles Portis, we find ourselves wondering how he became who he is. Escape Velocity is a chronological collection of Portis writings from his earliest newspaper work, through his professional work as an editor overseas, to fiction, drama, and articles focused on his personal interests as began to write for himself. One can witness in this collection, the development of his insight into character, situation, set and setting, and his finely tuned ear for dialogue. As readers, we are allowed to watch a genius construct his own world. This collection is a gift to us by it's editor, Jay Jennings, who had the long term focus to collect writings by Portis, and ultimately organize them into this work, for which I believe Portis fans will be eternally greatful.
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on February 23, 2014
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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on March 15, 2017
A swell read!
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on January 2, 2013
Having discovered CP years ago and that means being inducted to the Portishead community, it was with wonder that I read about this CP miscellany. It does not disappoint; treasures abound within and every page is a delight. Thanks to all involved in the project. I'm sure that Jennings' labor of love was rewarding to him and in my case to me as well.
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