What Is Steve Earle’s Favorite Book?
I mentioned this in my previews, but there’s no spoiler in saying that A Death In The Family is about the death of a young father. That’s the premise of the entire novel.
I’ll cover the novel itself in a lot of detail in the next couple of weeks, because this one really hits home—in more ways than one. But to start off my posts on A Death In The Family, I want to highlight the novel’s foreword, which is written by Steve Earle.
When I first noticed that Steve Earle wrote the foreword, I did a double take. It’s a strange association. Earle’s a famous folk singer with a famous folk singer son, Justin Townes Earl. And if you’ve watched The Wire, you’ll remember Steve Earle played Walon, who was Bubbles’ friend during rehab.
I can’t say I expected to see Steve Earle write the foreword for any novel, much less one that is Time’s top 100 novels. That said, I don’t know if he wrote the foreword himself, or if it was ghostwritten, but it’s really well done.
Earle talks about living in Tennessee, Agee’s home state, for 31 years without ever reading A Death In The Family or anything by James Agee. When he first read A Death, though, he was living in Knoxville, the city in which the novel is set.
…where it was possible to actually retrace Agee’s (or Rufus’) steps in my spare time, and I took full advantage of that luxury. The bones of Agee’s Knoxville still protrude visibly through the more recent layers of spackling in places along Gay and Market streets. I followed the route I imagined the city streetcar would have followed out Clinch Avenue and then walked over to Fifteenth and Highland, wondering if the ghost of Hugh James Agee (or Jay Follet) had come that way on his back way home to say a last farewell to the believers.
When Earle moved to New York City, he lived just a few blocks from Agee’s former home there as well. In the intro, he talks a lot about how his love for James Agee’s works developed since he first found Agee’s writing.
Still, for me, it’s all about A Death In The Family. I started out with the last words that Agee ever wrote about his earliest memories, and I read them for the first time when I was roughly the same age as the author was when he set most of them down. Now they are so indelibly etched someplace inside of me that I couldn’t reach to rub them out even if I wanted to. And I never want to.
He’s obviously passionate about Agee and his work, and that comes through in the introduction. Ultimately, it’s an excellent way to jumpstart reading the novel.
It’s an unexpected introduction, but it’s a good one.
Image: Wikimedia Commons