Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

July 27, 2009

"Don't Die Until You Read The Dog of the South"

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 5:46 am

I guess I should try to be more humble about this, so excuse me for bragging but it’s one of the things I’m most proud of: I got the works of Charles Portis back into print. Yes, I know, surgeons, firemen, first responders have a lot more tangible things to be proud of. They rescue people, but at least I can say I rescued some books from near oblivion, and maybe got an author a small portion of the recognition he was due. I still owe him more than he owes me–his books have given me so much pleasure, but at least I can say I’ve done some payback.

And besides, blogging about it may bring rewards to both Charles Portis and anyone who picks up his novels. As Roy Blount Jr. has said “Don’t die until you’ve read The Dog of the South. So this blog post could save you from living a deeply deprived life. That’s pretty unselfish, right?

Why tell you now? It happened first ten years ago, when Peter Mayer, publisher of Overlook Press read an encomium I wrote about Portis in Esquire (“Our Least Known Great Novelist”) lamenting the fact that all but one of Portis’s works were out of print–and calling on some publisher to bring them out. And bless him, he did! He answered the call and brought four of Portis’ novels back into print.

That was ten years ago and I hadn’t thought about it for a while, except to give people I really respect and like a copy of The Dog of the South–or hector them into buying it–always getting much gratitude in return. You can read my further thoughts on that book here.

But anyway, yesterday I was looking for something in the Barnes&Noble fiction section and happened to notice a new edition of Portis’s Dog of the South. And this one featured, on its striking new cover, the words “With an Afterword by Ron Rosenbaum”.

I’d forgotten this was in the works, but Overlook had contacted me a while ago asking for permission to use my original Esquire essay as an Afterword. So satisfying! (It’s not online from Esquire but it can be found in my collection The Secret Parts of Fortune and now in the book itself with an “Editor’s Note” giving me credit for insiring the Portis revival).

But you have to read the novel to understand why I’m so proud of this. And then read Masters of Atlantis and then Gringos and you’ll understand. And you’ll understand why I feel so shamelessly proud: one of the great underrated American novels, one of my favorite novels with my name on the front cover. They can’t take that away from me.



  1. I read Dog of the South after reading your piece in the Secret Parts collection. Then I read Atlantis, Norwood, Gringos and True Grit. Then I got my family to read them.

    Now if I could only find a copy of The Collected Works of John Selmer Dix.

    Comment by P. Millen — July 27, 2009 @ 12:59 pm | Reply

  2. Yes sir, there should be a place in paradise for you for this act alone, just as I. B. Singer wished for his family’s faithful washwoman. However, in my not-so-learned opinion, the best of Portis is True Grit (and his finest, fullest character Mattie Ross) which must get short shrift because of the movie (which wasn’t too bad either). Now: you obviously have some pull in matters Portis, so are there possibly other stray pieces of his that need to be collected between covers? I remember one that appeared in Harper’s about 10 or 15 years ago, “A Combination of Jacksons,” the most sublime rendering of the Scots-Irish Southerner’s mind as can be found.

    Comment by Slampo — July 27, 2009 @ 4:42 pm | Reply

  3. I owe you immensely for your promotion of Portis. Dog of the South is wonderful, but Masters of Atlantis tops my list. It’s not unusual for great novels to be loaded with insight; it’s excessively rare for them to be consistently hilarious at the same time. To adapt the old adage: dying is easy, comedy is underappreciated.

    Comment by Joe — August 15, 2009 @ 4:10 pm | Reply

  4. Just to say thank you for your piece on Charles Portis. I’ve been enjoying him ever since.

    Comment by Martin — September 3, 2009 @ 11:17 pm | Reply

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