Friday, October 26, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Good Old Stuff and More Good Old Stuff -- John D. MacDonald

When these two collections of John D. MacDonald's short stories were published, no one would have guessed that John D. MacDonald would one day qualify as a "forgotten" writer.  He's not really forgotten, of course, at leats not by us geezers, but he's pretty much out of print and certainly out of fashion.  I can sort of understand why.  His treatment of women doesn't work for many people now.  There are readers don't like his digressions (what some call "sermonizing").  But anybody who dismisses MacDonald is passing up one of the best storytellers of the 20th century.  

As MacDonald says in his foreword to the first volume, when Martin H. Greenberg and Francis M. Nevins came to him with the idea of these collections, he wasn't thrilled with the idea of resurrecting his old pulp stories.  However, Nevins, Greenberg, and Walter and Jane Shine persisted, getting copies of hundreds of MacDonald's stories and reading all of them.  They narrowed the selections down to thirty, and MacDonald decided that it wouldn't pain him too much to see twenty-seven of them back in print.

He didn't let well enough alone, however.  He updated some of the stories, changing car models, adjusting monetary matters, and so on.  I wish he hadn't, but at least I'm glad that he left some of the stories as they were.  In the foreword to the second volume, MacDonald says that he got "scores of letters" saying he shouldn't have made the changes.  He didn't agree, and he explains why.  They're his stories, so who am I to argue?  Maybe he knew he'd be a forgotten writer because now his updatings are about as far out of date as the original stories were when the collections were published.

Each volume gives the name of the magazines where the stories were originally published, along with the titles used.  However, in these editions MacDonald's original titles have been restored to head up the stories.

John D. MacDonald was my first real collecting interest, and he's still one of my all-time favorites.  If you haven't read him, these books (cheap copies widely available at the usual Internet outlets) would be a good place to begin.  If you like the stories, move on to the novels.  You have a real treat waiting for you.

4 comments:

  1. I had heard the the heirs to MacDonald's estate were reluctant to keep his non Travis McGee books in print. No idea if the rumor is true.

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  2. It was the novels that got me started on JDM. (Always preferred the non-Travis McGee ones)Years later I started collecting the pulp short stories and thought they contained his best work.

    "Finders Killers" is a great one.

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  3. I remember the discussion - I almost furor - in DAPA about the and the updates. I read them both and enjoyed them a lot, though like you I wish the changes hadn't been made. Still, as the titles indicate, this is good old stuff!

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  4. These collections show that JDM could have made a reputation as a short story writer--he had the gift. But, he turned to novels and became one of the best. These are great collections with some of JDM's best work

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