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Ryan Holiday (Founder/Brass Check)
I found John Fante through Neil Strauss, who considers Ask the Dustone of his favorite books. I read it in one day, LOVED it and subsequently read everything by Fante I could get my hands on. In 2011, I read seven Fante novels, one biography by his son and a book of letters between John and H.L Mencken. I utterly immersed myself in his world, from spending hours in Downtown LA where the books are based to reading everything I could find by his contemporaries.
I even found out one of his novels is set in the random Northern California town I grew up in and that Fante lived just down the road from where I lived. NO fiction writer made a bigger impact on me this year and there were no book I enjoyed reading more (or read faster) than Fante’s books. My favorites, in order, are: Ask the Dust, Dreams from Bunker Hill, The Brotherhood of the Grape, Full of Life, Wait Until Spring, Bandini, The Road to Los Angeles, 1933 Was a Bad Year. Once you read those, you will almost certainly enjoy Fante/Mencken, and Fante: A Family’s Legacy of Writing, Drinking and Surviving.
In 1979 John Fante told an interviewer, "I would have done anything to get the praise of H.L. Mencken." This collection of letters spans a twenty-two year period that saw Fante go from a sporadically published short-story writer to a full-fledged novelist and screenwriter. Mencken, who was editor of the American Mercury and an influential social critic of the time, provides a sharp, dry contrast to Fante's effusiveness. The letters begin with short but polite rejections from Mencken of Fante's stories. Fante's letters, in turn, become more profuse in their praise of Mencken and his work; but more interestingly, they reveal the thoughts that were to become the grist of his novels. Particularly telling is a letter written in 1936 in which Fante describes his father's fawning reaction to his son's success, something Fante couldn't bear. "He used to beat the hell out of me twice a week and I had a lot of respect for the man," Fante laments. Mencken's response is short, almost curt: "I see no reason why you should be upset about your father." With the aid of copious endnotes, the letters also serve as a finger on the political pulse of the times. The letters ceased for most of the 1940s, and Mencken's debilitating health rendered the correspondence one-sided through the remainder of the 1950s. Nevertheless, the correspondence testifies to the progression of Fante's success as a writer and to his "friendship" with a mentor he never met, and it reveals a certain vulnerability in both men. -- From Independent Publisher
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John Fante, H. L. Mencken, Michael Moreau