Today, I read this article from the Los Angeles Review of Books, which is calling our attention to the publication of A Short Ride, Remembering Barry Hannah by VOX Press. Since it is a collection of essays remembering the author, I thought I would share my own encounter.
First of all, I have never met Barry Hannah. I've heard his voice on NPR courtesy of Fresh Air with Terry Gross, but alas, I've never met the man. I actually visited Oxford, Mississippi in the late oughts of 2000, but never thought to trek over to his classroom or favorite watering hole. Sadly, or appropriately, I was too busy chasing a tail. At any rate, I'm the proud owner of Geronimo Rex, Bats out of Hell, Ray, Yonder Stands Your Orphan, and as of last fall, one of my most treasured of books, Airships. It's just enough books that, when put together on the same shelf, they look damn good. The spines are vivid colors like a set of kids' markers. If you don't know the short story collection Airships, learn it. It will stab you in the heart. It will electrocute you. You'll leave your kids it's so raw and good and omnipotent. You'll want to smoke whatever Hannah was smoking or drink whatever he liked to drink or you'll just want to be his craggily old self.
I was turned onto Airships by Pearl McHaney, my college American Literature professor. I picked it up at the library and read it right away. I remember Mrs. McHaney as a pretty woman in her mid-to-late forties who wore long print dresses in earth tones with flowers. Her glasses were small, round, and brown and she seemed like a bit of a hippie. She is tied for first when it comes to my favorite teacher of all time. Paul McKown, my high school history and political science teacher, holds the other part of that tie. Notice the coincidental 'Mc' in their surnames. Mrs. McHaney had literature in her soul. How or why she arrived at that school at that time I do not know, but I was glad she did. Some class sessions were just spent writing in a journal. When helping me with a paper I wrote once, she said something that I will always remember: "Make every sentence sing." This was not a creative writing class. We wrote critical essays. And she said that. My actual singing voice sounds like a garbage truck, but I've tried my darnedest to abide by her guidance with everything I write.
Last autumn, I saw Airships at a used bookstore in between the Davis Theater and Quake Collectibles in Lincoln Square in Chicago. I picked it up and everything I remembered about that book came rushing back to me. I nearly fell over. With no hesitation I bought it, saying to myself, "I need to own this book." I NEED to own this book. You NEED to read that book.
Airships by Barry Hannah