It has been a long while since I’ve read a book I could not put down. The question is whether the difference is me or the books. 

The Natural, Catch-22, The Name of the Rose, The Razor’s Edge, Shoeless Joe, O Pioneers!, Trout Fishing in America,* Cannery Row. These are the titles that first come to mind when I try to list books that completely drew me in. I still have my original copies of Catch-22 and Shoeless Joe, which is remarkable considering all of the times I’ve moved since buying them. I tried reading my old copy of Catch-22 a year ago, but was reminded I can no longer comfortably read the small print in paperback novels. 

Do these books have anything in common?  All are fiction. Most, in one way or another, have a mystical quality to them. All, except for O Pioneers!, were written by men. All, even Trout Fishing in America, have protagonists I admire. All were read when I was young and still a sojourner in life.   

If I had to guess, I would say it is the last descriptor that best brings all of these books together. Not only was I a different person when I read these books, but I was a different person who read a different kind of book. In my late teens and twenties, I sought out what I thought of as literary fiction. Today, I tend to alternate between popular fiction (mostly crime novels) and nonfiction. Some of these more recent books, especially some of the nonfiction, have been very good, but I can’t think of a single one where I holed up for an entire weekend because I couldn’t stop reading. 

Most days I think I am the same person I was forty years ago, but small things show me I’ve changed. 


  • The first book I ever had published is The Leader Who Is Hardly Known. To write it, I stole from Trout Fishing in America the literary device that a long phrase could serve triple duty as the book’s title, as the thread holding the book together, and as the name of a hypothetical character within the book.
Steven Simpson