I went to the Decatur Book Festival this year in Atlanta, the largest independent book festival in the country. No telling how many books they had for sale. Thousands for sure.
I bought one: Mucho Mojo by Joe R. Lansdale. I got the best of the bunch.
Now listen, I have read several Lansdale books, and will undoubtedly read many, many more. And, to be honest, I could have written this post about any one of them. They all stack up. Mucho Mojo just happens to be the book that led me to this laptop in a stiff-legged stupor and got me typing. It was either do that or give a standing ovation to an empty room.
Holy hell, what a ride. Mucho Mojo is the second book in the acclaimed Hap & Leonard series, a tale of two macho men living in East Texas who give new meaning to the term odd couple. One is white, the other is black, one is gay, the other straight. But it’s not just shtick, which it would be with most writers. These two have beating hearts and breathe.
Not only does this book ooze with humanity, it tells a hell of a story, and is filled with Lansdale’s signature sense of humor that will have you laughing out loud.
Humor is something that I often feel is overlooked by authors. For one, it’s hard to pull off, and cannot be forced. But sometimes I think writers confuse the seriousness of their pursuit with the need to be serious in their writing. If you pay attention in your interactions with others, you’ll find that people spend the majority of their time trying to make others laugh. We’re a bunch of giggling idiots at heart. But fiction often portrays us as boring, uptight men and women intent on exploring our inner humanity with sparse quips issued in solemn tones. While there’s a place for that, and Lansdale finds fitting moments for it in his work, it’s not all that much fun to read over long stretches. We’re silly too.
Humor is disarming, it warms one up to characters more quickly and establishes deeper connections. It makes us cringe that much more when they’re in danger. And it is the perfect counterbalance to horror, either real or imagined. Consider how master composers craft their symphonies. The best ones have moments of quiet or whimsy interspersed with full-throated explosions of sound. Play any one note too long and it becomes monotone. It’s best to keep readers, listeners, or any attentive audience, on its toes.
There are many reasons why you should be reading Joe R. Lansdale. Here are a few.
- He writes like Ernest Hemingway, but is more fun to read. Thus, by extension, and in my humble opinion, he is a better writer than Hemingway.
- He embodies the best qualities of a writer. He’s incredibly talented, but does not rest on talent alone. Read his writing advice and you’ll soon learn he maintains his prolific pace the same way a construction worker builds tract homes. By waking up at the crack of dawn with a lunch pale and a hard hat and going to work. He doesn’t wait for inspiration to come.
- He can, and does, write anything he wants, crossing genres and making up some of his own. You like horror, westerns, sci-fi, or literary books? You’ll like Lansdale.
- He can make you laugh, make you cry, and scare the living shit out of you.
- He is constantly churning out books, and they’re all really good.
So, where to start? Well, I’d say give the Hap & Leonard series a shot, starting with Savage Season, which you can purchase here.
But I asked the twittersphere for a recommendation, and Mr. Lansdale answered himself, suggesting The Bottoms, which you can buy here.
The best advice is to buy them all. That’s my plan.
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