My dad’s book recommendations often become my favorites – he doesn’t read often, but he reads well. He suggested True Grit a couple of winters ago, in the wake of our shared love of the film re-make – he remembered reading it in high school, after the original John Wayne version came to the big screen. I love Charles Portis after this book – I’ll read everything he wrote. 

The 1968 first edition cover (photo source)

The gist: In post-Civil-War Arkansas, Mattie Ross’s father is murdered in cold blood by a scoundrel he was trying to help; Mattie defies every expectation of a fourteen-year-old girl and pursues his killer across state lines, with the help of a Texas Ranger and a U.S. Marshal. 

My favorite parts: Portis tells the story through Mattie, remembering the events many years later, as an old woman; he has an amazing narrative style. He’s often compared to Mark Twain, and True Grit is funny and poignant in the way of Huckleberry Finn - in the voice of a really compelling character, making genuine observations that are evocative without quite meaning to be.

“I have known some horses and a good many more pigs who I believe harbored evil intent in their hearts. I will go further and say all cats are wicked, though often useful. Who has not seen Satan in their sly faces?”

“I think Smallwood was a gentleman but gentlemen are only human and their memories can sometimes fail them. Business is business.”

“He drank [whiskey] even as he rode, which looked difficult. I cannot say it slowed him down any but it did make him silly. Why do people wish to be silly?”

“Now the prisoner has an advantage over his keeper in this respect, that he is always thinking of escape and watching for opportunities, while the keeper does not constantly think of keeping him. Once his man is subdued, so the guard believes, little else is needed but the presence and
threat of superior force. He thinks of happy things and allows his mind to wander. It is only natural. Were it otherwise, the keeper would be a prisoner of the prisoner.”

“These old-timers had all fought together in the border strife under Quantrill’s black standard, and afterward led dangerous lives, and now this was all they were fit for, to show themselves to the public like strange wild beasts of the jungle.”

“I know what they said even if they would not say it to my face. People love to talk. They love to slander you if you have any substance.”

What I did with my copy: I bowled my mom over with enthusiasm for this story, and gave it to her to enjoy.