Friday, October 14, 2011

MacDonald's Travis McGee and more

John D. MacDonald
Stephen King called John D. MacDonald "the great entertainer of our age, and a mesmerizing storyteller." He is also one of Florida's favorite writers, creating the gangly, knight-errant hero, Travis McGee. He wrote 21 Travis McGee novels and scores of other novels, short story collections, nonfiction books and magazine articles.

Much of his Travis McGee work is still in print, but most coveted are the older novels written before the Travis McGee series. The collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA includes plenty of samples of MacDonald's work. Here, you'll find the early paperbacks, like Soft Touch, Cancel All Our Vows, Where is Janice Gantry?, The Deceivers and Murder in the Wind.

Here, too, are such science fiction works as The Girl, The Gold Watch & Everything and Ballroom of the Skies.

Also in the collection, of course, are Travis McGee novels in both paperback and hard cover. There was always a color in the title, mostly capturing the hues that make up life in subtropical Florida. McGee, the "knight in rusting armor," as MacDonald put it, was an enviable fellow, taking his retirement in increments while he was still young enough to enjoy it.

Devoted Travis McGee fans know he lived aboard a houseboat called The Busted Flush (won in a poker game), docked at slip F-18 in Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale. They also know that there really was a slip F-18 at Bahia Mar and there was a brass plaque commemorating the home of McGee's Busted Flush, but it is there no longer. A redesign of the marina several years ago eliminated the legendary location. Instead, there is a big monument at the marina honoring McGee and John D.

McGee has a healthy disdain of modern society that stirs a longing for freedom in readers who lead ordinary lives, caught up in the fabric our complex culture. "And I am wary of a lot of other things," says McGee, "such as plastic credit cards, payroll deductions, insurance programs, retirement benefits, savings accounts, Green Stamps, time clocks, newspapers, mortgages, sermons, miracle fabrics, deodorants, check lists, time payments, political parties, lending libraries, television, actresses, junior chambers of commerce, pageants, progress, and manifest destiny."

MacDonald's work is translated into multiple languages and published around the world. One of the more interesting items in the Lighthouse collection is a signed German paperback with a title that translates, The Light Flickers Four Times.

Near the end of his life a Helsinki publisher, Eurographica, produced a limited edition of 350 copies of a collection of four of MacDonald's best short stories. The book was called The Annex and Other Stories. It was printed on handmade paper and was signed by MacDonald. The edition was never distributed, however. A signed copy from that edition is also in the Lighthouse collection.

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