Some time ago, a random person in an AOL Chat Room (yes, it was quite some time ago… about 2000, 2001) suggested I read a small book titled Ask The Dust by the author John Fante.
It was, simply put, a revelation.
Suddenly, reading wasn’t just a way I spent time, getting lost inside macabre worlds of serial killers, or the fast-paced land of government spies… instead, reading became a doorway into the soul.
This seems a bit silly to me now. I’m trying to imagine myself at 17. I had always enjoyed poetry… reading it, writing it… All that.
Poetry held the mysteries to love (Sonnet 130, John Donne, ), pain (Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Ione”), and the bleak emptiness I felt as a teenager (TS Eliot, AE Housman, and Sylvia Plath).
Oh and most mysterious of all: how some people were able to get published (Jewel).
But if I were to pick up a novel, I’d be more likely to read a Dean Koontz book than anything else. I recall taking solace in the overwrought plotting and white knight heroes… not to mention the cathartic release of reading about truly evil villains torturing their victims…
Yeah, I was a messed up kid.
But John Fante broke me out of that. I still distinctly remember trying to read a new Dean Koontz book and finding it lacking. After all, wasn’t it almost the exact plot as a book he wrote in the 80s? Yes, it was very similar… too similar.
If you haven’t read John Fante and you’ve got a taste for straight-forward, first person narratives… look no further. If you’ve ever read and been a fan of Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Sherwood Anderson, or Knut Hamsun… read him. Now. Start with Ask the Dust. Then, Dreams From Bunker Hill. Finally, read Brotherhood of the Grape and Fante’s letters.
From there, you’re on your own. His other books are decent, but mostly hit-or-miss. Full of Life is great if you read it while waiting for your wife to give birth. Otherwise, it smacks of schmaltz. Still probably worth a read at least once, especially if you’re really wanting more.
Incidentally, despite the quote that ran on the original hardcover of Brotherhood of the Grape, the main character is not, “as zesty as Zorba, as ruthless in his ways as Don Corleone” because… well, there’s nothing of either Zorba, or Don Corleone in the novel… Damn marketers.
Anyhow, I’m making this post to share some less common John Fante pieces. Stuff that’s not collected in any of the available books. For instance, Fante wrote a small series of columns titles “Swords and Roses” for a local newspaper when he was living with his family in Roseville… and here they are! Big props to the library in Roseville for sending me copies (and they also have true first editions of both of Fante’s early novels, Wait Until Spring, Bandini and Ask the Dust).
Also included below are three pieces Fante wrote later in life for the Los Angeles Times.
These are easy enough to obtain through the normal channels (like the Roseville Public Library, or the LA Times website), I just wanted to put these here so I can find them when I need them, and to give you fine people a nice introduction to John Fante.
And seriously catch me sometime and I’ll talk your ear off about how fantastic John Fante really is.
And extra-seriously… read John Fante!
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