12 Classics in 2015 (2016 version): The Executioner’s Song

I set out to read 12 classics in 2015. Technically, I finished seven in 2015 before I, quite optimistically, took on The Executioner’s Song, the 1109 page Norman Mailer book about Gary Gilmore. The plan was to finish this book in 2015 and then sprinkle the remaining days of 2015 with four slim classics. I didn’t get there. I finished the last page of ES last Monday.

Having never read a book over 1,000 pages before, I was fooled by Dave Egger’s quote on the back of Mailer’s book. “…It’s the fastest 1,000 pages you will ever know.” Well, it is the fastest I’ve ever read a book of this length, but certainly not the shortest amount of time I have taken to cover 1,000 pages of prose.

What is obvious in my completion of this book is that it was good. I would not have continued past page 300 if it was poor. I knew nothing about Gilmore going into the book. I’m not sure I had ever heard of him. This, Eggers wrote in the introduction, is one of the best scenarios for reading ES. In fact, Eggers urges Gilmore-clueless people to stop reading the introduction at this point and skip to the boIMG_8500ok. That’s what I did and I am ever thankful for it, for if I knew Gilmore’s fate there would be no suspense to carry me through to the last page.

I can’t believe someone would undertake such a vast project to tell Gilmore’s story, but Mailer somehow did it and painted a thorough picture of all the primary actors in Gilmore’s life (and there were a lot), giving the reader a complex cast of characters, matched only by the complexity of Gilmore.

Knowing what we know about Gilmore, that he killed two people, you want to dismiss him as a sick, bad person. But it’s amazing the people he wins over from the time he is arrested to the time he is executed. People poised to make a lot of money off of Gilmore’s death decide in the end that they can’t do it. They respect, even love, Gilmore too much to do that to him. This was the most surprising part about the book. There was this side to Gilmore that was very intellectual, caring, and even nice. Although his temper could flare up in the briefest of exchanges.

I enjoyed The Executioner’s Song. The book was worthy of derailing my original plan of reading 12 classics in 2015, for by finishing this book alone I feel like I accomplished something significant. That said, I am quite relieved to know that I can move on to the books that have been stacking up while I made my way through The Executioner’s Song.

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