My #6 favorite book of all time is Water Music by T. Coraghessan Boyle. You've heard me talk about Boyle before, way back in the infancy of BillyBlog here (to see a photo with me and the author) and here (discussing his last novel The Inner Circle).
I believe the first Boyle book I ever read was World's End, but Water Music was second, and that one-two punch made me a fan for life. I try and see him whenever he comes to town. He's very prolific and, despite his gift with the novel, he's just as talented as a short story writer. Anyone who is a regular reader of The New Yorker should be familiar with him.
Water Music is grand. It's phenomenal. It is spectacular. This book actually began as his doctoral thesis, as legend serves, and took on a life of its own. I'll let the author himself describe it, as lifted from his website:
Water Music is my first novel. It was published by Atlantic-Little, Brown in 1981 (though it actually appeared in early January, 1982), and was subsequently published by Penguin in soft cover, now in its 21st edition. This is a wild ride of a book, the one that taught me to follow my imagination, and it consists of 104 chapters, each a story in itself. It was three years in the writing. The back cover of the current Penguin edition has this to say: "Funny, bawdy, full of T.C. Boyle's inimitable flights of imaginative and stylistic fancy, Water Music follows the wild adventures of Ned Rise, thief and whoremaster, and Mungo Park, explorer, through London's seamy gutters and Scotland's scenic highlands--to their grand meeting in the heart of darkest Africa. There they join forces and wend their hilarious way to the source of the Niger." I remember that when the book was half-finished at about 250 pp., both my editor and agent advised me to cut out the Ned Rise story, worrying in concert that the novel was getting out of hand; I assured them that I had a plan and that Ned Rise had to stay. I hope I was right. In any case, I've never looked back.
You can read an excerpt from the first chapter here.
Boyle is dark. And witty. And bawdy. And brilliant. He is very accessible to his fans, and his website is a fan's delight. At one point, there was a message board linked to the site on which Boyle would respond to readers' queries. He's a book collector's dream, as he is not only prolific, but he will sign books until the cows come home, if you should come to a reading with a cartonful of books. By best accounts, I have signed/inscribed copies of 18 of his books (not including multiple copies). He is firm is his stance on not signing advance reader's copies, or uncorrected proofs.
My copy of Water Music, alas, is not inscribed to me, but to someone named Marjorie. However, I am proud to have her copy, whoever she may be. A signed first edition of Water Music is a scarce item, although not as much as it used to be, apparently, based on a recent web search. A fine signed copy starts at $60 and runs upwards of $300, depending on the dealer and/or condition of the copy.
If you haven't read Boyle, start with this one. It's a wild ride.