One afternoon my first boss in the book business handed me an advance copy of The Moor’s Last Sigh, the latest novel by Salman Rushdie. He said he wanted me to read it and, if I liked it, write a little review for our store newsletter and a shelf talker for our display.
In college I had read Midnight’s Children for a class, but for whatever reason I hadn’t quite connected. In high school I’d learned Rushdie’s name because a fundamentalist zealot wanted to kill him over words he had written.
The Moor’s Last Sigh, though, hooked me by the second page. After a few days of sane, responsible reading in my spare time, I stayed up all night with a two-liter bottle of SunDrop, unwilling—almost unable—to put the novel down again until I’d read it to the end.
In the coming weeks, months, and years I read just about everything Rushdie wrote. I cried at the end of The Satanic Verses, the novel for which some people wanted him dead. I made an ass of myself in the National Gallery on a trip to London, guffawing at one of the short stories in his collection East, West. I reviewed The Ground Beneath Her Feet and some of his subsequent books for newspapers, back when newspapers—which are supposed to be, you may know, read—had sections set aside for people who like to read. When I was dating long-distance the woman who’s now my wife, she gave me a signed copy of The Enchantress of Florence on one of my visits. I started reading when my train pulled away from the station, continued reading once I’d hopped on the subway, kept reading at the gate and on the plane and once I was home and until I’d finished it and missing her didn’t ache quite so much.
I gave Midnight’s Children another try, and . . . still didn’t quite connect with it.
For many of those years he was far and away my favorite living novelist. His work was a significant influence on my own, but more importantly, a significant source of pleasure. At his best, his novels build up an exhilarating narrative momentum, in which his delight in word play, his exuberance for the world, sweep you along like a roller coaster.
Rushdie was about to speak at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York this morning when someone rushed on stage and, according to multiple reports, stabbed him in the neck. He was airlifted to a hospital. As of this writing, his condition has not been made public.
I would be horrified and outraged if I never had read one word of his. What his words have meant to me only sharpens my horror and outrage.
I know he’s called himself a “hardline atheist,” but he has my prayers anyway.
– Ed Southern