I don’t worry much about death. It’s probably a product of youthful stupidity and invincibility, but I figure we’re all going to die, so it’s not worth worrying about. In fact, it’s kind of a cosmic near-impossibility that we exist at all. That’s cause for celebration, if anything.
That didn’t stop me from nearly breaking into tears this morning when I found out that author Tom Clancy passed away yesterday.
Tom Clancy wasn’t the greatest American author or our greatest living author. He never claimed to be either of those things. He was, however, my most important author.
I read The Hunt for Red October in sixth grade. By the time I left middle school, I had read the rest of the Jack Ryan series, much of it twice. When we went to a relative’s cabin for my family’s only summer vacation, I put down the 1,028 page The Bear and the Dragon, Clancy’s last great novel, in just three days.
It’s not a coincidence that I began earning better grades around the time I started reading Clancy’s techno-thrillers. Tom Clancy didn’t teach me to read, but he did teach me to love reading.
So, Clancy won’t live to see me complete the hardcover collection I began last year. He won’t live to see me finish a second read-through of his novels to see if they hold up against the ravages of time. He won’t be around when I catch up with his most recent, co-written novels. I’ll never meet him and experience the ecstasy of meeting an author who dramatically impacted my life, like when my friend Kelly met Neil Gaiman.
But I suppose none of that is very important. What’s important is that I wouldn’t have the interests, hold the job, or be the person I am today without Tom Clancy.
My greatest goal in life is that someone – anyone – can say that about me when I die.
You should take it as the highest of compliments that my dad’s bookshelf looks remarkably similar. It is the image I thought of when I heard this morning that Clancy died. There, Mr Clancy is neighbored by Stephen Ambrose and Taylor Branch. A decent company to keep, in no small part because he’s the only fiction pen-man in that particular peanut gallery, I think you’ll agree. He is a fixture in contemporary American literature; while an American Classic writer he is likely not, a legendary novelist of exemplary prolificacy he most certainly is. I don’t think much about death either, not when I worked quite near it, not when the life expectancy of the place I’m in now is a decade and a half younger than Clancy was, at his young age. Weird that we don’t think so much about the only thing that absolutely makes common our trajectories. I imagine this morning was for you what it will be for me when, assuming a certain chronology of things, the world loses one E.O. Wilson or would’ve been had I found Jack Gilbert prehumously. I only read Rainbow Six, which is to say I didn’t really read any of Clancy’s work. But I know what it is to have an author change you, to teach you to love to do something – like read – and then, as you reflect on it further, realize they may have taught you to do that thing all over again, anew. T.S. Eliot may have something to say about that. I like to know this about you, and would also submit that people start affecting people – be it Wilson or Gilbert or Clancy – when they start stowing their aspirations in others, and caring about how their handled. I’d say your greatest goal is well protected.
Well written sir.
I barely know your dad, but I know him well enough to take that as the compliment it is. Beautiful comment, Erik.
Sounds like you and I are in the same boat. Great admirers that will miss this author and his contributions. Great Post and I echo everything you said.
Thanks for the comment!
Nice remembrance, guy. I own many of the above novels by Mr. Clancy as well, though I must admit, I’ve read only a few of them. I bought a bunch of used paperbacks on the cheap one summer when I thought I’d try to go through Clancy’s novelistic oeuvre. I never started. My introduction to Clancy was through the film Clear and Present Danger, then The Hunt for Red October, then Patriot Games. I eventually read all three of those novels, starting with Red October and I also read Rainbow Six, because it sounded pretty cool and there was an awesome looking game based on it. Apart from tackling those four (Red October at least twice), my major connection with Clancy was through his Op-Center series (something I should probably be ashamed of because the books are actually written by Jeff Rovin). I read the first 8 (or 9? or 10?) of those, but I feel like I outgrew them, or my tastes just changed. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to read any of his novels. Maybe when I’m someone’s dad and too-appropriate for me to be reading Clancy.
I only made it through the first 4 Op-Centers. I ran out of access to the rest, and never finished. I also have the TV-movie on my computer. Harry Hamlin!
Clancy is a pretty stereotypically “dad” author, isn’t he? Do it!