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‘It Requires Genius and He Had It’: Readers on Cormac McCarthy

The death of the novelist Cormac McCarthy on Tuesday prompted an outpouring from readers, who shared favorite passages, memories of reading his books — and occasionally, encounters with the reclusive writer.

Here is a selection of those comments, reflecting the many ways McCarthy’s writing — often described as haunting and even devastating — left a lasting mark on readers. These responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Some readers shared vivid memories of the first time they discovered McCarthy’s work — and its lasting impression.

“I was in my senior year of college in 1992-93 when I walked into a Borders bookstore on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. ‘All the Pretty Horses’ had recently been published and was on the display table. I don’t know how long I stood there, rooted to the spot, reading and turning pages. I bought the book, read it, then read everything he wrote to that time and since that time.

So that’s about 30 years ago. That’s the way it’s been for me when it comes to his writing. It makes an impression, leaves a mark, leaves me somehow changed, such that I can look back now, from my 50s, and remember where I was when I was reading his novels, and what I felt when I finished one for the first time.

He may not be the kind of writer that everyone would take to. But for me, he represents what writing and storytelling are capable of in terms of the alchemy by which words can grip, mold, and change you and how you see the world. What a writer.” — Milan Karol, Baltimore, Md.

“I read ‘The Road’ in one sitting, overnight, and it has never left me. I remain haunted by that vision, forever.” — Diana Dubrawsky, Silver Spring, Md.

“Goodbye to one of the all-time greats. If I had to choose one book to carry in my broken shopping cart through a postapocalyptic world it would be ‘Suttree,’ a book that gets better each time you read it.” — Yoav Grunstein, New York, N.Y.

“I discovered Cormac McCarthy’s books when I was pregnant with my daughter, and remember vividly how incredibly affecting ‘Blood Meridian’ was. Maybe it was the hormones, but I felt the prose was lyrical and shifting in an interesting way, even as it described horror.

I read ‘The Road’ the week before my daughter was born. It taught me just how fierce, awesome and enduring a parent’s love needs to be.” — Nilima Nigam, Vancouver, British Columbia

“His books have touched me in ways few other authors have. His writings are a gift to us. Thank you and rest well Mr. McCarthy. You will be remembered, always.” — Karyn Boatman, Santa Fe, N.M.

Some commenters wrote about in-person encounters with McCarthy.

“My first introduction to Cormac McCarthy was when a girlfriend had me read ‘Child of God.’ The richness of the language reminded me of Faulkner. Before long I became entranced with ‘Suttree’ and finally ‘Blood Meridian.’

He would visit my antiquarian shop, but he was so quiet and soft-spoken, I failed to recognize him. His interest were books on science, history and philosophy. When he paid with his credit card, I realized who he was.

I wish I had been able to keep my silence more, though; he was not eager to talk except in polite answers to questions about the subjects he was reading.” — Richard Murian, Scottsdale, Ariz.

“I used to see Cormac occasionally at an gallery opening in Santa Fe. One evening he was at an opening of his good friend, the artist James Drake, when I saw someone heading toward him to tell him how much they loved his books. He made a neat little pivot and headed for the door at a pace that kept anyone from interrupting his exit.

I admired his work and found ‘The Road’ to be a very touching love letter to his son. I admired that he could confront the comprehensiveness of death in his writing, but also in his life. It’s rare for an artist to not be changed by their fame.” — Gerry Snyder, Santa Fe, N.M.

And others expressed appreciation and reverence for McCarthy’s flinty, occasionally brutal language.

“What a loss. So many unique and devastating works, from ‘Child of God’ to ‘The Crossing’ and ‘The Passenger.’ McCarthy’s spare use of punctuation, noted in the obit, helped make his writing even more powerful. It is often described as if a quirk. Less discussed is the craft involved.

Try writing sentence after descriptive sentence without a comma or a dash. And writing speech without quotation marks or noting which character in the dialogue said the words. To achieve that requires the clearest and most carefully constructed prose. It requires genius and he had it.” — Xan Rice, Lyon, France

“I literally finished ‘Blood Meridian’ today, an hour before reading this story. I’m gutted — of course, he’d have found a much more ornate, graphic and beautiful but brutal collection of words to express that very feeling. And he did, in that bloody miracle of a novel.” — Vic Williams, Reno, Nev.

“The first McCarthy book I read was ‘Blood Meridian.’ I read it seven times in one year. I never read something so powerful, so bleak, and yet so real. That book haunts me.

The phrasing, the language, the vivid descriptions. The man could paint a landscape with his words and seemed to do so with very little effort.

Truly one of the great American writers: He left his mark and made no apologies for doing so.” — Anthony Hologounis, Ellenton, Fla.

“He never wrote a sentence that didn’t make me wonder what the next sentence would be like. And there was always a next sentence. Until now. — Tony Bickert, Eagle River, Alaska

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