August 18 is Ivan Doig Day, honoring the much-loved novelist and nonfiction writer who created his own Yoknapatawpha County in western Montana and called it Two Medicine Country, a farm-rich region on the Rocky Mountain Front in northern Montana and home to as cantankerous and storm-tossed a set of characters as those inhabiting the hamlets that made up Faulkner’s version of Mississippi. Doig, who died on April 9, is being honored across the country today, the publication day of his final novel, Last Bus to Wisdom, but especially in Montana and Seattle, where he lived, with celebrations in bookstores and libraries. We’d like to add our own raised glass to a writer who, over nearly 40 years of publishing, acquired a devoted audience of readers who found in his old-school storytelling a charm and a comfort level too often lacking in contemporary fiction.
This House of Sky helped make me a book reviewer.
I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing almost all of Doig’s books in the pages of Booklist, but my infatuation with his work started even before that, when I was a librarian in western Washington and happened to pick up This House of Sky, his first book, published in 1978. This coming-of-age memoir about growing up in the rock-strewn Montana high country, helping his father tend sheep and learning about everything else in life from his grandmother, introduced me and thousands of other, soon-to-become Doig devotees to a writer with a remarkable ability to ground his flights of lyrical prose in what he has called “the specific land” of Montana. This House of Sky remains one of my favorite Doig books, as it does for many readers, but in my case, there is also a personal reason behind my fondness. This House of Sky helped make me a book reviewer. After reading Doig, something possessed me to write a long review of the book and submit it unsolicited to the San Francisco Review of Books, a review magazine I much admired back in the day. Shockingly, my review was accepted, and, brimming with confidence, I begin to do more reviewing and eventually found myself at Booklist. So one could say that, in a sense, I owe my entire career to Ivan Doig.
Thank you, Mr. Doig, for my 35 years at Booklist, but thank you even more for all your books and for the many happy hours they allowed me to spend in Two Medicine Country.