Jim Harrison probably doesn’t drink Dos Equis, but the 77-year-old writer of Legends of the Fall and some three-dozen other books get my vote as the most interesting man in the world. Born and raised in rural Michigan, Harrison studied at the State University in East Lansing, and, for a short time, fell very hard for religion. A kind of artistic awakening converted him to the church of poetry and Harrison somewhat jokingly says that he took vows of poverty and devotion to his new gods, the muses. After winning a Guggenheim fellowship and receiving a desperately needed loan from his pal Jack Nicholson, Harrison wrote the hugely famous novella Legends of the Fall—in nine days—and the book was adapted into the film by Robert Redford, starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins. Harrison then found some wildly lucrative work writing screenplays in Hollywood, and ran around with the beautiful and the damned, eating and drinking like a Roman Emperor whenever he could. Harrison’s memoir of the meals and drinks and tall tales over the years, The Raw and the Cooked, is one of the greatest food books, well, ever, and he still throws down at tables with the Mario Batalis and Anthony Bourdains of the world. Not that that has ever gotten in the way of his writing.
A longtime student of Zen, Harrison manages to stay in the moment pretty well. He doesn’t think about awards or leaving a legacy, though (and I love this), when pushed, he says that when he is remembered he would like people to say, “‘Now there is a man who got his work done.'” And does he ever. For the last two dozen years, Harrison has written about a book per year as he shuttles between his cabin on the Michigan Upper Peninsula, and Montana, for brown trout fishing, and on to southern Arizona, where he still hunts fairly regularly (though less often and only for fowl these days).
Harrison’s new book, The Big Seven (Grove) continues many of his primary concerns as a writer—mortality, masculinity, and the search for a spiritual existence chief among them—following a retired police officer as he assesses himself and his relationship with the seven deadly sins. The ex-cop, Sunderson, is no saint. Nor is Harrison. But they have some great stories to tell.
P.S.—The book by Michael Ondaatje, which I continually refer to in the recording as Cat’s Cradle, is of course The Cat’s Table.
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