I know I'm going to hell for yesterday's post. Let's see, which famous author or high-end publisher can I offend today?
We might as well get this out of the way: What's the worst book I've ever recorded?
Without question, hands-down, no-brainer, it was The Cry of the Panther by James. P. McMullen.
It was a well-intentioned effort, I suppose: A memoir by a Vietnam vet who, struggling to exorcise the demons that haunt him, immerses himself in a hunt for an elusive black panther named Shakespeare who lurks in the gloom of the Everglades.
And when I say immerses, I mean it. In one unforgettable passage, he douses himself in panther urine and buries himself in swamp muck up to his eyes, all the while chanting "I am a panther, I am a panther, I AM a panther." Reading that with a straight face was one of the challenges of my career.
It got to the point where both the engineer and I concluded that it had to be a hoax. Nothing about the story made sense. When, after hundreds of pages of tortured prose, he finally meets up with Shakespeare and they exchange a "meaningful" glance, we both howled. That's it? We waited four hundred pages for this?
I recall that the book received a plug from James Dickey, which makes sense in a perverse sort of way.
I know I'm going to get an email from James McMullen's son or niece or someone close to him, saying that this book saved his life. Or some vets' organization will tell me how meaningful it was to them. I can't even find a picture of the cover, though it's still listed on Amazon with, astoundingly, a handful of five-star reviews. If you're still out there James, I'm sorry. But it was murder to pull this one off.
Regardless of whatever backlash I might incur, I've answered the question that only the boldest of interviewers dares to pose.
UPDATE: I found an old People magazine article dated from the time the book appeared. "The Scatman"--I'd forgotten that part! I guess the book really meant something to him, so I feel bad. But it really was a grueling read.