Tom Clancy has died. I never met him, but if I had I would have thanked him. It was his Jack Ryan novels that led me out of school books and into the world of grown-up novels.
I was in the eighth grade when I read my first Clancy thriller, “Patriot Games.” I remember not being able to put it down. Until that book, I had read many book series for kids, such as Encyclopedia Brown, but few novels. Most of the novels I’d read were assigned to me by a teacher. Sadly, very few of them revolved around IRA bombings, vengeful government operatives and weighty moral dilemmas.
After “Patriot Games” I read the WWIII war-game-come-to-life “Red Storm Rising” for the first of three times. After that it was on to “The Hunt for Red October” (which I also read three times), “The Cardinal of the Kremlin,” “The Sum of All Fears” and a few others. I read them when I came home from high school. I read them after football practice double sessions. I read them in my bedroom late at night when I should have been sleeping. These books were manna for a teenage boy who yearned for stories of good and evil.
Like so many of the best things about me, I inherited my love of Clancy novels from my mom, who had read them years before I did. I was 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 years old when I read Clancy’s books, and I remember it giving us something to talk about, outside of the usual, “How is your school day?” Mom, can you believe what the terrorists did in ‘The Sum of All Fears?’ Then I’d reminder her what happened and we’d talk about the plot twists and turns.
I enjoyed Clancy’s novels because they were action-packed, there were good guys and bad guys and bad guys who did good things and good guys who did bad things, and there was advanced military technology and political intrigue, and there was always a hero overcoming very long odds to save the day–or sometimes not.
After a few years, by the time Jack Ryan had accomplished all I believed he could actually accomplish, I stopped reading Clancy’s novels, and I moved onto Leon Uris, Hunter S. Thompson, Robert Pirsig, Ken Kesey, Douglas Adams, Joseph Heller and others.
He was my gateway author. Clancy taught this young reader that novels could thrill, and for that I will always be thankful.
Joe Donatelli is the author of Full Griswold: Stories from a Honeymoon in Italy.