On Reading The Right Stuff

As mentioned a few days ago, I picked up Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff at Border’s going-out-of-business sale.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen Philip Kaufman’s film the past twenty-five years. Fifty times? I’d almost think that was too low.

One of the first CDs I bought? A recording of Holst’s “The Planets.” Why? Because it’s the music used in The Right Stuff.

A few weeks ago at work I had to write about a model of the Bell X-1. The plane that Chuck Yeager flew when he broke the sound barrier. Yes, my text riffed on things from The Right Stuff. “The high desert of California.” “The fastest man alive.” “There’s a demon that lives out there in the thin air.”

Suffice it to say, I love the movie. But I’ve never read the book.

I started reading it last night, and I took it with me on the train this morning.

And it’s surprising.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. Certainly nothing from the first chapter, which is about Pete Conrad, an astronaut who doesn’t even appear in the movie.

Yet, it’s still compulsively readable.

What I noticed?

It’s amazing how much of Wolfe’s text makes it on screen. There are sentences that I recognize as dialogue from the film. It’s not dialogue in the book. And yet, people in the film actually say Wolfe’s words. In some cases, it’s Jeff Goldblum and Harry Shearer saying the lines — like a bit about how the Navy doesn’t have pilots, the Navy has aviators. In some cases, it’s the astronauts or a pilot.

I haven’t encountered Gordo Cooper yet, though. Yes, I realize his first name is Gordon, but that’s how he’s called in the film — Gordo Cooper.

I’m enjoying The Right Stuff immensely. I can’t believe I’ve gone so long with this gap in my reading experience.

When the book’s done, I suppose I’ll have to put the film in and compare. :)

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