From Run Like Blazes:
In ’87 my story “The Old Guard” had appeared in The Literary Review and at 36, at long long last, I was a published author. But from a single story in The Literary Review to shelves groaning under the weight of my collected works was—is—a long way. And I was teaching at a language school for ten hours most days, Saturdays included; so, for many months, at a time when I should have been turning out stories at white heat, I wrote little. I compensated, however, as a writer must, by voracious reading (while envying other writers, many or most of them much younger than I, their success). The best moments of my waning bachelor life in New York were those bright Sunday mornings in spring when, unhungover and with a couple of spare dollars in my pocket, I went for a brisk walk through the nearby neighborhoods of the Village, Soho, Chelsea and environs and ended up in a bookstore (not the Strand) and after a couple of hours’ browsing came home with a book or two, unlocked doors upon unknown lands. Every visit to a bookstore was a potential voyage of discovery; my mind was wide open to all influences, but of course we return to what we love. This was how I first came upon that most eccentric of immortals, John Cowper Powys, “Old Earth Man,” Prester John of the Mountains.
Ah, Powys: The mere mention of the mad bugger’s name brings peace to my soul. I have a near-religious devotion to the man now, but back then, like most people, I’d never heard of him. He’s an acquired taste, and for a minority at that, but once sampled he makes all pretenders appear second-rate, like (say) Kronenbourg’s 1664 lager, or a Jaguar S-Type. I was led to his work through the back gate of Max Gate, as it were: Hardy’s Wessex, via a brief detour into the odd backwater of Powys’ brother Theodore’s religious and sardonic Mr. Weston’s Good Wine, in which Mr. Weston is God, and God is both a traveling wine salesman and the wine itself, and Dorset is Heaven, a Christian conceit atheistic and/or pagan Hardy would have had none of (except the last part). But it was so artfully told and so evocative in its Dorset village setting, and the characters were so robust and cunning, and it had such a strong flavor of the old master’s Michael Henchards and Jude Fawleys and Bathsheba Everdenes and gnarled Wessex woodsmen and farmers, that the next time I saw the name Powys, on the spine of a chrome-yellow paperback, I snatched it up. It was John Cowper’s Wolf Solent, my gateway into the muddy wonderland of another timeless Wessex. How he captures the essence of England! But Powys isn’t confined to his own country, although he was as weird and thorough an Englishman as any Wodehouse or Waugh. His true homeland temporal and spiritual was Wales, the homeland of his ancestors. And yet he loved France and Italy, too, and his hometown for many years was New York, from where he traveled all over America, giving lectures in a throbbing baritone on his favorite books and writers and (why not?) The Meaning of Life. His job was to help people toward a better life through Literature—yes, that capital L is deliberate. Great books, to Powys, were far more than the soap operas of the masses that TV and mass mod “culture” has turned them into; they were humanity’s highest achievements, as vital to everyone’s life as exercise or sunlight. And to spread this gospel he traveled all over the raw and still-new United States, raising high the banners of Homer, Rabelais, Dostoevsky, Hardy, Shakespeare, Byron, Dante, and other champions of the Western canon, exhorting the forgotten townsfolk of remote hamlets in Colorado and New Hampshire and Nebraska and Oregon to join the legions of the enlightened. Of course, Americans are always ready for a good dose of that old-time evangelism, or just a plain old freak show, whatever the subject, but—Literature? And the messenger of literary wisdom a tall, gangling Englishman with a plummy accent and bizarre facial tics? That was the freak-show part of his audience appeal, no doubt heightened when he fell down onstage, as he did a few times, overcome by emotion and chronic gastritis. The crowd must have roared.
 Hardy’s house in Dorchester, Dorset. I visited it in ’76. I remember a stolid, unremarkable red-brick house, a high yew hedge, and a gravel drive from which T.E. Lawrence, or Mr. Shaw, departed on his last, fatal motorbike ride. I also remember a poisonous fart of the silent-but-deadly variety hanging in the air like mustard gas on the Somme and, ultimately, driving me away. Sorry, but it’s of such things that memories are made.