Western Read-a-long

The Western Reading Challenge has officially ended, but I'm going to leave the Mr. Linky up for a while.  

Thanks to everyone who participated.  I hope you all found a good western.

Update: Giddy-up and Git Reading

Please feel free to use the Mr. Linky below to post links to reviews on your blog for the Hop-a-long, Git-a-long, Read-a-long Western Reading Challenge.  Hope everyone is enjoying their trips out west.

The Hop-a-long, Git-a-long, Read-a-long Western Reading Challenge

Join me this May in celebrating the American Western.  Sign-up with Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post.

The western has long been considered a genre of ill-repute, a place for people who buy their books in supermarkets far away from places of serious literature.  But those of us who love them know that the American western is much more than escapist entertainment. 

Love them, hate them, or never read one, join me this May in an exploration of this very American genre. 

The more-or-less official title for the read-a-long will be Thomas Berger's Little Big Man.  If you're like me you only know this story from the Dustin Hoffman movie. 

I've included two suggested reading lists for people unfamiliar with westerns.  If you're not interested in Little Big Man  to choose a title from these or to select one of your own.  Leaving a comment on the official registration post here may help you find someone interested in join you for your own read-a-long or you can go your own way.  Going your own way is a tradition in westerns.
Allen Barra's list of literary from The Daily Beast:
  • Charles Portis’s True Grit (1968), which is soon to appear as a Coen Brothers’ film.
  • Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970)
  • Ron Hansen’s Desperadoes (1979) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (1983)
  • Pete Dexter’s elegiac twilight-of-the-gods account of Wild Bill Hickok’s last days, Deadwood (1986)
  • Daniel Woodrell’s Woe to Live On (1987), made into Ang Lee’s film Ride With the Devil
  • Susan Dodd’s heartrending fictional biography of Jesse James’s mother, Mamaw (1988)
  • N. Scott Momaday’s juxtaposing of the legend of a young Kiowa boy with that of Billy the Kid, The Ancient Child (1989)
  • David Thomson’s witty and original Silver Light (1990), which straddles the lines between fiction, film and history by mingling the destinies of real-life Westerners with film characters
  • Philip Kimball’s sweet, sad and savage Liar’s Moon (1999)
  • Deep Creek by Dana Hand (pen name of Anne Matthews and Will Howarth), a grim and fascinating fictional account of the actual slaughter of Chinese miners in 1870s Idaho.
  • E.L. Doctorow's revisionist take on pulp westerns, Welcome to Hard Times.

 C.B. James' list of recommended westerns (linked to my reviews when possible):

Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner
Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
Buffalo Girls by Larry McMurtry
Butcher's Crossing by John Williams
Deadwood by Pete Dexter
The Last Ride (The Missing) by Thomas Eidson

Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison
Lonsome Dove by Larry McMurty
My Antonia by Willa Cather
Oh, Pioneers by Willa Cather
Shane by Jack Schaefer
True Grit by Charles Portis
Welcome to Hard Times by E.L. Doctorow

If you've got a title you'd like to recommend please feel free.  Leave your recommendations on the registration page.  I plan on updating this list throughout the read-a-long.

What makes a book a western?  Consider this a working definition.

An American Western contians many of these elements:

  • A North American setting somewhere west of the Mississippi River  
  • A hero with the desire to make it on his own.
  • A sense that something is coming to an end.
  • A sense that civilization is approaching.
  • A struggle of man against the elements.
  • A physical struggle of man against man.
  • A sense of culture in transition.
  • An emphasis on setting.
  • A man on a horse.
  • A man with a gun.
  • A man who operates outside of legal systems.
  • A man who rides into town.
  • A man who rides out of town.
Of course 'woman' can replace 'man' in all of the above criteria, however American westerns tend to be about men.

Does a western have to be set in the American west?  No. Take The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey for example.  However, an American Western must take place in North America.

Is  Little House on the Praire by Laura Ingals Wilder a western?  Yes.  Many of the Little House books meet the following criteria: emphasis on setting, struggle of man against nature, sense of civilization approaching, hero who wants to make it on his own, a culture in tranisition.

Can a western feature only Native American characters?  Yes, if it is set in a time period after 1492.  If it is set prior to 1492, then it's historical fiction.

Please let me know if you have a criteria you think I should add to my list or if you thing there is one I should remove.  And let me know if you have a title that pushes the enevlope of what makes a western.
Remember, I intend to keep this page open as a work in progress.

I hope you'll join in the fun this May with the Hop-a-long, Git-a-long, Read-a-long, Western Reading Challenge.

To join in the fun sign up with Mr. Linky below.  If you don't have a blog but would still like to play along, just leave a comment anywhere on the site.


Bellezza said...

Can I assume that the number of books we read for this challenge is up to us? I wanted to read Comanche Moon after loving Lonesome Cowboy. Loving it. I also love Annie Proulx's work, mostly the ones I've read from Wyoming Stories. I remember both Shane and My, Antonia from high school; only the former spoke to me. Perhaps because my father and I used to cry out, "Come back, Shane!" at dinner. Ultimately, I love cowboys (coming from three generations of Chicago's Union stockyards) so I think I must do this challenge. :)

C.B. James said...

Officially, you only have to read one western, though you can certainly go for as many as you like.

Bellezza said...

Here's hoping I can get in more than one!

D.M. McGowan said...

Should have no trouble reading another western ... there is a whole stack of Kelton down at the local book store and I have a stack of L'Amour that I love to read over.
Besides, perhaps the new one I'm writing with qualify.

Jim Randolph said...

I'm totally doing this, but not straying too far. I am already a fan of Elmore Leonard's thrillers and have always been curios about his Westerns (especially after reading The Hot Kid which, while not a western, had that feel to it).


Margot said...

I've been looking forward to this since you announced it. I love an occasional Western. My husband is the real aficionado in our family, having read nearly every Western out there numerous times. After 40+ years of marriage, it's hard not to catch some of that fever.

My main goal is to read an A.B. Guthrie (The Big Sky) and an award-winning Elmer Kelton (Golden Spur for The Day the Cowboys Quit). I have a couple of others that I hope I have time for. We'll see. I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else reads as well.

Anonymous said...

I'm taking the plunge... I'll probably go for True History of the Kelly Gang, as I already own it! but thanks for the list of suggestions.

warmoviebuff said...

I finished "Cheyenne Autumn" by Mari Sandoz and then watched the John Ford western. You can find my dual review at my blog - warmoviebuff.blogspot.com

Thanks for motivating me to read this excellent book.