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Reading Challenges > August 2014 Reading Challenge: Westerns

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message 1: by Brendle (new)

Brendle (akajill) | 235 comments Mod
Okay everyone, let’s saddle up!
This month we’re reading a Western.

It’s a genre that many think of as something their grandfather might read, but I’m here to tell you that this genre is truly as broad and endless as the plains the cowboys ride across. Granted, you need a western setting, maybe a code of honor, but after that there are no rules. You can have cowboys and horses—or not. You can be historical or modern, romantic or cruel even violent or peaceful.

Don’t believe me?

Check out Westerns like the National Book Award winning All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, Doc by Mary Doria Russell, In Want of a Wife by Jo Goodman, the Booker Prize nominated The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, True Grit by Charles Portis, The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson, the Son by Philipp Meyer, the Leaphorn and Chee mysteries of Tony Hillerman, or the Pulitzer Prize winning Lonesome Dove. Heck, there’s even a graphic novel adaptation of a Louis L’Amour’s Law of the Desert Born if you want one. You might even be able to find a Western with a space cowboy if you look hard enough. (And sorry, but no, watching “Firefly” does not count.)

So saddle up or turn the key on that Mustang and take a ride through the American West with me. I would bet that we can find a book set in the West that you will enjoy. In fact, if you look you might even find that your favorite author has written a Western or two in their career. See the bibliographies of Elmore Leonard and Robert B Parker for a start.

I will be reading Appaloosa by Robert B Parker. Written in 2005 it’s the basis for a film of the same name starring Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen. What will YOU be reading? Let us know in the comments below for a chance to win an advance copy of a book!


message 2: by Steven (new)

Steven | 57 comments sounds good. I haven't read Zane Grey in a while. I'll find one of his. The best "western" I have read is "The American River", by McCarthy, historical fiction based on John Sutter's life and the founding of Sacramento.


message 3: by Susan (new)

Susan (yetanothersusan) | 203 comments I think there must be a western or two on that "states" book list I am making my way through.......I'll take a mozy and check it out!


message 4: by Steven (new)

Steven | 57 comments I've chosen Zane Grey's "The Last of the plainsmen". A slight departure from the author's normal work as it is a non - fiction account of his time with Buffalo Jones. Also, one of the few books of his that I have not already read.


message 5: by Chip (new)

Chip | 89 comments Mary Doria Russell wrote a western? Count me in!


message 6: by Chip (last edited Aug 03, 2014 08:53AM) (new)

Chip | 89 comments (I also see Russell wrote a book about the carving up of the Middle East at the Cairo Peace Conference, featuring TE Lawrence and Churchill, Dreamers of the Day. Dang! Another must-read!)


message 7: by Brendle (new)

Brendle (akajill) | 235 comments Mod
I am so excited to see so many willing to take on this challenge. The western is a new thing for me, but I have been absolutely delighted in the ones I have read. I would actually go so far as to say that one of them, True Grit, is one of the best books I have EVER read.

@steven I have never read Zane Grey, though I keep meaning to take on Riders of the Purple Sage as part of my efforts to read influential and classic books.

@Chip Yes! It's an account of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp in Kansas. It's more of a character study than a shoot 'em up and it really plunks you right down into a cattle drive town. You will feel very dusty while reading it!

@Susan can't wait to see which Western you pick. I have suggestions if you can't find one!

@Tabitha If you can't find one in your personal stash, you know where to look!


message 8: by Chip (last edited Aug 05, 2014 01:37PM) (new)

Chip | 89 comments I haven't (yet) read any Zane Grey, but I have read a few of L'Amour's novels and really liked them. I was told by a real cowboy with a degree in history that Louis L'Amour is more thoroughly researched and authentic. "Romantic" was the word he used to describe Grey. (Perhaps I should clarify that, from the context of our conversation, I think he meant "romantic" in the "heroic, adventurous, idealized" sense rather than "bodice-ripping.") FWIW and YMMV.

Also interested to find that Cormack McCarthy has one, too.


message 9: by Chelsea (new)

Chelsea Couillard-Smith I'm tempted by "True Grit" but I think I'm going to tackle "The Sisters Brothers" which has been on my to-read list since Neil Gaiman recommended it in some article I read a few years ago. I've never read western before, so I'm curious to see how this goes!


message 10: by Brendle (new)

Brendle (akajill) | 235 comments Mod
Chelsea wrote: "I'm tempted by "True Grit" but I think I'm going to tackle "The Sisters Brothers" which has been on my to-read list since Neil Gaiman recommended it in some article I read a few years ago. I've nev..."

Ooohhh...True Grit is sooooo very, very good so you should definitely read it at some point. (Seriously, Mattie Ross is a YA heroine for the ages!) But The Sisters Brothers is quite good too--it can be read as a simple tale of violence and misadventure in 1849 California, but it can also be read on a much deeper level too. It's a book that makes you think long after you have closed it.


message 11: by Steven (new)

Steven | 57 comments Read "The Last of the plainsmen"
Not the most enjoyable Zane Grey novel that I've read. He is often melodramatic about normal daily activities. If you have never read him before do not start with this one. Riders of the Purple Sage would be a better book to introduce yourself to his books.


message 12: by Brendle (new)

Brendle (akajill) | 235 comments Mod
Steven wrote: "Read "The Last of the plainsmen"
Not the most enjoyable Zane Grey novel that I've read. "


That's too bad. I will keep in mind what you said about Riders of the Purple Sage, though. If you're looking for another Western I can definitely recommend Elmore Leonard's early works. Or perhaps you can find one of those "space cowboys" :-)


message 13: by Steven (new)

Steven | 57 comments The anthology "Old Mars" contains several space western stories. I read many westerns years ago. Zane Grey and Louis L'amour remain my favorites. Keep in mind that they are products of their times and their attitudes about women, Native Americans, and Mormons, may be offensive at times. Keep away from Jon Sharpe, unless an
ultra-Misogynist hero and graphic sexual scenes are your cup of tea.


message 14: by Steven (new)

Steven | 57 comments I started reading Secret Harmonies by John McAuley, a winner of the Philip k. Dick award. I expected an offbeat scifi novel. It may still turn out that way. But, 10% into it so far and it sure reads like a western. Out on the open plain, horses, camping under moonlight, natives vs settlers. Okay, sure, the grass is red, the dog talks, and the natives are bipedal aliens that lay eggs.


message 15: by Chip (new)

Chip | 89 comments Steven wrote: "I started reading Secret Harmonies by John McAuley, a winner of the Philip k. Dick award. I expected an offbeat scifi novel. It may still turn out that way. But, 10% into it so far and it sure read..."

I sure hope you will post a brief review here when you finish it. I'm intrigued!


message 16: by Brendle (last edited Aug 12, 2014 10:40AM) (new)

Brendle (akajill) | 235 comments Mod
@steven How excellent to find out that there is an actual space cowboy out there!

I've heard it said by some that the science fiction genre is really just Western in new clothing. I'm not sure that is entirely true, but I think one could make the argument either way. As the new frontier opened up (the West vs outer space) so did books about exploring it.

It also makes me think about how some people refuse to read one genre or another when there are such similarities. I belong to another Goodreads group which had a challenge to read multiple genres and one person said they'd done everything but the western and said, almost proudly, that they'd never read a Western in their life. That made me sad because there are so many wonderful Western books out there that they are missing...

Don't be that person! Join our challenge this month and read a Western. You'll be glad you did!


message 17: by Steven (new)

Steven | 57 comments Westerns and Sci Fi often share a lot of similarities. larger than life heroes, the necessity of self reliance when trapped alone in an hostile environment, awe inspiring landscapes, conflict with native inhabitants, exploitation of natural resources and mistreatment of the natives, lawlessness, and justice from the end of a barrel. But, to me, the most striking similarity is the exploration of the human condition in a unique, and often harsh, environment. With more female authors entering the scfi field we are seeing more stories that focus more on relationships and romance. By contrast, The western romance novel genre has been around for at least a century.


message 18: by Steven (new)

Steven | 57 comments IMHO, the most classic space western story was Outand. The book, is a novelization of the movie.  Written by Alan Dean Foster. The theme is extremely common in Westerns and was immortalized in the movie High Noon. One man standing up for justice and the law against impossible odds.


message 19: by Steven (new)

Steven | 57 comments *Outland


message 20: by Brendle (last edited Aug 23, 2014 08:55AM) (new)

Brendle (akajill) | 235 comments Mod
So, I finished Appaloosa last night and discovered it had a different ending than the movie. I think it was a better ending, given the story told, and only reaffirms that the book is usually better than the movie--but then you knew that already, didn't you?

The book was a fast read and quite enjoyable. Of the Westerns I have read of late, however, it was the most macho. I think I say that because of the female characters. In some of the other Westerns I have read, there are women but they don't play a huge role. In another, the main character is a woman (True Grit). In this book, however, one of the main characters is a woman and she isn't portrayed in the best light. Her presence and actions cause great harm to the main character of Virgil Cole. Her motivations aren't malicious, instead they are strictly selfish. As another character points out, "She's willing to [do what she needs to do] so that she can get what she needs to get." In this case that is security in the rough and tumble frontier. She isn't evil, but she definitely isn't to be trusted and, ultimately, I felt that her character played into common stereotypes, especially since there were few other female characters to offset her. That for me was disappointing. But then again, this wasn't her story--that belonged to Cole and Hitch. They were strong leads who definitely possessed that Western code of honor and confidence as they pursued their quarry. I will most definitely be reading their further adventures.


message 21: by Chelsea (new)

Chelsea Couillard-Smith I'm not very far into The Sisters Brothers, but I'm enjoying it more than I expected. The humor is what is keeping me going.

I think it's interesting how contemporary western writers feel the need to be sort of self-aware of the cliches of western writing and play with them a bit in order to hold modern audiences. I wonder how titles like this fare with fans of more traditional westerns?


message 22: by Brendle (new)

Brendle (akajill) | 235 comments Mod
Chelsea wrote: "I'm not very far into The Sisters Brothers, but I'm enjoying it more than I expected. The humor is what is keeping me going."

I think the Sisters Brothers is a book that sneaks up on you. I read it for the library book group and on the surface it is an amusing tale of misadventure, but it kept me thinking long after I finished it. Our discussion was a rich and lively one as we kept finding hidden depths to plumb.

I wonder how titles like this fare with fans of more traditional westerns?

I think that is a really good question. So many of the new Westerns have been placed in the genre of literary fiction (yes, it's a genre) instead of Western. I doubt few classic Western readers would pick them up as a result. It might be a fun experiment in packaging. Same contents, different covers and blurbs...what would happen?


message 23: by Steven (new)

Steven | 57 comments Secret Harmonies is enjoyable, but very slow moving. Lots of character introspection. Much like the author's 400 Billion Stars. Still has a western feel. In one subplot a loner is being chased through the outback and he uses his knowledge of the land to evade them despite their high tech. Not sure if I will finish by EOM.


message 24: by Chip (new)

Chip | 89 comments I want to thank Brendle again for calling my attention to Doc by Mary Doria Russell. It is one of those genre-benders we've been talking about. I read her bio in Wikipedia and was surprised when the book was described as a Western and a murder mystery. And then I thought, oh, yeah - there is a murder mystery in there! I was so wrapped up in the characters and their stories and her descriptions that I had completely forgotten that we were trying to figure out who killed… oops! No spoilers!

She's such a terrific writer - I'm really loving this! (And do all her novels have at least one Jesuit in them?)


message 25: by Brendle (new)

Brendle (akajill) | 235 comments Mod
Chip wrote: "I want to thank Brendle again for calling my attention to Doc by Mary Doria Russell. It is one of those genre-benders we've been talking about."

You are very welcome! It's always a great pleasure to match a reader with a book. I'm so glad that you enjoyed your Western reading experience this month!


message 26: by Brendle (new)

Brendle (akajill) | 235 comments Mod
Yee Hah!
Thank you to everyone who participated in our August Western reading challenge. I certainly had fun exploring the genre and I hope you did too.
Our winner this month is Chip, who read the genre bending Doc by Mary Doria Russell. Chip, I'll be sending an advance readers copy out to Fair Oaks for you!
Happy reading everyone !


message 27: by Chip (new)

Chip | 89 comments Brendle wrote: "Yee Hah!...Our winner this month is Chip..."

Yee hah, indeed! Thanks!


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