Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Spinners’ Book of Fiction (1907)

Living in San Francisco at the time of the 1906 earthquake, Ina Coolbrith (1841–1928) lost her home and a priceless personal library in the fire that consumed the city. With her interest in the arts and her connections in both San Francisco and New York, she had helped found the Overland Monthly with Bret Harte and encouraged the careers of Jack London and Isadora Duncan among many others.

Following the quake and fire, Coolbrith's friends, including California writer Gertrude Atherton, helped out with financial support. A collection of stories, The Spinners’ Book of Fiction was published with all proceeds to go to Coolbrith. Sixteen Bay Area writers contributed to the anthology, as well as several illustrators and artists. 

Here are a few samples:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Mystery Road

Bit of a switch today. This “western” takes place in the outback of Queensland in modern-day Australia. Its central character is an Aboriginal police detective (Aaron Pedersen) investigating the murder of an indigenous girl whose body is found near a highway used by long-haul truckers.

He gets little cooperation, least of all from his sergeant (Tony Barren) and fellow officers. One of them (Hugo Weaving) seems suspiciously involved in what amounts to a toxic plague of local criminal activity, including teenage prostitution and a meth lab.

Pedersen has returned to home turf after a ten-year absence, making tentative connection with an ex-wife (Tasma Walton) and their daughter (Tricia Whitton). Neither reveal much interest in reconnecting with him. The ex-wife is a drinker; the daughter is clearly in harm’s way.

Home turf for Pedersen is a flat, arid landscape that could pass for West Texas. A drive along the dusty streets of his hometown may take one past scenes of police officers frisking teenagers spread-eagled against fences and cars. Animosity by whites toward Aboriginals is undisguised, as when a ’roo hunter (Ryan Kwanten) greets Pedersen with an icy exchange during a routine call at the young man’s cabin.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Chemo sabe

Morning sky
I’ve been sick this week. After a five-day cycle of chemo, my energy level is depleted, and I have no appetite for much of anything, including food. I realize how easy it has been to take alertness and lucidity for granted, as I am reacquainted with bone weary fatigue. I lie down on the bed and feel muscles from head to toe sighing, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Tiredness I learn again is not like lowering the lights with a dimmer switch, or turning down the volume on the radio. It’s about loss of interest in whatever sensory input there is from one’s eyes and ears. The space where thought takes place becomes a cloud chamber; sleep beckons. While I know the experience is temporary, maybe 4 – 5 days, I begin wondering how long I could go on like this.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Andy Adams, Campfire Tales

William H. Hudson collected these 51 stories told by cowboys around the evening campfires in four books by Andy Adams (1859-1935): The Log of a Cowboy (1903), A Texas Matchmaker (1904), The Outlet (1905), and Cattle Brands (1906). 

By the rules of trail drive storytelling, they are factual, as actually happened, and without exaggeration. Storytellers were not allowed to be boastful or to be interrupted.

The collection makes for an entertaining read, as subject matter ranges over all sorts of topics, and stories are told with a certain cowboy attitude that brings them to colorful life.

Andy Adams, 1904
Among a few of my own favorites: 1) an account of a marathon of “bear sign” (i.e., doughnut) making, 2) Bat Masterson supervising a fractious crowd gathered for a public speaking event, 3) a case brought before Judge Roy Bean, 4) an explanation for why the Chisholm Trail forks as told to a gullible new man, and 5) a dispute between a disagreeable trail boss and his riders over the count of a herd.

First published in 1956 by the University of Texas Press, Andy Adams’ Campfire Tales was reissued in 1976 by the University of Nebraska Press, with an expanded and informative introduction. The book is currently available at amazon, Barnes&Noble, and AbeBooks. For more of Friday’s Forgotten Books, click on over to Patti Abbott’s blog.

Further reading/viewing:
BITS review, Andy Adams, The Outlet, Part 1, Part 2

Image credits: Adams’ photo, The Critic, 1904

Coming up: TBD


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wanted: Dead or Alive, (1958-1961)

In 1958, Steve McQueen emerged after some minor TV work to star in three seasons (94 episodes) of the CBS TV series, Wanted: Dead or Alive. There he developed the screen presence we came to expect of him in one dramatic role after another, from The Magnificent Seven (1960) to Junior Bonner (1972) and a final western, Tom Horn (1980). 

Readers here may remember that, among western actors, Randolph Scott is a favorite of mine, but Steve McQueen is a close second. It may be that the two of them have some things in common—not the least of which is a particular brand of coolness in their style. Physically they are obviously different. Scott is tall and lean and carries himself with what you could even call elegance. McQueen is shorter, with a compact build. When he walks, he strides.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

View from the plateau

Desert walk with clouds
A year ago at this time I had cancer and was three months away from knowing it. This week we saw my oncologist, who had looked at my latest MRI and greeted us with “Good news!” The tumor on the right side of my brain has remained stable, and though it’s hard to tell, what’s still visible in the pictures may be no more than dead cells left from radiation while a cloud of swelling still lingers. While my blood count is good enough to allow another five-day round of chemo, the steroid I’ve been taking will be reduced again by half with the eventual goal of reducing it to zero. Meanwhile, monthly MRIs will happen only once every two months.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Glossary additions

Just in…25 more words for the Glossary of Frontier Fiction. These are from Wilson M. Hudson’s collection of Andy Adams campfire stories.


big auger = the big boss. “I’m not afraid of any man in your outfit, from the gimlet to the big auger.” Andy Adams, Cattle Brands.

Black Book = the Texas Rangers’ list of fugitives, published annually. “We looked the ‘Black Book’ over afterward for any description of him. At that time, there were over four thousand criminals and outlaws described in it.” Andy Adams, Cattle Brands.

bobble = jerky, jumpy movement. “We had several bobbles crossing that strip of country; nothing bad, just jump and run a mile or so, and then mill until daylight.” Andy Adams, Cattle Brands.