|Desert morning sky, moon over vapor trails|
And that’s been chiefly reviews of what I’ve been calling “early westerns” (1880-1915) and reviews of recent western novels plus interviews with their writers. I’ve also been discovering writers who published during the 1960s-70s, a favorite of them being John Henry Reese. Patti Abbott kindly includes links to these on her weekly Friday’s Forgotten Books.
Then there’s been a western movie review each week for Todd Mason’s Overlooked Movies and TV. Gleaning obsolete and forgotten words and names from the early westerns, I’ve kept a running Old West glossary going, now going on 65 pages. For a while, I put up a lot of photos, vintage ones of the Old West and many of LA today and the desert where I live, snapped with my cell phone.
During the past year I retired from a lifetime of paying jobs that started with radio announcing and measuring cornfields for the Agricultural Stabilization Commission, and ending with a teaching gig at a major West Coast university. I had long dreaded retirement, and as I said here a year ago, blogging has helped keep me from dissolving into a blur.
The pleasures of the text. I enjoy reading, and I like writing about what I notice as I read. I find ideas embedded in the words of a novel and the plot and dialogue of a film. I’m looking for intelligent design, I suppose. The ideas may originate with the writers themselves, or they may be just part of the zeitgeist that slips into the story.
A writer asked me once whether I could review more books by living writers. It would help build their audience. I understand that but don’t see my main purpose to be selling books. A lot of reviews today are like that—a sales pitch, trying to rev up your interest like a movie trailer. But as someone who hates being endlessly sold to by every channel of the media, I don’t want to be adding to all that noise.
I’d rather share something that will cost readers nothing. And that something is a sense of wonder in the magic of storytelling—how every writer goes about it in their own way. I also marvel at how the western has gone on materializing itself and evolving over more than a century. And if I can, I’d like to show some of the many ways to take pleasure from a western story. If that makes you want to read a book yourself, I'll be pleased, but it's not necessary.
So, yeah, my “reviews” get pretty long. I give credit to anybody who reads them to the end. Long before we lost Roger Ebert (and I’m sure going to miss him), I realized that I was trying to talk about western novels the way he talked about movies. I can’t say for sure what way that is, except that plot is only one of many elements that go into the telling of a story. And taking readers outside the box of their expectations (like coloring outside the lines) is the gift of a writer, added value and not a drawback.
The year that was. Anyway, I thought I’d close by listing the posts that have drawn the most readers over the past months, going back to January 2012. You can see it's a mixed bag. But if you are curious about what others have clicked to at BITS, here are the top 10 pages, in descending order:
Wrapping up. A couple years ago I set a goal of reading the first books of fiction set in the West by every writer who began publishing between 1880 and 1915. A list that started with 35 writers expanded to well over 100, but I’m now reaching the last of them. With a reading of Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona (1884), I hope to be done.
Thanks to the encouragement of many who have taken the time to post comments here and send email, I will then set to completing a book about all of them—the writers who invented frontier fiction. It looks to be a major project, and I’m planning to spend the next two months at work on it. So as the posts slow down to a stop here, worry not. . .
. . . I’ll be back before long.
Photos, Ron Scheer
Coming up: John D. Nesbitt, Dark Prairie