Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reading Lists - Westerns

Primarily set in the Western U.S. from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the 20th Century, Westerns feature the exploits of cowboys, scouts, Indians, gunslingers, and lawmen. The mythic feel of the West and the struggle to survive take precedence over historical accuracy.

The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie
Guthrie explores the role of the West as a place for escape and redemption as young Boone Caudill flees his abusive father in Kentucky and becomes a wild mountain man in the rugged West. In addition to Caudill, The Big Sky introduces Jim Deakins and Dick Summers, three of the most memorable characters in Western American literature. (F, LP)

The Branch and the Scaffold by Loren D. Estleman
Estleman’s westerns, like his mysteries, are dark, gritty, and feature loners who operate under a personal moral code. He writes biographical westerns as well as a series featuring lawman Page Murdock. This sharp, funny novel is about Isaac C. Parker (1838–1896), the notorious federal “Hanging Judge” for Arkansas and the Indian Territory. (LP)

Broken Trail by Alan Geoffrion
In this Spur Award winner for best first novel, cowboy Print Ritter and his young nephew find adventure while driving horses to Wyoming, and they attempt to rescue five young Chinese girls from being forced into prostitution. Based on historical documents and more than five years of research, it is the basis for the AMC cable network's production of the same title. (F)

The Dark Island by Robert J. Conley
The Real People series combines powerful characters, gripping plots, and vivid descriptions of tradition and mythology. In the sixth title, Squani, the son of a Timuca woman raped by a Spaniard and taken in by the Cherokee, goes on a dangerous, painful journey of discovery that leads him to the Spanish and a confrontation with his heritage. (LP)

From Where the Sun Now Stands by Will Henry
Appreciation for the land and the people who live there—especially Indians—resonates in Henry’s novels. This classic Spur Award winner examines Nez Perce Chief Joseph, continually betrayed by a government with which he only wants peace. The tale is narrated by Heyets, an old man reflecting on memories of his youth. (LP)

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Lonesome Dove, a Pulitzer Prize and Spur Award winner, is the ultimate Western adventure. Two former Texas Rangers hear rumors of opportunity in the newly opened territory, and they decide to head north. Their dusty trek is filled with troubles, violence, and unfulfilled yearning. This epic tale is descriptive with a relaxed pace. (F)

The Night Birds by Thomas Maltman
Maltman won a Spur Award for best first novel for the story of two generations of the Senger family. When Aunt Hazel is released from the state mental hospital, she brings a hidden part of the family history—an account of their involvement with the neighboring Dakota and its subsequent role in the Sioux uprising. (F)

The Pumpkin Rollers by Elmer Kelton
Kelton is known for his less-than-mythic heroes and elegiac tone. He writes of the disappearance of the West with great historical detail, complex characters, and evocative landscapes. Here, Trey McLean, a pumpkin roller (farmer), wants to become a cattleman, but he encounters frustration and danger on the way to his goal. (F, PB)

Sackett’s Land by Louis L’Amour
L'Amour employs Western landscapes, characters, and virtues, making them synonymous with the best American traits. His action-filled stories of the Sackett family cover 200 years of history. In the first book, set in the early 17th century, Barnabas Sackett is declared an outlaw in England and flees his homeland to seek adventure and fortune in the new land of America. (F, LP)

Shane by Jack Schaefer
Shane is the traditional Paladin hero, a man who rides into the community, rousts the badmen, and rides out again, bringing justice to a lawless land. Shane rides into the valley where Bob Starrett's family lives, and Bob, 15, tells about Shane's winning ways as he helps the homesteaders break the power of the Wyoming cattlemen. Shane has been a favorite Western for over 60 years. (LP, 813.54 Sch)

Tallgrass by Don Coldsmith
Coldsmith’s numerous novels focus mostly on Indian life during the expansion of the west. His stories capture the spirit of the West with evocative settings, characters, and themes. In the first of the Great Plains saga, white settlers begin to take away the lands of the Pawnee and other tribes after the Santa Fe trail opens. The novel covers nearly 300 years of history with seven loosely connected stories. (F)

Vengeance Valley by Richard S. Wheeler
Conned out of his money and land, Hard Luck Yancey stumbles upon black Telluride gold beneath a Sisters of Charity miners' hospital, a discovery that pits him against ruthless mining barons and greedy outlaws. A bookish mining engineer rather than a typical gunslinger, Yancey is an unconventional hero fighting for what is moral and right. (PB)

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
Doig’s realistic depiction filled with historical and landscape details, lyrical writing, and love of the land tie him firmly to the Western tradition. The Whistling Season looks back on Montana's storied past. Hired as a housekeeper on an early 1900s Montana homestead, the irreverent Rose endeavors to educate her employer’s sons. (F)

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