Tuesday 21 December 2010

Best of the West 2010

Firstly a little explanation - this is not a list of books published in 2010, nor is it a list of what I think are the best westerns out there. Rather it is a list of westerns I have read in the past year and enjoyed enough to place them in my top selections - I have two lists, on for fiction and the other non-fiction and I can guarantee that each title is superb value for money and will both inform and entertain.

First to paraphrase Olivia Newton John, "Let's get all fictional, fictional, wanna get fictional. Let's get into fictional."

The Hart Brand
Johnny D Boggs
Leisure eBook also published as a paperback

Recently I mentioned how rare a first person narrative is in western fiction and yet two of the five books in my fiction selection use the first person device. The narrator is young Caleb Hart who is packed off from his home in St. Louis to work for his father's brother Franklin J. Hart in the rugged New Mexico Territory. It's a great story with some excellent characters, particularly the grizzled cowboy with a girl's name Kim Harrigan and action that comes thick and fast. But above all the book shines with the author's understanding of the Old West and the cowboy way of life.

True Grit
Charles Portis
Bloomsbury paperback edition

I only read this book in the last week - spurred on by the forthcoming film version by Charles Portis. I had been warned that the book was totally unlike John Wayne's 1969 film version and that after reading the book I would dislike the Wayne movie, but that was not the case. The book is excellent and Wayne's film is surprisingly faithful regardless of what others may have you believe.

The Searchers
Alan Lemay
Leisure eBook - also available in paperback
The Searchers is another book that became a John Wayne movie and whilst I think the movie is the best western ever made, the book is not far behind it. I thought this book was absolutely stunning and you can find my full review HERE. It also holds the distinction of being the first western I read on my excellent Sony eReader.

Edge: The Loner
George G Gilman
Solstice eBooks - also soon available in paperback

I had to include this book here - I'm a lifelong fan of the series and I was heavily involved with bringing the book back into print as an eBook. It's a revenge story that introduced the world to the ultimate western anti-hero - think The Man with No Name on steroids. The new eBook edition actually contains an introduction from myself but regardless of that I am first and foremost a fan of these wonderfully surreal and  violent westerns.

I read the book again whilst preparing the original text for digital publication and I loved it just as much as I did all those years ago.

Collected westerns of Robert E. Howard
Halycon Classics eBook - also available in trade paperback

Robert E. Howard is of course best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian and this collection of western short stories which were originally published in the pulps, show that he had a great voice for the Old West. Out of all the stories here The Scalp Hunter and Riot at Cougar Paw were particularly good but every tale is more than readable. Some of them may be a little old fashioned but that's to be expected from stories that are well over sixty years old. Anyone who loves the old pulp magazines will love this book and western fans will find much to enjoy.


Draw: The Greatest Gunfights of the American West
James Reasoner
Berkley trade paperback - also available as an eBook

Whilst there are many books on the market that collect together stories of iconic western persons, where James Reasoner's book stands out is that he doesn't only include the usual suspects but more obscure personages too. That's not to say that the likes of Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid and John Wesley Hardin are not included but the history behind lesser known characters make this books a must have.

Meticulously researched the book can be read from cover to cover in a single sitting,and once picked up it's hard to put down, or browsed through whenever the mood takes you.

Cowboys, Mountainmen and Grizzley Bears
Mathew P. Mayo
Twodot Books trade paperback - also available as eBook

This book takes on a similar style to the previous title but its scope is set wider. It contains fifty stories set in the Old West ranging from tales of doomed wagon trains to cattle stampedes, from men who survived shootings and scalpings to mass hangings. Again it's a book that can be dipped into from time to time or devoured in one sitting.

Stagecoach to Tombstone
Howard Hughes
Tauris trade paperback

Subtitled, The filmgoers guide to the great westerns this is an excellent title for any western fan to have on their shelves. Author, Howard Hughes clearly knows and understands the genre and his choice of films are representative of anyone's best of list. Each film listed is the subject of a detailed essay and I found myself agreeing with many of the author's conclusions. Though on times I disagreed but then that's the fun of a book like this. There is some great detail given to behind the scenes information on each film and some of this must have been a task of Herculean proportions to research given that many of the films covered are so old. And although the book starts with Stagecoach, a film the author clearly regards as the birth of the modern western there is a detailed introduction that looks at silent westerns.

All in all pretty much every film that matters from the golden age of the western is covered, though I did find it odd that the western selected for 1969 is Support your Local Sheriff rather than True Grit. Though I suppose it could be argued that SYLG is more representative of where the western was during this period of its evolution. The essay on The Searchers alone makes the book worth its weight in gold.

The Colonel and Little Missie
Larry Mcmurtry
Simon and Schuster Paperbacks

This book was my main source of research while working on my novel, A Policeman's Lot. The Pulitzer Prize winning author looks at the legends of Buffalo Bill with the emphasis on his Wild West Circus. He makes an effective case for the Buffalo Bill story representing the beginnings of superstardom in America. It's a unique angle in which to present Cody's story and the book is absolutely fascinating.

Of course it helps that the author has such an understanding of narrative and he brings all his skills as a fiction author to this work and both Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley step as real people from the page and into the imagination of the reader.

The above represents only a fraction of the Old West./Western material I've read in the past year and the one thing they all have in common is that they stick in the mind long after the covers are closed.

That's the list for 2010 then...see you for another in a year's time.


Dawn said...

Thanks! Great list here. As I have 3 boys we are always looking for a good book- and these are the ones my oldest enjoys most...a good western!
Thanks for the reviews!

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Dawn - depending on the age of your boys I would recommend True Grit - it's a magical tale and suitable for any age.

Matthew P. Mayo said...

Hey Gary!
My sincere thanks for including my book, COWBOYS, MOUNTAIN MEN & GRIZZLY BEARS on your "Best of" list. It's much appreciated--and the book, nearly out a year now--is still selling well and receiving solid assessments. I couldn't be more pleased.

Happy 2011 to you!

Neil A. Waring said...

Fun Read - so many good books and so little time. I have read several books on Cody (I live in Wyoming) and really thought McMurtry's book was terrific. After reading your post I had already decided to try, Cowboys,Mountain Men & Grizzly Bears, even before reading Mr. Mayo's comment. Now it will be a must read.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Old guy - go on treat yourself get Cowboys, mountain men and Grizzly bears. It'll help pass those long winter evenings. As would any of the books on this list.


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