This week I guest-blogged for Laurie von Mehren, a Cleveland poet and our literary specialist over at the library. I mentioned to Laurie that I was a huge fan of Westerns, and that it might be cool to do a post on literary Westerns for the library’s website. Laurie said, “Literary Westerns? I didn’t know such things existed.” So, of course, some reader’s advisory was in order:
Clint Eastwood once said that as far as he was concerned, Americans didn’t have any original art except jazz and Westerns. With the popularity of the stellar HBO Western series DEADWOOD, there’s been a renewed interest in our great American genre. This week we’re going to give you a crash-course in that rarest of species, the literary Western.
But before we do, take DEADWOOD creator David Milch’s advice and catch up on your King James Bible, Shakespeare, and Victorians, because those are the books that Americans of the late-19th century West would’ve had access to…
Then, start out with Elmore Leonard. Although he’s best known for his mysteries, he cut his teeth writing Westerns. Check out THE COMPLETE WESTERN STORIES OF ELMORE LEONARD, THE TONTO WOMAN, and his marvelous latest novel, THE HOT KID, which reads like a 30s ganster novel set in the West.
When you’re feeling up to it, move on to Cormac McCarthy. Devour his acclaimed Border Trilogy (ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, THE CROSSING, CITIES OF THE PLAIN), and then experience the bloody glory of his Sam Peckinpah-meets-Heironymus Bosch-as-written-by-William-Faulkner horror masterpiece, BLOOD MERIDIAN, which the New York Times just recently voted one of the best American novels of the last 25 years. It’s one of my favorite books, ever.
After you’ve taken those in, turn a 360, and read the Wyoming stories of Annie Proulx (CLOSE RANGE, BAD DIRT.) She wrote a short-story that was made into a movie you just might have heard of, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.
Happy readin’, pardners.
Oddly enough, I became obsessed with Westerns when I was living in England. I lived in a crap apartment in a crap neighborhood in Cambridge, and the Blockbuster down the street had a nice collection. Here’s some of my favorites, courtesy of YouTube: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Once Upon A Time In The West, Dead Man, Deadwood, and Unforgiven. (No link for McCabe & Mrs. Miller…)
Other links of interest: the NYTimes profiled Deadwood a while back, pondered the influence of The Searchers, and Salon proclaimed the Western will never die and provided a great reading list to catch up.