Sunday, July 8, 2007

A Western Sense of Place

Since I’ve been doing the Southern Reading Challenge at Maggie Reads, and thinking about “sense of place” in Southern literature, it’s made me think about the literature of the place I was born, grew up in, and still live: the American West. I think Western literature is a wonderful and very wide genre, and it probably deserves its own challenge. But I’m not up to hosting a challenge (technologically or time-wise), so I thought I would just post a list of some of my favorite western books, and maybe inspire someone to read something western that they haven’t read before. (Or inspire someone else to host a western challenge!)

Some of the books on this list could also be defined as “frontier literature”. And of course the west is physically huge and diverse, so sometimes the best Western literature is set in cities, or on the shore of the Pacific. Also, I had to include some memoirs, because they really moved me, or really depicted something about the west that no one else has. Here’s my list:

  • Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx
  • That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx
  • Anything by Wallace Stegner, but especially:
    • Angle of Repose
    • Big Rock Candy Mountain
  • White Fang by Jack London
  • Call of the Wild by Jack London
  • Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston
  • The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • O Pioneers by Willa Cather
  • The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
  • Shane by Jack Schaefer
  • Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag
  • Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
  • Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson
  • Ask the Dust by John Fante
  • Brotherhood of the Grape by John Fante
  • Pulp by Charles Bukowski (and almost anything else he wrote)
  • Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
  • Roughing It by Mark Twain
  • “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a short story by Mark Twain
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
  • Little Big Man by Thomas Berger
  • The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols
  • Valdez is Coming by Elmore Leonard
  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (okay, mainly set in China, but also in the Bay Area)
  • Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston
  • The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
  • Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
  • Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion
  • The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
  • A River Runs Through It by Norman MacLean
  • Anything by Jim Harrison, including:
    • Dalva
    • Legends of the Fall
    • Sundog
  • Anything by Raymond Carver, including:
    • Where I’m Calling From
    • Short Cuts
    • What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
  • Vineland by Thomas Pynchon
  • Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
  • The Mountains of California by John Muir
  • The Player by Michael Tolkin
  • House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
  • Across the High Lonesome by James McNay Brumfield
  • Aquaboogie by Susan Straight
  • Blacker Than a Thousand Midnights by Susan Straight
  • Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
  • Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
  • L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
  • The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson
  • Bad Lands by Oakley Hall
  • Giant Joshua by Maureen Whipple
  • Rest of the Earth by William H. Henderson
  • True Grit by Charles Portis
  • The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, Left-Handed Poems by Michael Ondaatje
  • Desperadoes by Ron Hansen
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen
  • The Ancient Child by M. Scott Momaday
  • Ghost Town by Robert Coover
  • Deadwood by Pete Dexter
  • Woe to Live On by Daniel Woodrell
  • Mamaw by Susan Dodd
  • Liar’s Moon by Philip Kimball
  • Bucking the Tiger by Bruce Olds
  • Welcome to Hard Times by E.L. Doctorow
  • Silver Light by David Thomson
  • The Sea of Grass by Conrad Richter
  • Generation X by Douglas Coupland
  • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
  • White Oleander by Janet Fitch
  • Anything by Louis L’Amour
  • Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams
  • Anything by Ivan Doig, including
    • This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind
    • The Whistling Season
Whew! I’d welcome any additions to the list, so please tell me about your favorite western books and I’ll add them.

photo of the Monument Valley courtesy of


MyUtopia said...

Wow what a great list!

Bellezza said...

I absolutely loved Lonesome Dove. I only wish I would have read the first two before it, but I didn't find out they existed until I was halfway through! Anyway, there's nothing like a good western. (My father was a cowboy, and is such a hero to me.) Have you read any westerns by Robert Parker? He's more known for his mysteries, but Apalloosa (SP?!) was good.

Gentle Reader said...

myutopia--thanks! I haven't read everything on it, but I aspire to!

bellezza--I've never read Robert Parker, though I know a bunch of people who are fans of the Spenser series. I'll have to check out the westerns. I'm not a huge reader of "westerns" (in the cowboy sense) but I love western movies. I just forced my kids to sit through "The Big Country" with Gregory Peck, and they enjoyed it, after they stopped kicking and screaming.

J.S. Peyton said...

Diddo what myutopia said - that's a wonderful list! I've read all of three things on that list: My Antonia, The Woman Warrior, and Devil in a Blue Dress. I loved all of them. Oh this list is bad, bad, bad. More books for my TBR list! Will it ever end?!

Dewey said...

Did you know there's a new Tales of the City book coming out after about 20 years?

I'm fairly new to the west and should probably read a lot of these. Maybe you should make a Western reading challenge! I would join, even though I'm so overchallenged right now.

Gentle Reader said...

J.S.--That's the thing about those TBR lists, they never get shorter, only longer...

dewey--I didn't know there was a new Tales of the City book coming out--how intriguing, I wonder if it will be set in the present? That will definitely go on my list.

I really wanted to host a Western challenge, but I'm a technological moron, and doubt I could figure it out. But if I do, I'll count on you to sign up :)

SFP said...

I wish I could help you with a Western challenge, but I'm technically challenged myself! But I'd definitely participate if anyone decides to host it.

Next to Lonesome Dove, Guy Vanderhaeghe's The Last Crossing is my favorite western.

Here's a link to another list of titles:

Gentle Reader said...

sfp--thanks for the link, it includes some books I've never heard of but will put on my list here. And I'll certainly have to check out The Last Crossing...thanks!!

Bybee said...

I used to have a Western Lit list a prof from the University of Oklahoma sent me, but it's waaay lost now. I worked my way through it for many years. Most of that list is on your list.

I think of the "Awakening Land" trilogy by Conrad Richter as being Western, but it's not very far west -- I think the main character's family was settling Ohio, which now seems decidedly east.

Gentle Reader said...

bybee--I haven't read any Conrad Richter but the Awakening Land trilogy sounds like western literature, even though they're only heading to Ohio, because it is about the beginning of America's westward movement. And I had completely forgotten about The Sea of Grass, his novel about the New Mexico territory, which totally fits into the western category!

John Mutford said...

What no Louis L'Amour?

Dougla Coupland's Generation X is set in California as well.

Great list, btw.

stefanie said...

Nice list. It proves the west isn't just cowboys. That said, what about Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep? It takes places in 1930s Los Angeles.

Gentle Reader said...

john--I did think of L'Amour, but I haven't read any, and he's written so much, I was just flummoxed when looking at his list. Can you give me a couple of titles? And I'll put Generation X on the list, thanks!

stefanie--of course, Chandler! (I say "duh!" to myself and give myself a dope slap to the back of the head).

Probably Dashiell Hammett and a bunch of other noir-type writers fit the bill, too.

Ooh, I just had another thought--Janet Fitch's White Oleander. The list goes on...

Robin said...

What a wonderful list and beautiful photo! It would make a great challenge--I'd sign up immediately!

Anyway, you must include Terry Tempest Williams on the list, (Refuge, An Unnatural History of Family and Place) and everything by Ivan Doig (This House of Sky; Whistling Season).

Bellezza said...

I'd have watched Gregory Peck with you without kicking OR screaming. :)

Gentle Reader said...

robin--thanks, and will add those books, too. I'm glad you would sign up if I ever got it together to host a challenge--thanks!

bellezza--I could probably watch Gregory Peck just breathe for two hours :)

Maggie said...

Great list Gentle Reader! I've always wanted to do an adult summer reading program with a western flare. I'll have to save the list.

Oh, and I may have to fight you for Charles Portis's True Grit. It's set in Arkasas, which is considered southern, but I agree, it is frontier.

"Them thar's fighin' words" ;D

Gentle Reader said...

maggie--Actually, when I was looking around for Western literature I noticed that there is some overlap, because Texas is sometimes considered Southern and sometimes Western. (I guess various places that were once on the frontier were once the western-most settled places in the country.) But when I was looking through Texas literature, it was mostly categorized as Southern, but occasionally the books were what I thought of as westerns.

So maybe we can share :)

John Mutford said...

Actually, I can't really help out with L'Amour. I've only read one by him and don't remember it except that I wasn't impressed. It probably came across that I was a fan, eh? Not so, he's just the first author I think of when I think of Westerns.

Gentle Reader said...

john--I hear ya. I think L'Amour's was the first name that came into my head when I starting coming up with Westerns, too. But I've never read any of his many, many books. My husband read one when he was a teenager, and the only thing he remembers about it is a description of a woman--"she sat well in the saddle". At the time, he thought that meant she had a nice butt. Now it's sort of a family joke :)

Maggie said...

I'll share. :D

Gentle Reader said...

Thanks! We can meet in Kansas and celebrate :)

Lotus Reads said...

Gentle Reader, what an awesome list! As someone who has done little or no reading from this particular genre, a list like this is so useful, thank you very much for compiling it!

Gentle Reader said...

lotus--thanks! You know, I didn't think about it being useful when I started, but it is nice to have something written down to refer to when you're looking for something from a particular genre :)