Way out West: the west in literature

In the spring I found myself immersed into the western US, via books.

Michael and I read together, “’Catch ‘em alive Jack’ : the life and adventures of an American pioneer.” This autobiography of John Abernathy was great fun to read, although we found his adventures a bit incredible and a bit overwhelming at times (“really????”). Still, it was an interesting view of a unique time and period of American history, the whole manliness of Teddy Roosevelt and his rough riders, where a man who caught wolves would thrive (Jack wouldn’t do as well in these more modern times, when the ASPCA would be picketing Jack’s front door). A Texas native, Jack later became United States Marshal in Oklahoma.

Another book that takes place in Texas and Oklahoma is the novel “Crooked Hallelujah,” by Kelli Jo Ford. This was read for my in-town book group (admittedly, none of us liked it). It tells the tale of several generations of Cherokee women, and their poor choices in men. Well, there’s more to it than that, but that was the gist for me.

More historical in nature, as well as more gripping, is Kristin Hannah’s novel, “Four winds,” which depicts another single mother in Texas, who after seeing her farm shrivel up in the  Dust Bowl, heads further west, to California, in search of a better life for herself and her two children. If you’re looking for a cheerful story, this isn’t it – but if you’re seeking to experience vicariously the unrelenting hardships suffered by those seeking to better their lot in life, this will give you renewed empathy for the immigrants among us. Seems as if history does repeat itself, with how we continue to treat “the other” – people from other places that threaten our way of life by their poverty and willingness to do the jobs that most of us wouldn’t want to do.

My favorite book of this foursome of western literature is “Between earth and sky” by Karen Osborn. What a wonderful find! I was unfamiliar with this novel, when I found it on a free shelf somewhere. It ended up being so different from how it started, as a young woman crossing the continent with her family in the 1800s, writing home to her sister. Then it morphed into a book about an independent woman, an artist, who fell in love with the New Mexican landscape, and her unique family and life. I like that the author is also a poet, as one can see in her writing. an interesting and unique book.

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for western literature, but those are the books that came into my world this year. What are some of your favorite western reads?