Sunday, October 17, 2010

American West Book List

I love books and I love lists, so I like book lists! I like to forage through Amazon lists to get ideas for new reads. I love those memes where you have lists of books you've read. You get the idea. Right now I'm reading Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey. I've heard about Zane Grey for ages and ages and have never gotten around to reading anything by him until now. The book is good though the whole premise is based on the evil Mormons. What was it with Mormons? Were they really that bad? Another book I've read, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, also depicted Mormons as ruthless, greedy, twisted people. However, if you can get over this premise, Grey's writing is top notch. Very realistic, lean, builds tension right away.

This got me thinking about the many books this East Coast girl has enjoyed about America's West. And last night as I was falling asleep I started to make a list, starting from the books I read as a child:

1. Old Yeller by Fred Gipson - set in Texas, boy and his dog story. Classic.

2. By The Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman - funny account of a boy's adventure during the California Gold Rush.

3. Lotta Crabtree; Gold Rush Girl by Marian T. Place - this book is one of the Childhood of Famous Americans books. I think this one is out of print now. I actually remember being sick and home from school in fourth grade and being completely entranced by this book. I recently found it at a used book store and bought it again for my kids! It's about a girl who took to the stage during the California Gold Rush.

4. The Red Pony by John Steinbeck - When I was little this book was in my bookcase in my bedroom. It was a hand-me-down so I think it was an edition printed in the 1940's. I loved the illustrations. I loved the story. I read it over and over again. This was set in the California mountains maybe in the 1920's or thereabouts?

5. Brighty of the Grand Canyon - Marguerite Henry - I went through a M. Henry phase where I read pretty much everything she wrote. I've never been to the Grand Canyon but this book sure made me feel like I had.

6. Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West by Marguerite Henry - another horse book. A great read!

7. The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald - I know I read some of these as a child, because when I picked them up at the library to read aloud to my oldest kids when they were little, they rang a bell, though I didn't remember much. We read the whole series and enjoyed them immensely. These books are very affectionate towards Mormons!. A good antidote to some other books listed here!

8. The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder - I read and reread these books every year for years.

9. My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead and The Green Hills of Wyoming by Mary O'Hara - My Friend, Flicka has gotten short shrift at the movies. All these books really could be considered adult books. Thunderhead portrays with poignant detail a marriage going through a hard time. The Green Hills of Wyoming are about Ken moving into adulthood. They all paint a vivid picture of Wyoming and ranching. So well written. I reread these many times too.

10. Shane by Jack Schaefer - I also remember reading this book. I was in high school, it was a Sunday and I was lying on the living room couch, all curled up and completely absorbed in this book.

11. True Grit by Charles Portis - I think I might have read this book about the same time as Shane. Gripping! The whole snake pit was horrifying! The kind of book that haunts you for days afterward. They are making a new movie about this! Can they top John Wayne???

12. My Antonia by Willa Cather - about Bohemian settlers in Nebraska. Searingly beautiful and sad. I've read it several times again since that first encounter back in high school.

13. A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich - I just remember reading this at the insistence of a friend. I remember thinking it wasn't as good as The Little House books. That's all I can remember! Maybe I'll have to reread it.

14. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - this isn't really about how the West was won but since it was about a family's odyssey from Oklahoma to California, it felt very western to me.

15. Giants of the Earth by Ole Rolvaag - I read this on Christmas break during my 2nd year of college, if I am remembering correctly. Finished reading it and then immediately started it over again. I tried to read the sequel but found it too depressing. About Norwegian settlers in Minnesota. It was originally written in Norwegian by an immigrant. It was a best seller in Norway before it was translated into English and sold here in the U.S.

16. The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor - I don't know why this book isn't more popular (except for the prejudice against Mormons) but it is a rip-roaring tale of a boy and his father as they travel across America to get to the Gold Rush in California. It's got some hair-raising scenes. Rollicking would be a good adjective for this book!

17. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry - a classic. So well written, the characters are like real people. And they made an excellent mini-series out of it, but the book is still better.

18. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather - another searingly beautiful and moving novel (based on a true person). I love the sparse, evocative writing style. This one is set in New Mexico in the 1800s.

19. Papa Married a Mormon by John D. Fitzgerald - this is by the same author who wrote The Great Brain and it is very similar except it is written for adults (it is very clean, just he was aiming at a different audience!)and is about his own family. Very enjoyable. What is remarkable about it is how much affection he has for the Mormons even though he followed his father's faith and became Catholic.

20. Little Britches series by Ralph Moody - I didn't learn about this series until I had children. I've only read the first book. I've always intended to read more of these.

21. The Virginian by Owen Wister - I just read this classic this past summer. Such great, complex characters and a noble American sense of virtue made this thoroughly enjoyable.

One thing I notice as I list these books is the lack of stories told about or from the Native American points of view. I did go through a period when I was interested in Native Americans. My family went to see the Cherokee Indian Reservation in the Smoky Mountains one summer when I was young. We learned about the Trail of Tears and Andrew Jackson. I know I read Scott O'Dell books and various biographies about American Indians. I remember in particular reading a book about Chief Joseph which inspired me to recite his famous surrender speech in 8th grade when we were required to memorize and recite something in front of the class. I remember reading A Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter, though that isn't set in the West. Maybe I should try to read up some history and literature written from the Native American perspective to balance out my reading.

1 comment:

Firefly said...

Oh my gosh, this is great! Thank you so much for sharing it. :)