Friday, November 2, 2007

Scouting the Web

A jam packed Scouting the Web this week:

■ Prolific (and a Saddlebums favorite) writer James Reasoner has launched his new website. The list of books he’s written is worth the price of admission alone, even though he states there are several other titles he’s contractually obligated not to claim to have authored.

Michael Katz, author of the critically acclaimed Shalom on the Range, will be kicking off his book signing tour in the Northeast. Described by Johnny D. Boggs as “Louis L’Amour meets Jerry Seinfeld,” his novel was published earlier this year. These are the first three dates, where he will not only talk about the book but also all things Western:

Barnes & Noble-Jenkintown, PA • 215-886-5366
Saturday November 17, 2007 @ 2:00-4:00 p.m.

Barnes & Noble-Princeton, NJ • 609-897-9250
Tuesday November 27, 2007 @ 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Barnes & Noble-Exton, PA • 610-524-0103
Thursday November 29 @ 7:00-9:00 p.m.

If you happen to live in the area, we encourage you to drop by and say “howdy” to Mr. Katz. While you are at it, you can also check out his recent article on the present and future of the Western genre at Jew Review.

Rope and Wire has a new interview with Black Horse Westerns author Lee Pierce (hat tip to Jim Griffin for pointing us to that link).

■ New articles by Larry McMurtry: One on the film version of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men in Newsweek and another one on photographer Diane Keaton from The New York Review of Books.

Popcorn Junkies has a list of favorite Sergio Leone films.

■ The latest issue of True West magazine is out with an article on Brad Pitt and Jesse James that’s also online and a history of Western comics exclusively available in the print edition.

■ The newest issue of Wild West magazine is also out. You can check its table of contents here as well as a very interesting historical article on the railroad war over the Rock Island Railroad in Oklahoma.

■ The Criterion Collection, a distributor of quality films famed for its handsome collectors editions DVDs, has just put out The First Films of Samuel Fuller, a box set that includes two excellent Westerns: The Baron of Arizona, in which Vincent Price portrays legendary swindler James Addison Reavis, and I Shot Jesse James, his directorial debut on the life of Robert Ford. Watching it makes for an interesting contrast with the more recent Brad Pitt film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

■ The Washington Post’s book blog, Short Stack, has a list of favorite novels about the settling of the West, including usual suspects plus an out-of-left-field pick in Karen Fisher’s A Sudden Country.

John Wayne’s Hondo will be screened in its original the 3D format.

■ Writer Tim McGuire (recently interviewed by Saddlebums) has been contracted by Berkley to publish a new novel, Texas Cowboys, scheduled for release in late 2009. According to the author, the story is a continuation of his Rance Cash Texas series, albeit “with a grittier taste to reflect Abilene, Kansas in 1871. The story takes place there with the likes of J. B. Hickok, Jesse James, John Wesley Hardin, Ben Thompson, Luke Short, and a host of others names and events.”

High Country News brings us another article on the state of Westerns with some curious morsels. According to its author, one of the possible reasons for the genre’s sales decline is that “readers finally got sick of all those backward portrayals of women and Native Americans, and the romanticized views of frontier life.” I wonder if she’s read writers like Richard S. Wheeler, whose works easily disprove that assertion.

After a protracted discussion on ways to reinvigorate Westerns, she concludes: “For if we know the myths, we can practice what Western historian Patricia Limerick likes to call “myth management,” in which the frontier values of individualism and persistence are corralled into the service of shockingly modern causes like, say, energy efficiency. The Cowboy Way, like it or not, lives on. We might as well give it a job to do.” Huh?

The article is nonetheless very interesting (albeit short) and mostly focuses on Steve Hockensmith’s novels and the Russell Davis-edited anthology Lost Trails (hat tip for the link to the Westerns for Today blog).

■ Two great reviews at Bookgasm: The first is written by fellow Saddlebums contributor Doug Bentin and tackles Johnny D. Boggs’ East of the Border, set during the year Buffalo Bill Cody, Texas Jack Omohundro and Wild Bill Hickok traveled together in a stage play (click here). The second is for the horror Western novel The Blood Rider by Mark Tarrant (click here).

■ Speaking of horror Westerns, this is an interview with Robert Tinnell, author of The Wicked West graphic novels.

Here’s an interesting snippet:

Q: People who like westerns really seem to love them, but compared to other popular genres, those fans seem relatively few in number. How much of that would you chalk up to simple differences in taste, and how much to stereotypes about the genre putting off people who might otherwise enjoy it? I confess, I myself haven't given it much of a chance; I think one reason is that the stereotypical images suggest a very narrow genre, for which much depth and variety aren't even really possible. What's wrong about that superficial impression, and what would I find if I looked beyond it? What would you say is the core appeal--the one that inspires such enthusiasm in fans--and why don't more people get it? What do you think non-fans would find most surprising if they began to explore the genre in earnest?

A: One of the reasons that I think the western is so appealing is that it represents a lot of stuff happening on frontiers or borders. And border country is usually dramatic country - be it where cultures meet and clash or where differing terrains meet and likewise clash. Beyond that, in America, I think, perhaps not so much now as maybe forty years ago, people gravitated to the westerns because they felt it represented a time when an individual really stood a chance to make it - though that was probably a much more idealized notion than reality. And back then, of course, you had folks for whom the Wild West still existed in their childhoods so you had a nostalgia factor.

My guess is that Europeans have different reasons for finding the Western so appealing. I think that European filmmakers certainly found much to rhapsodise over in the American western landscape. And in the eyes of those filmmakers they could blow apart the sanitized American myths of the good guy in the wide hat - think of all the Leone pictures.

I'm always delighted at the reaction that I get from people who aren't familiar with the great movie westerns. My daughter - at the age of 7 - freaked over ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST - refused to go to bed. She just devoured it. And she loves RED RIVER. I taught a class recently and made my students aware of the John Ford westerns and they were blown away by the visuals and, funny enough, seemed quite taken with the moral compass of the film - the sense of honor.

At heart, the vast expanses of the west and the struggles against man and nature that are part and parcel of the western in film, novels or comics, allows for a lot of character study and existential pondering. Maybe not in your average Roy Rogers flick - but for sure in a great Ford or Leone or Peckinpah picture.

■ And finally, the poll results are in. The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein is, hands down, the most popular Western soundtrack among Saddlebums readers.

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