I recently heard a comment that no one reads westerns anymore. Haven’t we all heard that, and often? And at first glance, that sure looks to be true. Reminded me of a baseball story, or maybe it was because I watched the Rockies and Brewers Friday evening.
As a kid growing up in Nebraska, I was a big New York Yankee fan. Not sure why I was, but I knew all the players, their positions and their numbers. One of my favorites was, Yogi Berra, the great Yankee catcher who once said, the reason he quit going to Ruggeri’s, a St. Louis restaurant, to eat anymore, was, “Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.”
Maybe it’s that kind of reasoning that makes western novels something, “no one reads anymore.”
Yogi didn’t get it, and maybe those of us who encourage young people to read are thinking as off keel as he was. Often when today's readers decide to read a western they are steered to classics like, The Virginian, or Riders of the Purple Sage. Both great reads, but books I would say are much too dated and are difficult reading for a first time western reader. When one becomes a serious fan of westerns these will become, must, reads.
Some young readers are told to read Louis L’Amour, because his books are still sold everywhere and so many people have read them. I enjoyed many of L’Amour’s books and have read and enjoyed both The Virginian and Riders of the Purple Sage, but none of them are a first time western reader type of book.
So what would I suggest? Something by Elmer Kelton, Tony Hillerman or Loren Estleman to start. Why? I find them more captivating than some of the older westerns, might grab a young reader more quickly.
I also really like the modern day westerns of two Wyoming writers, C.J. Box and Craig Johnson. (Johnson’s books are the basis for the hit A&E series, Longmire and, the multi-award winning, Box has had a number of New York Times best sellers, centered on his Wyoming game warden, Joe Pickett. In my part of the world a lot of high school kids like these two writers.
How about a western movie to get them started. I like, Smoke Signals, The Last of the Dogmen, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Not the choices of anyone else I have seen, but I am talking about whetting the aptitude of readers for the western genre. Smoke Signals is hard hitting, Dogmen is a bit of a fantasy and Butch and Sundance has some great comedy and music. Something for everyone.
NOTE- This post is not about teaching about the west, it is about getting the younger generation interested in reading, once again, the western genre.
If you completely disagree with this post, I could always quote Yogi again. Responding to a question about remarks attributed to him that he did not think were his: “I really didn’t say everything I said.”