Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.

When I was a high school English teacher, I often socialized with other teachers and their significant others. Contrary to the suspicions of teenagers everywhere, English teachers do not sit around correcting grammar for kicks. But we do sometimes talk about books and when the subject of reading came up, the husband of my friend/colleague (next-door classroom neighbor) had one contribution to the conversation: "Have you ever read Lonesome Dove?" Each time he mentioned the novel, his wife would sigh or roll her eyes or flat out say, "No one wants to hear about Lonesome Dove."

It's not that I would not have wanted to hear about Lonesome Dove. It's more like nothing I heard about it would have made me think I would like it. When I heard the title, I always conjured images of Texas, dust, and tired horses. When, a couple of years ago, my friend Actchy read and enjoyed Lonesome Dove, I decided to use one of my credits to obtain the audio download for my ipod. But I didn't seriously consider listening to it. I still didn't think I'd like it. Texas, dust, tired horses. Urgh.

A few weeks ago, I was pretty much out of audiobooks for my ipod and decided to give Lonesome Dove a try. The first thirty minutes of listening are all about how it's really hot, dusty, and boring in Texas. I did not know if I could handle thirty-six more hours of dust, heat, and tired horses.

Well, I LOVED Lonesome Dove. I laughed. I cried. I marveled at Larry McMurtry's masterful weaving together of so many narrative threads. Each plot line was my favorite one while I was listening to it, with the exception of a few sections that made me so stinking anxious I could barely listen.

"I don't feel good about those Suggs boys," I would tell my husband, who had already read the book. "Are they as bad as I think they are?" Or, "How much do you love Deets? I really love Deets." "Is something going to happen to Newt? Just tell me because I'm going to stop listening right now if that's the case." "Blue Duck is just so evil. I feel sick just thinking about him." "Weren't you so intrigued by Po Campo?" He had to kindly remind me that he read the book in 1996, not last week.*

Reading Lonesome Dove, I learned about a time and place in history that I've never really thought about: the post-Civil War West. I feel foolish admitting this, but I never thought about "how the West was won." Had no idea what Texas Rangers were (not a baseball team?). I had never really thought about what cowboys did besides wear hats and ride horses. Had never paused to think about what a cattle drive was. Never really thought about how important it would be to have a good horse or why one would want to steal horses.

And you know how, if you visit some place like Gatlingburg, TN, you can dress up in those old clothes and get your picture taken. On two occasions, I have dressed for such pictures, choosing to wear one of the satin/lacy type dresses which, thanks to Lonesome Dove, I now realize were reminiscent of those worn by the whores who worked in the saloons.

More than anything, I can't get over how much courage or folly it would take to travel miles and miles into unknown, lonely terrain. I especially can't get over mothers sending their young sons on a cattle drive from Texas to Montana.

Lonesome Dove is a long journey but the hours spent in the company of McMurtry's characters are so worth the trip.

Other recent reads that I heartily endorse are as follows.
I'm Down by Mishna Wolff -- hilarious and thought-provoking coming-of-age memoir about a white girl whose father more or less thinks he is black and raises her and her sister in a poor, black neighborhood

I'm Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing But True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man & Dog by Diana Joseph -- if the title doesn't sell you on this memoir, there's not much I can offer, except to say it is honest, well-written, and completely engaging

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz -- novel about a Princeton admissions officer coming to terms with her own past and the pressures of making decisions about the futures of so many applicants. I really loved this book.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl -- I can't believe I have not read Ruth Reichl before, but this memoir of her years as the New York Times restaurant critic was fantastic. I will be seeking out her two previous memoirs ASAP. I hope to post on this one in more detail in the future, but I wanted to mention it now in case Top Chef Masters isn't tiding you food fanatics over until the new season begins.

As always, I want to know what you are reading? And, what's your "Lonesome Dove"?

*Inspired by my constant commentary on Lonesome Dove, hubby DVRd and has been watching the miniseries. I've only caught snippets, but I have to say that realizing that D.B. Sweeney of Cutting Edge fame plays top hand Dish Boggett really made my evening.


Anonymous said...

I love when you suggest books! I'm going to the library this week, so hopefully I'll be able to find one of these. I suspect Lonesome Dove will be in....just a guess. I'll have to muster up some energy for that one. Currently reading Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox and the Shopaholic book when the main character is having a baby. I'm having a tough time getting through both of them, so I guess I'd rate them both as "average." Rita

Mrs F with 4 said...

If you haven't already, please PLEASE read 'Still Alice' by Lisa Genova. And I've just galloped through 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' by Mary Ann Shaffer (a jolly good read, nicely written). 'Late Nights on Air', 'A Student of Weather', 'Garbo Laughs', all by Elizabeth Hay.

A really haunting book (not literally in the sense of ghosts), 'In the Springtime of the Year', by Susan HIll. I defy you not to cry!

My Lonesome Dove? Probably 'In this House of Brede', by Rumer Godden.

I've just reserved the Ruth Reichl at the library - I'd heard it was good, so I'm pleased to have that cpnfirmed!

CaraBee said...

Gosh, after such high praise, I will definitely give Lonesome Dove a chance. Growing up in the plains, there was plenty of old west stuff to keep me entertained. Cow Town, anyone? Kansas definitely has its share of cowboy history. Having said that, I've never been into westerns: books, movies or songs. My mother's family actually came out west in a covered wagon in the late 1800s, so it's part of my family history. All of that is to say that it certainly wouldn't hurt me to branch out into a new genre.

Right now I'm reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It's a cute book about a young chemistry-loving girl who fancies herself a Sherlock Holmes style investigator, of course finding herself in all kinds of trouble along the way. I have The Guernsay Literary... on my bedside table right now. Excited to read that.

cake said...

i am excited about your suggestions, i've made myself a list.

i ask that you read _All Over Creation_ by Ruth Ozeki. a fun way to learn about the dangers of monoculture, and genetically engineered food.
if you liked _My Year of Meats_, you will love this one too.

mep said...

Thanks for all of the suggestions!

Mrs. F with 4 -- Is there any way to reach you for follow-up comments? Thank you for giving me new titles and authors to explore. It's such a gift to hear about new titles and authors. I can hardly wait to investigate and discover new books to love!

WPA said...

Hi MEP, After you suggested Lonesome Dove to me recently, I added it to my shopping cart on Amazon, and I have now ordered! I'm still waiting for your review of Cutting for Stone! I'm currently reading "When a Crocodile Eats the Sun," which I'm enjoying and my next book club read is "Shadow of the Wind."

Shannon Navin said...

Hey MEP:

I wanted to thank you for the idea that I took from one of your posts to download audiobooks and use them when I am walking for exercise, driving to work or cleaning the house! It's been so much fun and I'm much more likely to do those other dreaded activities now. I just finished Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund and really liked it and When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. Sedaris is a perennial favorite of mine...light and funny...but I don't recommend that you read or listen to him in public. You look like a looney bird when you start laughing out loud!

I also noticed that you mention paying for your downloads. My husband (a HUGE proponent of the library) pointed out to me a few weeks ago that our library system in Columbus has GREAT audiobooks that I can download to my iPod for free! I put myself on the waiting list for titles I want and by the time I have finished one, the next one is usually available! And free...hey, you can't beat that!

msh said...

i'm trying to think if i have a "lonesome dove" of my own, but the only thing that keeps coming to mind is the guilt that i feel every time i try to get through jane austen and just can't. "pride and prejudice" is one of my favorite friend's favorite books--i've tried 3 times now to get through it and i just can't. so her disappointment in me lingers! if you have any of those guilty books, write a little blog about it so i don't feel so alone!
i am currently reading wally lamb's latest "the hour i first believed"--i'm a big big fan of wally lamb's, and i like this one, but am not quite in love yet.

Mrs F with 4 said...

Dear MEP, you can find me at

Anonymous said...

This is amazing but I actually read Lonesome Dove around the same time your husband was reading it. I loved the slow read, it sorta matched the hot, dusty and tired horses. I think my Lonesome Dove is Love in the Time of Cholera which was read oh...maybe.......20 years ago when our children were still at home. It was a slow read as well, didn't want to miss a moment, always waiting for the punch line after many pages of the set-up. Think I'll try to read it again. Right now I have been inspired by MEP to read the poems and biography of Emily Dickinson.
My husband stared at me as I returned from our library with 10 books and asked "What in the world are you doing now?".... At this time am turning pages of THE PASSION OF EMILY DICKINSON by Judith Farr. She delves into the poems. While it is scholarly it is also written for the casual student, moi. It's not exactly a beach book but it is great. I'll betcha a movie will be made soon and MEP will be the lit consultant.

Actchy said...

Sigh. I *told* you so!

Anonymous said...

My mom read it last summer after hearing the same thing for years. After she was finished reading I asked her how it went. She LOVED IT and told me she was missing some of the characters. I will put it on my list to read.

E... said...

I can't believe I never commented on this post. Just thinking about TE waxing on about Lonesome Dove made me chuckle. Tried to talk J. into listening to this on our way to the beach. Apparently, his mother traumatized him with the miniseries, so no go. I KNOW he'd love it. But I guess I'm on my own.

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