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What to Read Next (No. 189): cowboys, CS Lewis, and finding new rhythms
I started a new job about a month ago. Our oldest son started Kindergarten this week. Given a few other out-of-the-norm events in August (work travel, a bout of COVID, etc.), it only stands to reason that my reading rhythm is just a little out of whack.
The kids need to be up earlier in order for school to happen on time; my job is great, but I’m not real efficient just yet, so it’s taking up more hours and brain space than my previous gig; though the long summer days are waning, kiddos and us parents alike are trying to soak up all we can (and get some landscaping projects done).
In short, my reading time and attention is just a little short right now compared to what I’ve been used to.
My instinct, honestly, is to be a little bit annoyed. But then I think about it for just a few minutes, and realize that this is life. A kiddo starting school, in our household, will only happen three times. The first few months of a new job are perhaps equally rare—it’s fresh and draining and rewarding all at once. Better to embrace and adjust and revel as much as I can in this particular stage than worry about how many pages I’m getting in.
Here’s to seasons of slightly less reading, and being even more ruthless in giving up what I’m not enjoying. 🍻
Let’s get to the good stuff; as always, please let me know what you’re reading! I love to hear.
Horseman, Pass By by Larry McMurtry
Published: 1961 | Pages: 171
Larry McMurtry published his first novel when he was just 25. Given that youth, it’s a little surprising that Horseman, Pass By is such a bleak story—but having the scope of his long career and extensive catalogue in mind, it’s not that surprising.
This story centers on young, good-hearted Lonnie Bannon as he helps out his grandpa, Homer, on a small ranch just outside of Thalia, Texas. Stepson Hud inserts himself between the two, trying to wrest control of the farm from Homer. One day the elder Bannon finds a dead cow on his property and has a bad feeling that it’s more than just a dead cow. His intuition is correct, and this lone case of hoof and mouth winds up changing everything for the family.
Beyond the main storyline, there are some great secondary characters in this novel—something McMurtry always excels at. Farmhand Jesse is a sometimes-cowboy (the rodeo kind) who’s trying to figure out what kind of opportunities the New West has for a guy like him. Cook Halmea is one of the cheerier characters, but she can’t fully escape mid-century prejudices. (McMurtry focuses a lot on Halmea’s ample chest—perhaps the product of a 25-year-old writer? Ha!)
I won’t lie: it’s mostly a bummer of a story. Lonnie is optimistic, but runs right up against the realities of aging relatives, messed up family dynamics, small town injustice, and government bureaucracies that just punch ya in the face. It’s not all bad, but it would never be confused for cheery.
That said, I couldn’t stay away from the book. McMurtry’s writing is equal parts moving and maddening and addictive—and he creates the most memorable characters and dialogue you’ll ever come across.
What McMurtry has always done especially well is present readers with the real west. His settings are not the romantic, swashbuckling yarns of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour; they’re the harsh landscapes, dying small towns, and jackass cowboys that you’ll actually find in the west. And somehow he writes so damn well that you want to keep reading every word of it.
I’ve now read the Lonesome Dove tetralogy, Telegraph Days, and book one here of the Thalia trilogy. I already had an inkling, but this cements that I’d like to someday read all of McMurtry’s works. There aren’t many authors who I’d love to complete, but Larry is now firmly in that camp—along with Hemingway, Steinbeck, Dickens, Christie, and Cather. (I think that’s all of ‘em.)
Published: 2019 | Pages: 171
I gave you all bit of a preview of this book last week; I’d like to share even more today!
Published just a couple years ago, The Reading Life is a slim collection of Lewis’ essays, ideas, and even individual quotes about reading gleaned from letters, conversations, etc.
It starts with a few essays about why we read—why it’s an activity that brings so much joy and satisfaction. This is a hard subject to explore and articulate, but Lewis does so admirably. (It’s not too surprising, really, given Lewis’ talent for explaining Christian principles in readable and understandable terms.) I gave you some of the highlights from this section in last week’s newsletter, but there are still other treasures to be explored. I’d never give away the whole kit and caboodle.
We then get a few ideas on children’s books and why fairy tales are to be enjoyed by children and adults alike—along with a reasoned approach in support of fairy tales, period.
Lewis makes the case for re-reading the most impactful books (at least every 10 years), he explores the connection between reading and writing, he gives tips on being a more engaged and thoughtful reader . . . interestingly, we don’t get any opinions on his own books. Oh well.
You’ll also find his opinions on a few of his favorite authors, like Tolkien, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and more. Fun, edifying, and definitely one to return to again and again.
There are so many delights to be found in this short volume. There were pages I wanted to highlight in toto, which felt absurd, so I settled for scribbling a big star in the margins of nearly a dozen pages, signifying that the whole thing was worth saving and savoring.
To say this is a highly recommended title is an understatement.
Thanks so much for reading! I so appreciate your time and inbox space.