Roland’s search for “literature” was long and fruitless. Of course the man was merely a rough-edged cowboy as compared to those sophisticated intelligentsias inhabiting Fleet or Beacon Streets, or entrenched in palaces atop Manhattan’s literary Mount Olympus. Logic, you see, availed him nothing.
When asking one of the minions of Murdoch to define literature, the cowboy way is to dissect the response, coming at each component of the answer from every angle until, at last, clarity rises like cream to the top. But what kind of clarity might be revealed by an editor, or agent, or publisher saying, “I can’t tell you what literature is. But I’ll know it when I see it.” Roland’s ironic Western disdain takes aim at such arrogance from self-proclaimed savants of revealed wisdom, but he also targets chain booksellers who posts placards on entire rows of bookshelves proclaiming “Fiction & Literature,” yet cannot identify which is which to a curious customer. However, the guy’s point transcends major bookseller’s shelf labels. His point is that despite research disclosing that everybody claims to love literature, cares about literature, wants to rub shoulders with literature, stroke it, cuddle it, cultivate it; yet nobody can succinctly describe it in intelligible terms. Nor, if they try, can they defend their definition. Even Webster’s College Dictionary fails to provide an answer delivering clarity to the complex question; one that doesn’t leave a reader wondering just who has the right to make literary decisions regarding particular prose or poetry? A harassed, overworked editor with his or her own built-in biases? A reviewer so suborned by the Gutenberg Mafia that he works hand-in-glove with only major publishers? An agent or publisher who limits consideration to works by blockbuster authors deemed sufficiently saleable that no risk is attached? No, it’s Roland’s contention that tagging certain works as “literature” is dictated largely by taste. And he thinks yours and his tastes has just as much merit as the taste of a lead reviewer for the New York Times. Whether a novel set amid Harlem incest, or a historical something set in Bonaparte France is literature or merely fiction can—and most surely is—in the eyes of the beholder (provided both employs exemplary craft levels). Personally, Roland prefers historical works set in the American West, or World War II, or medieval Japan. As such, he’s prepared to argue for Trails Plowed Under, The Desert Fox, and Hiroshima! But will the quote-unquote literary establishment agree? Cowboy Lit is a pithy commentary on the literary world’s arrogance. It’s an essay dripping with irony and laced with humor. (And it sells for just 99-cents.) You might wish to pay special attention to Cowboy Lit’s subtitle: All about literature, where it is, when it is, who it’s by, and why there’s no such thing. Consider, too, Bridging Generation Gaps: another of the old cowboy’s 99-cent essays, this one a witty and piercing analysis of why his serious—written for adults— wildlife, wilderness, and Western works hold such resounding and rewarding interest to youths of both sexes and all ages. Or take a look at Satan’s Sorceress, another 99-cent piece, a magazine-length short fiction about Leni Reifenstahl, the beautiful and vivacious documentary film maker who became indispensable to the glory of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich.