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52 Weeks • 52 Western Novels: Old Favorites and New Discoveries Paperback – October 6, 2017
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What a great research gem for Western writers. A must read for all fans of the Western genre. What I thought would be a Western short-story collection, turned out to be reviews by Scott Harris and Paul Bishop, and several others, of a few of the greatest Western novels ever written. The masters are here, from Zane Grey to Elmore Leonard. Of course, Louis L’Amour is well represented with Catlow, Hondo, Mustang Man, and The Tall Stranger, and a two-page “celebration” of his work.
52 Weeks 52 Western Novels is laid out with “Facts” sections. First is “Book Facts” which gives a snapshot synopsis about the novel, then “Author Facts” to explain an overview about the writer; then comes “Beyond the Facts” to give little-known information about the novel. Last are “Fun Facts,” which explores a connection with the reviewer, and usually any tie-in with movies. Movies carry a bond that connects to many Western novels. In fact, several of the books came from screenplays or film treatments and were issued after the film release.
There are also a few little-known facts any reader might learn from. For example, I didn’t know Donald Hamilton, writer of the Matt Helm series of crime novels (I’ve read them all) wrote the Western, The Big Country, nor did I know he was born in Sweden and came to this country to attend the University of Chicago. The movie based on the novel won Burl Ives the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. 52 Weeks 52 Western Novels is loaded with such tidbits of information.
I have read most of the novels represented. Two I consider among the best ever written, and movies made from them are the best Western films ever made—The Searches by Alan LeMay (the John Wayne film was one of his best and shows human strength and frailty and prejudice at many levels not immediately seen in a casual viewing). John Ford once made a statement (obvious in every one of his films) that I treasure and have used in all my writing ever since. He said that the essence of any character is revealed in their eyes. Describe the eyes and you show the person. I prefer the realistic ending in the novel to the Hollywood movie ending. The second novel is, Shane by Jack Schaefer. The story as told by the boy could not be simpler, (at least as simple as High Noon) yet complexities, especially within Shane himself, are there, much more in the novel than in Alan Ladd’s performance, although he underplayed the role well. The film was nominated for awards in may categories, and won for Cinemaphotography.
52 Weeks 52 Western Novels even lists The Legend of Caleb York by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, with very interesting “Facts.” And Johnny Vengeance by Frank Gruber, including his list of “only seven plots,” which covers 90% of all Western’s written. Frank Gruber was one of my early heroes. His classic The Pulp Jungle taught me more about writing than most books I read after. 52 Weeks 52 Western Novels carries too many rich nuggets of facts and legends to list in a review. I consider it a genuine reference book that I will treasure. No reader will be disappointed. Highly recommended.
There were two additions I would have liked in the book; A Table of Contents to make it easier to go straight to a Western novel. And on the “Facts” pages, perhaps a little less synopsis about the story and another “Facts” section about its publication history, and who the publisher was, at least as detailed as the movie tie-ins.
As I began, 52 Weeks 52 Western Novels is a research gem for Western writers, and all fans of the genre, and certainly worth five-stars.
If I were really industrious, I'd list 52 reasons why this slick, beautifully designed book is a must-have for western fans...especially those who are just getting into the genre. #1 on my list would be that it offers a great overview of key western novels that offer a wide-ranging perspective on the genre. #2 would be that each entry is affectionately, and knowledgeably written by either well-read experts in the genre or acclaimed western authors. #3 would be that even long-time western fans will learn some interesting facts about books and authors they thought they knew everything about. Count me among them. This book is packed with information and will make you want to read, or re-read, every single title.
It's not clear to me how the 52 books that are covered were chosen...or why some authors get two or more listings (like Claire Huffaker, Marvin Albert and Louis L'Amour) while other landmark authors/novels aren't listed at all (like Larry McMurtry's LONESOME DOVE and A.B. Guthrie's THE WAY WEST, for example). There are lots of well-known titles (especially among western fans) and many obscure ones that were new to me (and that I am eager to read!).
If I have a criticism, it's that the write-ups can be a bit too familiar at times, with the contributors talking too much about themselves or about how they know the authors ("I've had the great pleasure to get to know Arnold and his wife Bonnie over the years" or "Bill and I first met through the pages of fanzines" etc). I also wish the two editors had resisted the urge to refer to their own western novels ("In my own series of western books...") in write-ups of other books or to have their books included in the listings -- it gives the book an unnecessary, self-promotional aspect that detracts from the overall professionalism of the endeavour.
But those are minor quibbles. The passion the editors and their contributors have for the genre, and for these books, is palpable. This isn't a dry, stodgy reference work. It's a fun read, written in a casual, energetic style that makes you feel like you're having dinner with a group of really smart, really passionate western fans who can't stop talking about the books they love...and that they want you to love as much as they do.
Scott Harris and Paul Bishop have put out a real labor of love. 52 Weeks, 52 Westerns assembles a number of contributing writers – many I recognize as authors themselves – who’ve showcased some of the Western novels that have made an impact on them. Each page contains cover art, author photos, facts about the book, movies based on the book, and facts about the author.
So many of my favorite authors are showcased in this one – Ed Gorman, Elmer Kelton, George G. Gilman, James Reasoner, Elmore Leonard – I keep it nearby and keep referring to it. My to-be-sought-out-and-read list is growing longer with each read.
The passion for the genre has never been better depicted. The “art” of the western shines through on every page. If you’ve been caught up in the spell you recognize it right away – these books were paperbacks with tough, gritty covers. Narrow-hipped men with wide shoulders, pistols hung low in worn leather holsters. Westerns were about men who worked, who had no leisure time. They were about life and death and not much on luxury or comfort.
I’d love to see the editors put something out along the lines of this that – rather than going book by book – takes a more in-depth approach to the great western writers author by author. I could see a few pages dedicated to Zane Grey depicting cover art from various titles over the years. A few more to the likes of Ray Hogan, Louis L’Amour, Harry Whittington, Luke Short…
I do hope there are more resources like this yet to come.
Most recent customer reviews
For any true diehard western aficionado, 52 Weeks: 52 Western Novels is a lavish feast discovered in the middle of a ghost town of a genre that many...Read more