I realized a while ago that I've seen more westerns then I have read. So, I've got 40 yeas of western movies and TV shows under my belt but not as many books. I wanted to correct that so I've been trying to read more westerns. This will be the first in an irregular series on my thoughts and observations of the genre.
My initial wave of western genre purchases was scattershot, I started picking up cheap used western paperbacks at thrift stores, flea markets, yard sales, etc. about a year or so ago. Here's most of my small, but growing, collection of westerns (and some non-fiction western stuff).
The next step is more focused. I wanted to know what the canon was. Regardless of one's opinion of a canon, they can be a useful tool. A way to see what books are considered the best, the most influential, the most popular.
After doing some research it seems that the following books would work as a small canon for the western genre (they are presented in order of release).
The Virginian (1902)
Rider of the Purple Sage (1912)
Sea of Grass (1936)
The Ox-Bow Incident (1940)
The Big Sky (1947)
Little Big Man (1964)
True Grit (1968)
The Time It Never Rained (1973)
The Shootist (1975)
Lonesome Dove (1985)
Blood Meridian (1985)
The Sisters Brothers (2011)
Turns out I've read some of these, have some others on my TBR, and I'll have to get copies of some of the others. I look forward to exploring these books to see what they have to offer.
The western genre arguably has what amounts to a codified canon. A couple of time over the years the organization The Western Writers of America has polled its members to determine the best works and authors in the 20th century. The results can be found here.
One of the things that strikes me about my cobbled together list and The Western Writers of America list is a couple of possible omissions. Two authors and two books. The authors are Luke Short and H.A. DeRosso. Short is a writer that a lot of people love and DeRosso is lesser known. The books are Deadwood by Pete Dexter and Warlock by Oakley Hall. I'm still doing a lot of reading so I can't yet say for sure if they are actual omissions or not.
The third step is relying on personal recommendations. Those books that people love. That blew their hair back. That may not appear on lists like the ones above.
Heath's Lowrance's favorite westerns James Reasoner's favorite western writers
George Pelecanos' favorite westerns
Lee Goldberg's favorite western authors
The Five Most Important Cowboy Novels Ever
10 novels that show how wild the West really was
Top 10 Western Books
What is the canon of western fiction? Do you agree with my cobbled together list? How about the broader list compiled by The Western Writers of America? What are your favorites that maybe aren't listed here? What books should I add to my tbr?
Possible future topics:
-The canon's exclusion of more daring and experimental books.
-The possible effect of the popularity of cinema on the western book. Which results in people seeing more westerns then reading.
-Variants like acid westerns, surreal westerns, weird westerns. If/how they fit into the genre. Did they come about as a result of the ubiquity of western movies?