Old Favorites: Ambrose Bierce

I was going to substitute this feature with something else about the Great American Read, but then I realized that Ambrose Bierce’s birthday was this coming Sunday and, well, I just had to pen an ode to one of my favorite writers, AKA Bitter Bierce, The Diabolical Bierce, The Wickedest Man in San Francisco, The Rascal with the Sorrel Hair, The Laughing Devil, and (last but not least) The Devil’s Lexicographer. (I think I hit all the high points and included all the nicknames.)

Now, these nicknames make Bierce seem like evil incarnate, but he wasn’t. Honest!

He was just really, really, really, really grouchy, even by 19th century standards. And according to biographers, he was a crotchety, eccentric kid, so maybe when he entered this world on June 24, 1842, in rural Ohio, he was already destined to be one of the world’s best known literary misanthropes. (Though certain life events certainly did help him along that path.)

If you know of Bierce, it is likely because his two most famous works: his delightfully mean Devil’s Dictionary and his haunting, surreal Civil War short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” These are both great, but there’s a lot more to Bierce than meets the eye. . . .

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Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove

lonesome-dove

We’ve been chatting a lot about our “first favorites” for the Great American Read and Great Berryville Read. Those are the first books on the list of 100 books that jump out at you as automatic favorites.

I had 3 instant picks, and the one I have been leaning toward the most is Larry McMurtry’s modern classic Western Lonesome Dove. I’ve discussed my love of Westerns before, but I really don’t think you can get much better than this one. (As far as Westerns go, the only thing that I think ties with it is possibly Ron Hansen’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, another personal favorite. But it didn’t make the list!)

Trying to summarize the plot doesn’t do this novel, which is rich in characters and themes, justice. But at its heart, it’s the story of two former Texas Rangers, bored and burnt out with retired life, setting off on a cattle drive from South Texas to Montana. Along the way, they encounter psychopathic killers, stampedes, storms, snakes, sorrow, and more.

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David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon

In the 1920s, the Osage tribe of Oklahoma were the wealthiest people per capita in the world after oil was found on their land in the early 1900s. That statistic belies the reality of the situation, though, in which many of the Osage who owned valuable headrights had to have a white guardian to control their money and financial affairs. Nonetheless, much was made of the wealth that was on the reservation.

And in 1921, wealthy tribe members started disappearing and turning up dead. Still others succumbed to suspicious instances of alcoholic poisoning and a mysterious “wasting disease.” People who began investigating the deaths also started disappearing and dying. Within a few years, over two dozen people had died under suspicious circumstances. Eventually, the FBI under a newly appointed director named J. Edgar Hoover were brought in to investigate.

As someone who is interested in the 1920s, true crime, and Native American history, I was really surprised that I had never heard of the Osage “Reign of Terror” when this book was released earlier this year.

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S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon

Empire of the Summer Moon

When I saw S.C. Gwynne was a scheduled speaker for Books in Bloom this year, I decided it was the perfect time to try one of his books that had been on my to-read list for a long-time, Empire of the Summer Moon.

I’ve been interested in the American West and Native American history since I was a child–my family can vouch for how weirdly obsessed I was with Son of the Morning Star as a nine-year-old–so I was excited to try Gwynne’s well-regarded history of the Comanche tribe.

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From Page to Screen: Longmire

The fight is real . . . at least for Walt Longmire.  As sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, Walt never has a dull day as he works to solve crimes, contend with family, friends, coworkers, and confront the personal demons that have haunted him since the death of his wife.

Craig Johnson’s sheriff is the focus of a series of a books, as well as a popular television series. I have had numerous people recommend the books and the TV show to me, so comparing the first entries in both seemed perfect for our next “From Page to Screen” feature.

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T.J. Stiles’s Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America

custers-trials

George Armstrong Custer is one of the most controversial figures in American history.

Don’t believe me?

Pick up any book about him or the American West or the American Civil War and see what the authors have to say about him. Some will praise him as a brave but misunderstood genius, some will denigrate him as an egotistical moron, and some will eulogize him as a tragic figure.

I’ve personally always found Custer a fascinating but relatively unsympathetic historical figure, but reading T.J. Stiles’s excellent, Pulitzer-Prize winning Custer’s Trials forced me to  re-evaluate some of my assumptions about him.

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