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Tom Chaney: Friday night at the Strand

Of Writers and Their Books. No. 003. 6 March 2005 Friday night at the Strand
The next earlier Tom Chaney book review, Fall of the Giants by Ken Follett

By Tom Chaney
Email: Tom Chaney

Friday Night at the Strand

I must make an honest confession. I like westerns. There! I've said it. I like western novels. I loved western movies when they played at the Strand Theater every Friday and Saturday back in the 1940's.

Our grandmother took us to the Strand every Friday night. Grandfather would never go. Westerns were too childish for him. He would not have been surprised to learn that the good guys always wore white hats - the bad ones black.

It would be years before I would spot the power line in the background of an 1870's movie or note that in the inevitable chase of the good guys after the bad guys after the stagecoach, the same rock was rounded time after time. Grandfather would have seen through them at once. I finally did.

As I grew into my teen years I thought that those old black and white westerns were not as good as they once were. Finally I realized I had grown beyond them. Lash Larue, Whip Wilson, Tex Ritter were left in the dust of a young man's seeing.

Years later I began to read western novels -- still looking for the excitement of those Red Ryder, Cisco Kid, Hopalong Cassidy days.

Most were not worth the trouble of reading; many were laid aside unfinished.

But I found some worthy names. Louis L'Amour stands near the head of the list. Ralph Compton and Max Brand keep him company.

The eternal virtues found at the Strand are still there. The hero prevails -- always. He is unsullied by alcohol save when necessary for medicinal purposes. He is gracious to all women, even when they are treacherous. He fights bravely without dishonor. And he treats his horse well.

Louis L'Amour is still my favorite. I go back to him again and again. Sometimes I read a book for the second and third time. At present I am reading his Sackett series from the beginning. I am struck that the saga of the Sacketts is a fine way to follow the history of the settlement of America. They come to a new land, treat its natives well, stretch their mental and physical powers to the limit, and, of course, prevail.

When I was teaching literature in college, I would not have liked for my colleagues and students to have caught me reading westerns. But I find I was not alone. Last year a friend who is a professor of psychology sold his books in preparation for retirement. By far the majority of the ones he brought were by Louis L'Amour. The Bookstore has upwards of one hundred L'Amour titles on its shelves.

But I cannot forget that some of the best American writers also have turned to the western setting and format for their finest work.

I think of Walter van Tilburg Clark's The Ox-Bow Incident wherein good and otherwise just men are led to hang an innocent man, and then are forced to confront their mistake.

And the part-time Kentuckian, A. B. Guthrie with his great series of novels about the upper West, beginning with The Big Sky where his Kentuckian, Boone, discovers an unspoiled Montana, and contributes to its demise as he leads settlers into his private land in The Way West.

I'm no longer ashamed that I like westerns. I pull a Louis L'Amour off the shelf every once in a while. Often a customer sees me reading it and asks to buy. I always sell - knowing it will be back in trade.

Remember, outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at

Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749 (270) 786-3084
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2010-10-24 12:24:31
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