I remember the summer right after I had graduated high school vividly. It was a time, initially, of hope, beautiful young women, warm summer nights that seemed to lag with respect to our ability to measure time, but most of all, it was a time that I truly began to read. It was the first time outside of a classroom or educational organization that I attempted to make sense of the world.
One of the first books that I had decided to read was Brave New World accompanied with Brave New World Revisited, both of course, by Aldous Huxley. I remember that the story of the first was dystopian, but it wasn’t until I had read the latter that the totality of the work sunk in with me. Before I had graduated I shied from fiction literature. What was the point in wasting my time on stories when there was factual information to take in? Brave New World Revisited was the companion piece for such an arrogant know it all.
I remember doing my best to get through the fiction portion on a warm patio of a coffee house, and then a beautiful young lady striking up a conversation with me simply because we were both reading it. Maybe fiction wasn’t so bad? Obviously this was much better than Sir Gawain, Beowulf, and The Canterbury Tales. For one, I could thumb through the pages and understand any sentence, and also that I actually cared about the subject mater.
What I did find was truth, the type of truth that shakes you to the core when you are hopeful and assuming your generation can do better than the last. I was never all that optimistic in matters, but I don’t think I had grasped just how the world operated, or more importantly, which obstacles were to be faced because of the way the world operated. I had read the fiction portion, a fine story, but everything came together and crashing down all at once when I read the first chapter of revisited entitled: Overpopulation. What I had read was:
“The problem of rapidly increasing numbers in relation to natural resources, to social stability and to the well being of individuals–this is now the central problem of mankind; and it will remain the central problem certainly for a century, and perhaps several centuries thereafter.”
All of a sudden globalism made sense, governmental restrictions, but more importantly the novel itself now made sense. Not only was it possible for fiction to show me, just as much, if not more information and analysis than non-fiction work, but what I had read showed a very bleak future.
I remember a friend of mine came up to me right after I had read the last page. I closed the book, walked outside and hopped on the trunk of my old Crown Victoria and sat down. We talked for a few moments and I remember saying “I don’t know if I want children. This world doesn’t seem to be going in a great direction, and I’m not sure that anyone can stop the direction it is headed.” This of course was pretty crazy to say when you’re 18, he called bullshit (was correct) and pretty much just dismissed the whole deal. What he didn’t realize was that my worldview had collapsed. I had to adjust, my way of looking at the world would be changed for a long time, and today is still impacted by this work but in a different way.
Later that year I discovered Cormac McCarthy. The way that humans were always at odds with their own dark nature seemed to fit how I was seeing the world. Like in Blood Meridian, it seemed like sodomy crazed scalp hunters still existed, only in suits. I had seen how society can turn the lower rungs of classes in to monsters like Lester Ballard in Child of God. All The Pretty Horses, had much more depth as a book because I could see the politics of a failing Mexico in the 50’s. I could also see the romance that a place that wasn’t rapidly clinging to industrialization holds. I was especially fond of that romance as I watched Texas turn, more and more, in to a huge suburb (overpopulation all over again).
I had watched No Country For Old Men right before I had moved to Odessa, TX. Up until this point, I had lived, and now, live again, in a part of West Texas that borders the southern part of the Panhandle and morphs in to the Cross Timbers region, just north of the Concho Valley. Odessa, however, is indisputably West Texas, while it may sound crazy, I thirsted for this. The wild I missed from my childhood was there on those trash filled, dusty plains of mesquite scrub and yucca plants.
The people were not refined, the roads were rough, the food was hot, the music was loud. To me this was paradise:, mariachis, cold beer, constant grilling and kinship. But with all that I was enjoying came violence. The old west lives on in the Permian Basin and Trans-Pecos areas. It is in the attitude of roughnecks and convicts, cattlemen and a general people who have just been unwilling to become domesticated. I admire this, however, it does not mean that the majority or the population is intelligent.
In this area McCarthy was more a reporter than an author. The true story of border violence was usually much worse and more senseless. However, the violence is captured well in The Counselor. I soon realized that McCarthy was more philosophical in his points than the narcos are. A lesson was being taught in the writing while unbridled, materialistic, machismo was going on in practice. The writing of No Country For Old Men now made sense, I was feeling like the sheriff more often than not, it felt like the moment I had closed Brave New World Revisited.
Towards the end of my stay in Odessa I became homesick, missing water, mesquite trees rather than bushes, the yellow flowers on the nopales, and the ability to simply grow a tomato, and my family. My world view, again, began to change.
However, during the last part of my stay I had read a great deal of Larry McMurtry’s work. McMurty’s work (even just the movies) are a huge part of any Texans life. Ask why Lonesome Dove is awesome and see what the answers are. Ask an older generation about The Last Picture Show and watch the immediate embrace or disapproval of depicting both life and legend in Texas. I couldn’t understand the point of Texasville as a child because it too closely resembled everyday life.
For a long time I’d argue that McCarthy was a better author, I was wrong. I started to see the error of my ways my last year of college. In my survey of the American West, we were to write a comparative analysis where we compared a fictitious account of the West that was a movie and a non fiction book about on the American West. Obviously the findings should be how things are vs how things are depicted. I used Lonesome Dove as my movie and McMurtry’s Oh What A Slaughter as my non fiction piece(one of the only non-fiction book he has written). What could be better than to compare works by the same author, surely this would make for good reading and consistent analysis. After reading Oh What A Slaughter, which is a compilation of accounts of everyone pretty much massacring everyone, my world view as an adult became established. No one in the west has hands clean of blood (at least Whites, Mexicans or Indians) and at some point, we have all worked together and for a long time.
I went down the rabbit hole of The Last Picture Show series. Duane became a character that could be anyone in Texas. As you get to see his character in different points of his life, one point stands out the most to me. Rhino Ranch, the general comfort that Duane’s character gains becomes one I aspire to be like– denouncing racism, shooting the tires of meth heads, picking up trash along the road because it should be, living in a cabin and drinking whiskey at his leisure while reading Proust with a dash of hopeless romance. This is a series of modern day, small town, Texas.
In the last year, though, I felt it was appropriate to finally read the Lonesome Dove series. With this series I feel like I have become older and maybe slightly weary every time I come to the last page of each book. I don’t mean this in a bad way, more like when you have accomplished a hard task, the reading isn’t complex but the themes, man and his place in the world, a world that isn’t necessarily the one he should be in, that is some food for thought.
Each book is a master piece in its own right and can be read without reading the other ones, but each makes the other a richer story. As of now my favorite in the series is Comanche Moon, the character of Inish Scull alone makes it one of the best books I have ever read. For Instance:
“See this page of paper? It’s blank,” Scull said. “That, sir, is the most frightening battlefield in the world: the blank page. I mean to fill this paper with decent sentences, sir—this page and hundreds like it. Let me tell you, Colonel, it’s harder than fighting Lee. Why, it’s harder than fighting Napoleon. It requires unremitting attention,”
The parallels to the history of that time, as well as historical characters (Charles Goodnight, Dick King, Quannah Parker) make it truly remarkable.
I started the last book, Streets of Laredo yesterday, within the 1st hundred pages I was hooked. This story is bleak and takes place, mostly in far West Texas, but more believable than something like Blood Meridian. I look forward to writing about it once I am finished reading it. I’ll end this post with my favorite quote so far.
“In Call’s view, there was an obligation stronger than those, and that obligation was loyalty. It seemed to him the highest principle, loyalty. He preferred it to honor. He had never been exactly sure what men meant when they spoke of their honor, though it had been popular during the time of the War. He was sure, though, what he meant when he spoke of loyalty. A man didn’t desert his comrades, his troop, his leader. If he did he was, in Call’s book, worthless”