“The word ‘cowboy’ has taken on negative connotations in recent times,” writes Kelton wryly, “especially in a political or...

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SANDHILLS BOY

THE WINDING TRAIL OF A TEXAS WRITER

Charming memoir of renowned western novelist Kelton’s (Texas Showdown, not reviewed) early years in the saddle, at the desk and in the trench.

The author’s querencia—the word means something like the place where a person is most at home—is at the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, “a ranch in Crane and Upton counties, just east of the Pecos River.” Kelton, born in 1926, found his life work not only as a novelist of daily life in the rural West (“My characters,” he writes, “are five-eight and nervous”) but also as an agricultural journalist of high standing. To arrive there, as he relates, he had to live the tough life of the cowhand, his parents bound by inclination and custom to a part of the country that could be unforgiving and ungenerous for years at a time, but then surprise with a bountiful harvest. His father was part of the “last full-time horseback cowboy generation,” and if he himself learned how to get around on a horse and throw a lasso, Kelton (and his father) soon recognized that he was better suited to something other than cowboying. With another querencia in books such as Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and the collected works of Zane Grey, Kelton came of age aspiring to be a writer—and found his Depression-scarred father wholly in support, if a little worried about how the boy would make a living. Kelton’s memoir then moves in rapid succession from ranch to university, and just as quickly into combat, describing his service as a foot soldier during World War II and courtship of a young Austrian widow whom he would take home to Texas, to considerable culture shock on both sides.

“The word ‘cowboy’ has taken on negative connotations in recent times,” writes Kelton wryly, “especially in a political or military context.” This memoir helps restore what to westerners is an honorable term, and it’s a pleasure through and through.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-765-31521-1

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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