Bill Kaufman writes a lovely essay about Texas novelist Elmer Kelton (who recently died). ("The Time It Never Rained" is his most acclaimed). Kelton wrote, "the Western field is a literary ghetto. Critics don’t read a Western unless the book is contemptuous of its subject …matter. If you write out of love for your subject matter they’ll dismiss you.” He adds:
Saturating Kelton’s work is his love of West Texas. Kelton is no flowery panegyrist of the tumbleweed; growing up amongst men who regard poetical expression as effeminate will stifle one’s urge to write odes to cacti. But he loves his land just the same. As he writes in The Day the Cowboys Quit, “Some people would never understand the hold this land could take on a man if he stayed rooted long enough in one spot to develop a communion with the grass-blanketed earth, to begin to feel and fall in with the rhythms of the changing seasons. There was a pulse in this land, like the pulse in a man, though most people never paused long enough to sense it.”
Bill Kaufman has written several books including a well-received novel. He seems to write for conservative publications (which is not a problem; I just wish there were more thoughtful conservative writers out there).
One irony of being a novelist is that you remain unread by your intended audience until after your death. Hey, that’s the nature of the game, I guess. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I frequently put off reading books by people I know, thinking, “oh, they’ll be around for a while; I’ll certainly get around to reading books by them later.” And then later never comes.
Another very distinguished Texas author Robert Flynn was a former teacher of mine. I even set up a wikipedia page for him (BTW, I’ll be blogging about him soon). Anyway, his most famous novel was also his first, North to Yesterday. I have had 2 copies of that book for 20 years and still haven’t read it (even though it’s a comic and light book). I wouldn’t call it willful neglect, just procrastination. Back at Johns Hopkins, I had several remarkable novelists as teachers (and several novelists who were not my teachers, but interesting writers nonetheless). I am generally upbeat about these authors and own copies of their books. And yet, out of all the books I own, these books are probably the last book I would probably take off my bookshelf. it’s a strange phenomena; you’re almost taking your friends for granted.
I have several books by Kelton (even though admittedly I wouldn’t seek out a Western novel). Now is my time to catch up.