50 Shades of Grey (Zane, that is)

After nearly 25 years of library work, I still find that one of the questions I get asked the most is “Can you help me find a good book?”

After nearly 25 years of library work, I still find that one of the questions I get asked the most is “Can you help me find a good book?”

Of course, what makes a “good book” is very different for every person so this question keeps me and the library staff on our toes.

I often observe what types of materials are frequently borrowed at the library to get a sense of what is popular, modern, classic, entertaining and interesting reading.

What we often see is ‘Fad’ fiction, coming and going, sensational as it is, usually fizzles out after a period of time.

Over the past few years, the storm surrounding such books as “50 Shades of Grey,” “Hunger Games” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has been centre stage on bookstore and library shelves.

Over the years, I’ve watched many genres rise and fall in popularity but one that has remained constant is the ‘Western’, or ‘Duster’ as they are often called.

This revelation made me realize that I had never read one of these time-honoured stories. (no, not ever!)

I decided a little investigation was in order and set about researching the ever-popular Western novel.

The very first name that came to me was Zane Grey.

I consistently see his novels going in and out of the library with great regularity.

Along with Louis L’Amour, these two American western writers are foremost in this well-loved genre and have countless titles to their credit. (many more than 50!)

Some of Zane Grey’s work was adapted into films and a television series, “Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater.”

I did a little experiment and checked out a few novels by each author.

I found the historical references and associations they had with the opening of the North American frontier quite interesting and the stories were adventurous and sometimes graphically brutal in revealing the interactions of cowboys, pioneers and indigenous peoples.

However, they were first and foremost, well, very American.

Next step of the experiment:  you guessed it… I set about finding some Canadian western material and found I had opened a goldmine of literature I hadn’t really thought about.

In my reading archive, I have tested the Western waters with great titles such as:  “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick Dewitt, “Shoot!” by George Bowering, “Dream Wheels” by Richard Wagamese and “The Last Crossing” by Guy Vanderhaeghe.

I hadn’t really thought of these great books as the typical Western as the plots are rich with historical information, character development and that incredible Canadian ‘flavour’ that we can only find north of the border.

As my research progressed, three books came across my desk and a very strange thing happened.

The moment I opened “Grass Beyond the Mountains,” I raced through from start to finish to hurriedly pick up “Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy” and then sat down with “The Rancher Takes a Wife” for dessert.

These books written by Richmond P. Hobson Jr. are the real thing.

They are truly the Great Canadian Western.

I now understand what it is about this genre that has continued to draw reading audiences over the years.

All I can say is, sometimes, research is a wonderful thing — I’m officially hooked!


If you’d like to try some fabulous westerns, drop in to the library pardner. Sue Kline is the Community Librarian at the Summerland Branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.