Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hunting the Lonesome Dove.

I wasn't going to do another book-themed post today, but last night as I was reading the just-published second book of Larry McMurtry's three-book memoir, I came across this startling passage:

"I was an avid bird hunter at the time and was also heavily into guns. I devoured every issue of Field and Stream and its competitors. My favorite writers, during this period, would all have been hunting writers: Elmer Keith, Jack O'Connor and the big-game expert, Colonel Townsend Whelen."

Now I've read pretty much everything - novels and non-fiction alike - that McMurtry has published and not once did I ever get the notion that he was or ever had been a hunter. And McMurtry does go on to say that he considers the beginning of his real reading life to have begun when he entered Rice University and discovered that school's extensive library, which I'm assuming didn't include books on quail hunting or big-bore handguns.

Still, it's interesting to discover that one of our most distinguished authors (Lonesome Dove didn't win a Pulitzer for nothing...) was, as a child, influenced by what he read in the pages of Field and Stream. Surely McMurtry wasn't alone in that regard. The big three sporting magazines of yore were ubiquitous, routinely published great tales by great writers and they had much less with which to vie for a young boy's attention than do today's magazines.

Who knows how many future famous non-hunting writers may have been influenced by their childhood consumption of the Golden Age of twentieth-century sporting literature? Maybe some bright young grad student will take up the subject as a dissertation...

As an interesting aside, McMurtry is also one of the country's preeminent book dealers, and one of McMurtry's specialties as a book scout and dealer is classic American sporting books such as those published by the famous (and now highly collectable) Derrydale Press. Even if McMurtry's writing wasn't influenced by Field and Stream, perhaps his book-collecting was.

One of these days, maybe on that border-to-border bird hunting odyssey I've always wanted to take, I'll make it down to Archer City, Texas and spend a day wandering the shelves of his bookstore. Archer City is just off US 281, which happens to be one of the candidate roads for that particular dream.


  1. Coast to coast bird hunting (and eating)?
    When do we start?

  2. I've never gotten the impression that McMurtry spoke well of hunting, at least in his fiction, but it's been a long time since I've read anything of his.

    I'd imagine a few writers were influenced by those magazines- hard to get a haircut without coming across one and there was a lot of nice writing. One of these days the pendulum will swing a bit, I think, and the outdoor press will swing more literary. They may have to, as the most compelling "how to" and "me and Joe" pieces I've come across have been on message boards and blogs.

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