Published on TexasHighways.com
On January 1, I started doing what I’d been planning on doing for almost a year: reading the many books about Texas that I wasn’t exposed to until I was an adult. While researching which books to read, it didn’t take long before I came across Larry McMurtry and Lonesome Dove. With the pandemic and being at home for longer than usual, reading felt like a welcome distraction from everything. I bought the book and then, like I do with every book I get, I placed it at the bottom of the stack of about six books that sits on the shelf. Eventually, as I read the other books, like Heavy by Kiese Laymon and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Lonesome Dove moved to the top. But then, when it was time to read it, I simply moved it to the bottom of the stack. I did that a few times because Lonesome Dove, at one and three-quarters inches thick, intimidated me.
I didn’t grow up reading. When I was younger, I found it boring. The few books I read were mostly under 200 pages. Then sometime during my 20s, I found comfort in reading. I’d do it before or after a long day working in construction—sometimes before and after. I still read every day, usually in the morning. For how long I do it depends on what other work I have.
As I continuously moved Lonesome Dove to the bottom of the stack because it was shaped like a small brick, I wondered if it would be one of those books I owned for years, every few months thinking of getting rid of it, only to keep it, planning, almost promising, to read it soon. Then, in late March, McMurtry died. In the days after, when I read articles and eulogies mourning McMurtry’s passing, Lonesome Dove always got mentioned. It felt like the right time to dig in.
Some five days after McMurtry’s passing—after reading how important he’d been to Texas literature and how some found him unfriendly while others entirely welcoming—I started the book I had long procrastinated reading. And once I started, from the time I read the first sentence about blue pigs eating a rattlesnake, until the last one, about what loving someone you can’t be with does to you, I couldn’t stop. Well, except for the few times I had to stop because of the novel’s unexpected turns.
I talked about the book with friends and my wife. About how, at its core, it’s a novel about antiheroes living on the Texas-Mexico border, trying to make sense of all the violence around them. About how they contributed to that violence. About the things they did to find comfort in that world. More than once, while doing something else, I thought about the friendship between Woodrow and Gus. How the trust and respect they had between them allowed two seemingly very different people to bond. I imagined just how beautiful Lorena Wood was, and I thought about the novel’s antagonist, Blue Duck, and how his villainy made me brace for the worst whenever he appeared.
Nine days after I started, I finished Lonesome Dove—a book that’s nearly 1,000 pages, or 37 hours if you listen on audiobook, which I sometimes did. How else would I have gotten through it so fast? I’m not sure if it’s my favorite book, but it’s close. It’s up there with two others: Victor Villaseñor’s Rain of Gold and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I expect I’ll read it every few years.
Since I just couldn’t get enough, and it was too soon to reread the book, I watched the award-winning television series based on the book. I enjoyed that too. Robert Duvall with his accent and mannerisms and overall personality was perfect as Gus. Still, the movie didn’t compare to the book. As is often the case, the book did a better job of delving into each character, telling and showing you what they thought and felt. And also, because I already knew what was coming, the plot twists weren’t as jarring as when I read them. I wondered how many other people had both read the book and seen the series within a span of about two weeks.
Weeks after I finished the book and movie, I kept thinking about Lonesome Dove. I’ve thought about visiting the Lonesome Dove Collection at Texas State University’s Wittliff Collections. I’ve wondered if I should read Streets of Laredo, which picks up where Lonesome Dove left off, or if I should start at the beginning of the series with Dead Man’s Walk. Or maybe I should read something else from McMurtry. Something like The Last Picture Show, where I can again read the novel then watch the single movie it inspired.
I’ve also thought about McMurtry. How besides knowing he existed, I hardly knew anything about him or Lonesome Dove before a year ago, when my plan to read the books of Texas began to form. I’ve thought about taking the two-hour drive from where I live in Arlington to Archer City, where he lived—the place that inspired a few of his many books. I’ve thought about visiting for a few hours, if for no other reason than to just walk the same streets McMurtry once walked.