Saturday, April 5, 2014

Books From My Dad - Douglas C. Jones

My dad was tremendous reader, the sort of person who usually had three or four books going at a given time. His tastes included sci-fi and fantasy, crime and mystery, history and westerns. Half the books I read as as a kid I got from him. For whatever reason, I just never took to the westerns. I've said before I love western movies, but I never developed a taste for the books.

He suggested I read The Shotgun Man by Frank O'Rourke. I did and remember absolutely nothing about it. On my own, many years later, I read Larry McMurty's Lonesome Dove series. As much as I love McMurty's books it didn't make me pick up any other westerns.

My dad had several boxes of westerns up in the attic. I looked through them but nothing held my eye. I remember some of the authors and covers to this day; Ernest Haycox, Frank O'Rourke, Louis L'amour, being those that come to mind first.

An author he only discovered later in life was Douglas C. Jones. My boss was going to throw away a box of books but I rescued them. I took them home, showed them to my dad, and Winding Stair by Jones caught his eye. As soon as he finished it he asked me to keep my eyes open for anything else by him. Within a year or so he had amassed a stack of Jones' books.

Jones was born in Arkansas and spent almost thirty years in the army. When he retired from the service he started writing. His first published novel was alternate-history The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer (which was made into a tv-movie). He was fascinated with the Arkansas-Indian Territory frontier that still existed barely a generation before he was born in 1924. Many of his books are set there or feature protagonists raised there. 

When my dad got sick  (cancer, terminal, miserable) he took the boxes of westerns and gave them to the used book store he had been going to for over twenty years. He figured I wouldn't read them and wanted a little less clutter in the attic for my mom to deal with after he was gone (my dad's family is about as Wasp as can be so even in the face of death there's a need to be practical). While he was talking to the owner a little old man came in and took the lot. While part of me was annoyed for giving any books away, I knew there couldn't be a better end for a bunch of books than that.

But he didn't include the Douglas C. Jones books in those boxes and I don't know why. I don't know if he read all of them, though I suspect he did. After he died the books have sat in a box in the attic for the past dozen years.

Recent posts by Howard Andrew Jones and comments by several people have turned my eyes to western fiction again. Remembering the box of Jones books I retreived them and figure I'll start where my dad did; with Winding Stair.


  1. I'm looking forward to what you think about the Jones books. My interest in Westerns has grown in the last decade, and I'm going to try to fit some into the TBR pile.

    I've enjoyed James Reasoner's mysteries and his few forays into sf and fantasy, so I've got some on his in the stack. And our course, James recommends more Westerns on his blog than most people have time to read.

  2. Winding Stair actually got a very good New York Times book review back when it came out (I can't imagine them reviewing a western these days, they don't even have a sci-fi reviewer anymore). I'll have to check out Reasoner's page. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. I've always been in the same boat as you concerning Western literature. I'm a huge fan of Western film, but the literature has rarely resonated with me. I've thought long and hard over the years about why this should be, and the closest I've come to is most Westerns in print come off as silly to me, overflowing with hubris and a machismo that strikes more as an 8-year-old kid puffing out his chest than it does actual hard men in hard situation. I don't suffer this feeling in film. Not sure why. McMurtry is one of the few authors of Westerns I've truly enjoyed, though every now and then I try to give others a chance.

  4. I think you're right about the vast lot of Westerns. I think the Jones books might be like Lonesome Dove. I also forgot to mention Portis' very enjoyable True Grit and a handful of great shorts by Elmore Leonard. I remember my dad read REH"s Western collection and dismissed them with the same complaint about them being silly and overblown.

  5. Funny, I don't even think of the novel "True Grit" as a Western, though obviously it is. I suppose I feel it rises above genre labels, but I've never really thought of it this way until now.

  6. Speaking of James Reasoner, this came across my feed today:

  7. The occasional Louis L'Amour scratches the Western itch nicely. You can dip in and out of the exploits of the Sackett clan in any order you like.

    1. Cool. For whatever reason, perhaps because he wrote so much, I always was doubtful he was good (which is a really dumb attitude to take on any writer). I remember seeing him interviewed once and he was a blast, and still I doubted I'd like his books. Sheesh, the stupid thinks we believe when we're young.