The good, the bad, and the literate
While brooding about our Western Problem this week, it's been easy for me to imagine Sam Bass and A.W. Grimes finding some aspects of downtown Round Rock--just a few blocks from the Chisholm Trail--pretty familiar.
You can still mosey in off the street through a set of double doors for music, relaxation, and a chance to re-connect with civilization. The library is one such place, though we don't currently feature liquor or anyone who could properly be addressed as "barkeep". We're at least as effective as a saloon in terms of an inside track to local goings-on, which, thanks to our police department, are less volatile than in the old days.
And that's our current worry: too few desperadoes. We recognize that some folks here in Round Rock are devoted readers of Western novels. Authors aren't producing as many of the traditional stories--with iconic outlaws and morally upright loner heroes--as they used to. The Western genre is evolving in much the same way that Romance has, which means that some readers will be gratified or even recruited and others, sadly, not so much.
Our challenge will be to replace volumes that appear to have traveled on one trail ride too many, and we'll seek out new publications for all our Western fans.
Outside of Westerns, hero-villain distinctions are even more diverse and blurry. Even if the good guy can be readily identified, the bad guy might not be a guy. In Rebecca Dean's forthcoming The Shadow Queen (fiction) and Juliet Nicholson's Abdication (nonfiction, due out in May), divorcee and eventual Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson stars as the troublemaker.
In this election year, political figures inspire scathing criticisms and glowing endorsements that end up side by side on the bookshelf. For further evidence that the powerful and high-placed enjoy no immunity from judgment, consider What in God's Name? by Rich Simon. Due out in August, Simon's tale imagines that the CEO of Heaven, Inc. has lost interest in Earth; two minor angels have extracted God's promise to prevent the planet's destruction--that is, if they accomplish their near-impossible mission.
William Kent Kreuger's fictional Trickster's Point (August) features a protagonist convincingly framed for murder. Identifying the real perpetrator (who's killed the governor-elect with an arrow to the heart) is only one issue; he'll begin doubting the goodness of the deceased every bit as much as the public suspects him.
And what if it turns out that we're the miscreants? Some recent books make a convincing case. Wasted World: How Our Consumption Challenges the Planet speaks for itself. Others, such as The Startup of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself..., Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will, Change Your Mind, Change Your Life, and any number of diet and fitness titles highlight our failure to achieve full potential or at least optimum BMI.
We (unlike Sam Bass) can yet be reformed. But achieving a lifestyle turnaround or career re-start could demand more spark than we're experiencing that day. Should we decide to delay our transformation a bit longer and come and hang out downtown--well, worse decisions have been made (e.g., by Sam). Perhaps if the library, Friar Tuck's, Star Co., Junior's, Krave, Louisiana Longhorn, Quinn's, or Main Street Plaza had been options in Sam's day, he'd have achieved a more favorable--not to mention lengthier--outcome.
Still, I doubt that he was ever destined to be a latte drinker.