The summer that I turned 21 was a tremendously important one in my reading life. Thanks to the fact that I had found a paid internship that also provided housing, I had the ability to spend almost all my cash on books. About halfway through the summer, I started working nights only, which left me the whole day to read and screw around in Boise.

In an incredible combination of good luck, good choosing, and a great independent bookstore, over that summer I read for the first time Love in the Time of Cholera, the collected works of W.B. Yeats, the Iliad, and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, among others. Lots of my reading that summer was directed by reviews in the Times Book Review–that wasn’t the case for the McMurtry book though. But I was intrigued by the idea of a western novel that had won the Pulitzer.

I loved Lonesome Dove, and it led me to read all of McMurtry’s earlier work. I’ve continued to be a fan over the years, and have read everything he’s published since then. Patsy in Moving On might be one of my favorite female characters ever written by a man. Now, however, I think the time has come for me to take a break.

There’ve been disappointments over the years. But I just finished reading his latest novel, Telegraph Days, and it is by far the worst thing he’s ever written. Yowza, was it bad. I couldn’t even keep track of the number of random characters that were introduced to no apparent purpose. And the main character has a terrible habit of referring to men’s erections as ‘stiffies,’ which rang so incredibly false.

Larry, was it the pressure of working on this book while doing Brokeback Mountain? I would have waited another six months to get a better book.


July 23, 2006. books for grown-ups.


  1. Jennifer replied:

    I read one of his most recent collections of essays — shoot, my husband is sleeping or I’d go grab it from the shelf in our room — he was very ill recently, I believe it was heart bypass. He said it changed him into a different person. He stopped being interested in books. I wonder if what you read is the result – ?

    I will look it up for you tomorrow.

  2. Kate the Shrew replied:

    Gah, stiffies?

    That’s too bad, as I really enjoyed Lonesome Dove, as well. It’s one of the few books my dad and I agree on.

  3. jackie replied:

    “Love/cholera” is one of my favorite books ever, but I’ve never once read a McMurty novel. I have rarely ever liked anything in the Western genre, film or fiction, except for Annie Proulx’s stuff (like “brokeback”), but if LD is worth it, maybe I’ll give it a shot. Will I like it even if I don’t like Westerns?

  4. Jennifer replied:

    Larry McMurtry, “Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen.” Copyright 1999. p 144 “In my case the most startling evidence of the profound effects of bypass surgery was that, about 2 months after the operation, I ceased to be able to read. …More or less overnight, staying informed ceased to matter to me. … From being a living person with a distinct personality I began to feel more or less like an outline of that preson…”

    You should read it. It’s a great book. The stuff about his surgery comes only at the end.

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