Cowboy Memories: September Reading Memo

Photo by Edgar Augusto Galavis on

Roads by McMurtry. I’ve been on a McMurtry kick for a while and this month saw more of his works. First was Dead Man’s Walk, then Streets of Laredo, my favorite of the Lonesome Dove series. It kind of reminded me of Eastwood’s movie Unforgiven with the less glamorous side of gunfighting. As much as I like McMurtry’s fiction, I enjoy his nonfiction (memoirs and essays) more. In his travelogue, Roads, he gives just a glimpse of his overactive mind, connecting obscure books with the terrain along the interstates he traverses. I’m a sucker for obscure books; finding them makes my palms sweaty like a stock broker getting an insider trading tip. In Roads I found a surprising gem that I’ll explain in the next block. McMurtry was a ferocious reader, some have said he likely read all of the 28,000 volumes he had in his personal library. It makes me want to read more of his works and the works he has read (like Illuminations by Walter Benjamin especially his essay on storytelling which inspired McMurtry’s memoir Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen). In his essay on three Texas authors, from In A Narrow Grave, he casually mentions that he read ALL TWENTY-NINE books these authors had written in preparation for writing the essay. The essay was twenty pages long when finished. That a man would read twenty nine books to prepare to write a twenty page essay about the authors of those books says a lot about his thoroughness, his curiosity, his reading speed, and maybe his lack of time management. There’s plenty I don’t like about McMurtry, but for now, like a cowboy on the plains, I keep plodding along (and skimming in some places!)

R.R. Donnelley factory in Crawfordsville

We Pointed Them North A few years before my Grandmother died (she was 93), she gave me about one hundred volumes (some were duplicates) from the The Lakeside Press, published by R.R. Donnelly & Sons. These little volumes were created specifically for employees of R.R. Donnelley, with a new volume created every year, usually meant to capture and commemorate uniquely American works, and to display some of the bookmaking skills Donnelley offered. My Grandfather (who died in 1965) had worked for Donnelley in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and they continued to send my Grandmother a volume every year even after he passed (I think they both must have worked there for a season, thus the duplicates). These neat little volumes have sat on my shelves for over ten years now. I’ve started a handful but never made it more than a few pages. Until now. While reading McMurtry’s travel memoir, Roads, he mentions “With the help of a Montana newspaperwoman, Helena Huntington Smith, Teddy Blue produced what is in my view the single best memoir of the cowboy era. The book, We Pointed Them North, is as readable today as it was when it was published, sixty years ago [sic: first published in 1939]. What distinguishes it is its vividness, its exuberance, and its candor.” I immediately recognized the title as being one of the Lakeside volumes, located it, and devoured it. It’s an insightful and entertaining read that’s hard to put down. His perspective on women and Indians comes from a different era, but can likely be thought of as innovative for his time. I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandma lately. She gave me a nesting tea pot/cup set that I like to drink from in the afternoons, and when I use it I think of her. It feels good to be reading from the series of books she gave me and to think of her at the same time. She was a neat lady, always ready to go somewhere when I was a kid, always kind with me, and always generous to share from what little she had. I wish I would have shown her more gratitude when she was alive.

A few of the Lakeside volumes on my shelf

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. As promised, I finished two volumes from the list of seven half-finished books I mentioned last month. The first I’ve been nibbling on since July. I could have finished faster, but I didn’t want to, as I wanted to allow the information to absorb. This book is so good. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s not a Christian book (though the author does talk about faith quite a bit), but I think every Christian should read it. It’s all about how we continue to move toward emotional maturity. Especially with those we are closest to (spouse/children/parents). It’s easy to get stuck in unhealthy patterns of communication and thought, in fact, if we could video ourselves and play it back in the midst of an argument, we’d often be embarrassed to hear ourselves. But how do you keep growing toward emotional and spiritual maturity? It takes work. There are not shortcuts. Just like trying to shed the extra 25lbs I might have picked up during covid. There are no shortcuts. It takes so much work, it even seems impossible at times, but it is worth it and you can get there.

The Second was God’s Indwelling Presence by Jim Hamilton. In this short but dense book he handles the difference between the Holy Spirit’s presence in the Old Testament vs. the New Testament. It offers encouraging insight and serves as a powerful reminder that the Holy Spirit lives in us today. I’d say it’s an academic companion to the powerful and popular Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala, which, of the two, I’d start with Cymbala. I think we all struggle to “Walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) in our daily lives, and every encouragement to do so is greatly appreciated.

In October I plan to tackle two more from the list of seven. Probably The Score Takes Care of Itself and Signs of the Messiah.

Others: Diamond Doris about a female Diamond thief was entertaining, sad, and too unbelievable at places. Moonwalking with Einstein was a fun read about a journalist’s effort to win the US national memory competition. It put me on a little bit of “memory training” kick that has already waned a bit. Watch this clip from D.A. Carson about a Christian’s grounds for assurance. So powerful both in presentation and substance. This month on Bottom Line Books we started a seven part series on the book Money Master the Game by Tony Robbins. We’ve released two episodes so far. It’s a huge book with lots of content. We try to break it down into consumable parts. Check it out all major podcast platforms here.

Personal note: A while back I recommended the book Live Not By Lies and mentioned the importance of following the motto. Well, I had to face my own personal “Live Not By Lies” moment and stop lying to myself about needing reading glasses. I was hoping to make it to 50 without them, but with a month to go to 48, I put on a pair and found my new best friend. Every job needs its tools!

No I’m not researching witchcraft. Snapped photo in kids section of B&N as they ramp up for halloween.

As always, to see what I’m currently reading, follow me on Goodreads. For book overviews and summaries and an all around rollicking good time, listen to The Bottom Line Books Podcast here.

4 thoughts on “Cowboy Memories: September Reading Memo

  1. That was so nice to see your comments on the RR Donnelly books. I could almost smell the factory when I saw that photo. It smelled like ink-in a good way. So glad you could share your memories of Mom.


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