It’s the 2018 Read Harder Challenge. Showdown at Task #7: Read a western. On one hand, an 800-page classic. On the other hand, a 200-page classic with illustrations. Which’ll it be?
The Author: Jack Schaeffer
The Rating: 3/5
Year Read: 2019
Read Harder, 2018: #7. A western.
PopSugar Reading Challenge, 2018: #33. A childhood classic you’ve never read.
Howdy pardner. Time to pick up a western.
That’s pretty much what I thought when I got to the 2018 Read Harder Challenge Task #7: A western.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a western and I didn’t know where to start. I scoured GoodReads and found a lot of suggestions for Lonesome Dove by Louis L’Amour. It seemed vaguely familiar — a movie? A television series? — but at over 800 pages, was a bit more commitment than I was looking for.
That’s when I remembered the DLB mentioning an old western movie called Shane. I decided to look it up and, lo and behold, not only was it a book, it was a short book. Hooray! Even better, it was readily available at the library. Even better than that, the edition I borrowed had illustrations. Huzzah!
Shane begins with, well, Shane. Shane is a mysterious figure first observed by Bob, the young son of an 1800s homestead farmer. Bob can tell there’s something different about Shane simply by looking at him. Bob’s father welcomes Shane onto the farm, and Shane proves himself to be a grateful and hardworking guest.
The veil of quiet dignity on the small farm is pierced once the local villain makes a visit. He is trying to run off the farmers so he can do the 1800s equivalent of building condominiums on their land.
Shane doesn’t like bullies. He makes it clear that, while he doesn’t want to fight, he’s willing to. In a series of escalating confrontations with the bad guy and his brood, Shane sticks up for the beleaguered farmers until finally ending the conflict once and for all in a blaze of gunfire.
And then, he’s riding into the sunset, leaving as abruptly as he appeared.
“He’s not gone. He’s here, in this place, in this place he gave us. He’s all around us and in us, and he always will be.”
Through the eyes of a child
One of the interesting things about this book is the author’s choice of narrator: the young boy, Bob.
By driving the narrative through the eyes of the book’s youngest character, the reader is able to appreciate the mystery that surrounds Shane without the natural skepticism with which most adults would probably regard him. Similarly, once Bob’s father trusts Shane, so does Bob trust Shane, and thus so does the reader trust Shane.
The choice of Bob as a POV character also puts the reader near, but not in, the most violent actions in the book. From a safe perch outside a saloon, or in the safety of a calming father’s presence, Bob (and the reader) watches incidents unfold. The effect is a sort of neutralization of the inherent dangers involved with the Wild West and semi-reckless fighting and gunfire.
These choices may also support why this is (or was, apparently) a popular book for assigned school reading (at least according to the Amazon and GoodReads reviews I saw.) With the child narrator, the message of courage and standing up for good in the face of evil could be presented from a safe distance.
He was a man like father in whom a boy a could believe in the simple knowing that what was beyond comprehension was still clean and solid and bright.
Hope. Heroism. Pioneer spirit.
I enjoyed reading this book. The author’s spare and economical writing style was engaging and kept the story moving at a rapid, but not frenetic, clip.
The glimpse of pioneer life through Bob’s family was interesting. As a mother, I felt a special kinship with Marian, Bob’s mother. I could imagine the uncertainty that would come with a stranger showing up on the doorstep. I could also imagine the feeling of gratitude she would feel for this stranger as he continually stood up for and protected her family and home.
The notion of a hero seemingly appearing right when needed, and leaving as conveniently, was a bit of a stretch. However, thinking of Shane the character as a representation of human spirit, the kind of strength and countenance that arises in ordinary people when extraordinary circumstances warrant it, imbued the story with a higher level of meaning.
I gave this book 3 stars for an engaging and pleasant read.
“What a man knows isn’t it important. It’s what he is that counts.”
New insights after reading a western for Read Harder
Completing the Read Harder task to read a western gave me an understanding for the tropes of the genre, and perhaps the source of them, that I didn’t have before.
In addition, completing the PopSugar task to read a childhood classic I had never read opened my eyes. I didn’t read Shane in school, nor had I ever heard of it as being part of a school curriculum. The books I read in school as a youngster featured a much more diverse cast of characters and significantly more moral complexity. In comparison, Shane seemed a bit one-dimensional. This task gave interesting perspective into school reading choices and their evolution over time.
He was just different. He was shaped in some firm forging of past circumstances for other things.
Reader recommendations for Shane
Are you a reader who’s into westerns, saloon brawls, and good triumphing over evil? If so, I believe you would really enjoy Shane.
If you’re not interested in these things, but interested in the literary origins of these things, I would also recommend Shane for you.
Shane may also be a good read for mature kids and adolescents interested in a kid’s-eye view of the Wild West.
As we ride off into the sunset…
Have you read Shane? If so, what did you think of the book?
What book would you suggest for others facing 2018 Read Harder Challenge Task #7: A western?
Read and reflect with me
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Excerpts from Shane.