A couple of years ago I got a Kindle as a gift from Vince Emery, so I could check out how The Dashiell Hammett Tour book looked in that format — now, suddenly, highly ironic.
On my own, I probably wouldn’t have popped for any sort of ereader as yet. Let’s face it, I could get by without one perfectly well. And at first I wondered what to do with it. Really. The thing sat around a lot on a pile of books.
But since I had it, I tried figuring out some use for the Kindle, and realized I could store various titles from the Robert E. Howard Library on it. Anyone familiar with my 1984 book The Dark Barbarian knows about the appendix Steve Eng did, compiling a list of the known books Howard had in his personal library in Cross Plains, Texas. That really kicked off a movement to track down and read those books, check to see what else the creator of Conan may have mentioned reading in his letters — a cornerstone moment in Howardian scholarship.
Sure. I could use the Kindle to archive various REH library items for eventual reading. I still shelved the entire Mars series in book form, but other novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs that Howard owned I had ditched long ago. I once had some Fu-Manchu books, in paperback, by Sax Rohmer, but had given them away after not being able to wade through the first one. And I can’t recall ever having a Zane Grey novel hanging around.
Click. Click. Click.
Knowing I had a trip to Catalina and a stop in the Zane Grey Pueblo coming up, I figured I could haul along the Kindle and do some support reading while soaking up the scene. The Border Legion from 1916 sounded good — a legion on a border, very evocative — one of two titles definitely in Howard’s collection, though no doubt he read many others by Grey.
I started it before boarding the boat to Catalina. I got in a few pages before conking out in Grey’s former writing studio. I kept plugging away after heading home. Finally, I got 43% into that novel before not being able to go on for another page. I have no idea how I managed that much. . . .
Absolutely brutal. I felt like I’d been reading forever, and nothing much was happening. Yes, Grey was one of the bestselling novelists of his time — so many reprint editions, you will still find copy after copy in any bookstore that has a Western section. So dated. Not quite as creaky as James Fenimore Cooper, but a long, long road ahead before you get to a contemporary Elmore Leonard level.
I’m not that big a Western reader, anyway. Yeah, I’ve read a bunch, but generally speaking I’d rather watch a Western movie. All things being equal, I’d rather see some guy riding around on a horse in an arroyo than read about some guy riding around on a horse in an arroyo. I’d rather read a non-fiction account about Doc Holliday or Billy the Kid than read a novel loosely based on their best gunfights. I’d rather visit the graveyards where those two were buried, and I have, than read any kind of Western novel.
I now know I’d rather visit Zane Grey’s house than read Zane Grey.
Still, on the Kindle scene, it seemed kind of depressing. A tiny warehouse for mostly unreadable books.
To give the machine a fair shake, I punched up the recent James Reasoner crime novel Dust Devils and popped right through it. I think that’s what these ereaders are for, getting access to stuff that once would have been on the paperback spinner racks. Current cheap reading. Electronic pulp.
But if you can take it, yes, you can also read a lot of Zane Grey.