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Terry W Burns

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Is the western dead?
by Terry W Burns   

Last edited: Monday, January 20, 2003
Posted: Monday, January 20, 2003

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Walk up to any book rack and 80% of the western titles are by Louis L'Amour. What does this mean?

Walk up to any book rack, particularly in a chain store, and the offering in the western section will be 80% Louis L'Amour or even higher.  Let me say, I love L'Amour, and always have.  I have the full leatherbound set of his books.

Having said that, this mix begs the question from me, "Is he still such a big seller because of public demand, even so long after his death?  Or is the public demand there because his books continue to be what is primarily offered?"

It is very much to the publisher and the distributor's benefit for him to continue to be such an icon.  It saves them a ton on publicity trying to establish a replacement.  But when do we reach the point where every reader of westerns has all of his books and no longer wants to buy one?  What happens then? 

Or did we reach that point and because booksellers failed to start offering very many titles by other authors, readers simply switched genres which was immediately interpreted as a drop off in western readership?  To what extent is the tail wagging the dog here?
Add to this mix the idea that books have moved away from the "western" label and a lot of books from western authors have ended up as historical romance or historical fiction, or some other genre designation, adding to the strength of those areas and further promoting the idea that people aren't buying westerns. 
The notion has been wide-spread that the western was passe' both in print and in TV and movies as well.  Yet what few western offerings that were produced always found a significant audience.  There are a lot of new westerns in the mix for TV and movies as we speak.  In a recent interview actor Bruce Boxleitner said "If just one of these connects with an audience, look out."
I think they will connect.  America has always been in love with the old West and a generation is waiting to discover it.  I believe this new generation are the ones buying the L'Amour books, because all of us lifelong dedicated readers of the western already have them.  So instead of just producing titles for the new readers, why don't we produce a larger fare for that substantial base who have always bought westerns - - - and the new readers will buy them as well.

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Reviewed by Neil Waring 12/25/2007
I agree it is hard to find many westerns other than Louis L'Amour in most big chain/discount stores. It’s too bad because there are a lot of fine western stories being written. Even the large chain book stores are lacking in a great selection. As a history teacher I find a lack of overall interest in our past and in reading in general. This makes historical fiction books a tough sell. Unfortunately the answer may lie in other areas of entertainment. More western movies, television programming, video games and web sites will help bring back the western novel and start to recognize a newer group of western authors.
Reviewed by C. McMillen 3/27/2003
I don't agree. Yes, L'Amour is a popular writer even yet. Before him it was Zane Gray, James O. Curwood, Owen Wister and Kenneth Perkins. When a writer strikes the chord of modern intrest, the genre will renew itself.
Reviewed by m j hollingshead 2/14/2003
interesting article
Reviewed by Janice Dyer 1/22/2003
This is a very good article and I think Terry is right. When they offer us good Western stories we will read (and watch) them. The first books I ever bought as a child were ten tiny Westerns for children. Wish I had them today. We loved the Western movies and TV programs back in the "old days" and if they make good ones again we will watch them, too. Programs seem to run in cycles and I think it is time for the Westerns to make a comeback.
Reviewed by Deanna Jones (Reader) 1/22/2003
The Old West has been romanticized to such an extent that you still find hundreds of westerns--complete with bodice-ripper covers--in the romance section, LOL. You hit the nail on the head there. I think that perhaps it's a mix of audience and writers. Male audiences--the typical gender demographic for westerns--no longer turn to the old west for "macho" fantasies of adventure and bravery. On the other hand, writers (and the entertainment industry in general) no longer offer westerns as the ideal in masculine fantasy, but instead have turned to military tales and science fiction. Which one is the cause and which is the effect is beyond me, but I agree that if they're offered, westerns will generate fascination once more.

Sorry, I rambled, but only because this is a great article; thought provoking, well written, and concise. ;-)
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