Lots of books affect me but it has been a while since I have read a book that when I got to the end of the book I wanted to start over from the beginning. Until today, when I finished The Virginian by Owen Wister. Last week I went to a talk by Amy Tam. A talented high school student introduced the MC. She said that she studied Amy Tam’s books to learn how to write. I want to do that with The Virginian. I can see myself becoming a Virginian scholar. If I was getting my MFA and had to do a senior project I would do it on The Virginian.
The Virginian was written in 1902 and is considered the first modern western and the inspiration for countless popular books and movies. I believe it, but I also believe that none of them quite meet the honesty that The Virginian conveys. Now that I think about it, honesty is a weird word since the Virginian makes a fine art out of lying. None the less, you will never meet a more honest man than the Virginian. (The name can get confusing for the Virginian is both the title of the book and the name of the main character. We never learn his real name.)
In a nutshell, the story is about a Wyoming cowboy with his roots in Virginia, who goes along and does his job to the best of his ability, which is a little better than everyone else. He falls in love with a school teacher from Vermont who is reluctant to return his feelings. All of these plots has been done before. It is the subplots in between, the way the Virginian conveys his opinion, and how he treats his fellow man that sets him apart and makes him a figure you wish you could ride the trail with.
This book is wonderful, horrible, hilarious, and disturbing. There is a demented chicken named Emily and a loyal horse called Monte. Very few people are what they first seem but others never change no matter how much you hope they will. Even the narrator learns much from the Virginian and so does the reader.
As often happens I wish I had read this book ten years ago so I would have read it many times by now. I guess I’ll have to make up for lost time. Don’t make my mistake. Start reading The Virginian today.
“When a man ain’t got no ideas of his own,” said Scipio, “he’d ought to be kind o’ careful who he borrows ’em from.”
― Owen Wister, The Virginian, a Horseman of the Plains
“Justice!” bleated Othello.
“Justice!” bleated the other sheep. And so it was decided that George Glenn’s sheep themselves would solve the wicked murder of their shepherd.” from Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
The mystery genre is full of animal detectives, mostly cats and dogs. As I was wandering through the library one day, randomly touching the books, I saw one titled Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann. It was originally published in German in 2006 and translated to English.
Thinking it might be a mystery with sheep in it I picked it up. It turned out to be a book about a flock Irish sheep who solve the suspicious death of their shepherd. They do this on their own, without the help of humans, because they do not have a very high opinion of humans.
“Maple thought optimistically that human beings, on their good days, weren’t much dimmer than sheep. Or at least, not much dimmer than dim sheep.”
After reading the first page I was hooked. After I kept telling my husband what the sheep were saying I decided we needed to read it together. So I read Three Bags Full out loud to him and it consumed our lives. We started wondering what Miss Maple, Mopple the Whale, (the sheep have fantastic names) and the others were thinking about at random times of the day. We also started to see life differently, not necessarily like a sheep, but with a different viewpoint. It is safe to say I cried at the end of this book, not because it was sad, but because it was wonderful. Not bad for a mystery written by a woman who, as far as I can tell from her bio, has no experience with sheep.
“You shouldn’t believe what you don’t understand. You should understand what you believe.”
If you have ever spent time with sheep than you will get much more out of this book because people who spend time around sheep understand what they are thinking much better than people who just see pretty pictures of sheep. And that is important in this book. This book is a murder mystery, but because it is from the point of view of a flock of sheep you see the world the way they see it.
You may think, being a human, that a certain clue is important, but the sheep ignore it because they are sheep and some things are not as important as eating grass. However, if you read the book thinking like a sheep you will be so sucked into the story that you will hope it never ends.
“No sheep may leave the flock,” he said to anyone who would listen, “unless he comes back again.”
The book has two endings, the conclusion of the mystery and the conclusion of the sheep’s individual stories. I didn’t find the ending of the mystery very satisfying (again because the sheep just accepted it and moved on) but I enjoyed how the sheep’s stories ended. Sheep being sheep they didn’t get much from these conclusions, but for the reader it was very gratifying.
I loved this book. I wouldn’t be reviewing it if I didn’t. If you love sheep, or if you think you know sheep, or if you love stories about Ireland, or if you love mysteries that are not formulaic, or if you like mysteries with animal detectives, or if you just like a good story I would check out Three Bags Full. It’s just not baaaaad.
“The sea looked as if it had been licked clean, blue and clear and smooth, and there were a few woolly little clouds in the sky. Legend said that these clouds were sheep who had simply wandered over the cliff tops one day, special sheep who now went on grazing in the sky and were never shorn. In any case, they were a good sign.”
“There is a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.” Steven Pressfield.
I read a lot of books. Fiction, non-fiction, science, self-help, mysteries, romance, writing, westerns. Lots and lots of books. But of the hundreds of books I read every year only one has changed my life in ways that resonates in everything I do. That book is the The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
This book is not long and the chapters are very short. Many of the chapters are one page or less. But the motivation found on these pages is greater than the sum of the words.
It needs to be great because we are fighting a war, a war against the resistance that infects us all. Resistance grows when we don’t do things we are passionate about. When we settle for average resistance rejoices. We all have to fight resistance every day and every day we wish it could be easy.
But if it was easy than resistance would win and the world would be a less happy place, a less remarkable place. So we fight. If we are lucky we find a guide that helps us succeed in our war against the mediocre. This book is my guide. When I am afraid to write what I am dying to write I pick up this book and turn to a random page. I’ll do it right now.
“Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration…The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. the real one is scared to death.” pg. 39
Okay, I’m supposed to be scared, but I am supposed to write anyway. And I do.
This book is not just for writers. It is for anyone who has a passion but is unable to take the first step. It is for anyone who is dealing with overwhelming resistance. This book is not expensive and it is a quick read. Add it to your library and see if it changes how you approach your life.
“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” – Steven Pressfield.