What Makes a ‘Real’ Western

A post by Nicole

‘That’s not a real Western!’ scoffed my dad when he found out I was reading The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent. I thought I’d made quite a good choice; the idea of reading a Western really does nothing for me at all, so I’d picked one with a female protagonist in the hopes it would feel more like reading the female-driven historical fiction I usually enjoy. After all, what really is a Western but a very specific subgenre of historical fiction? Right?

Unfortunately for me, Lucinda – the conniving, criminal main character – was not the only protagonist of The Outcasts: the book was also told in alternating chapters from the perspective of Nate, the Texas lawman sworn to bring Lucinda’s lover to justice. I probably could have read a whole book about Lucinda; she was slightly two-dimensional as a character, but she had an interesting back-story and it would only take a bit more time for her to shine. Nate, on the other hand, was endlessly dull. No amount of sharp-shooting could make me care what happened to him. By the time I reached the final plot twist, the whole thing seemed too silly to be taken seriously.

But, as my dad keeps telling me, The Outcasts is ‘not a real Western.’ Proper Westerns, apparently, aren’t the place for character development, or plot, or female leads (?!). A real Western is escapism, more in the realm of what I’d call a penny-dreadful: easy reads with a few good thrills. Maybe I should have stuck with the library’s ever-popular large print Linford Western series.

In saying that, The Outcasts showed me reading a Western wasn’t as dire as I thought it would be. Maybe I just prefer my Westerns with a bit more kick – recommend me a Steampunk Western, perhaps?!


Nicole Goes Graphic

I was working over at Mercury Bay Library last week, so I had a nice chance to snoop through their collection (fun fact if you weren’t already aware: your Thames Library card also entitles you to borrow books from Mercury Bay Library and Tairua Library).

And oh, the excitement! As a library staff member I already knew, of course, that Mercury Bay is home to an Adult Graphic Novel collection. But reserving books from the catalogue isn’t quite as thrilling as pulling them from the library shelves yourself.

This was how I discovered the Game of Thrones graphic novel series. Based on the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire (and therefore slightly different from the TV series I’ve been watching on DVD over the last few months), Volume I of this series starts with a White Walker attack on a group of Night’s Watchmen, and follows the story through King Robert’s arrival at Winterfell and as far as Daenerys Targaryen’s pregnancy to Khal Drogo.

If nothing in that last sentence made sense, I’d suggest reading the books or watching the TV series before attacking the graphic novel. While the graphic novel is beautifully nuanced,and an easier read, it’s difficult to fit George R. R. Martin’s convoluted plot lines into a few short pages of comic panels. In saying that, there were several scenes that played out much better in this version than they did in the TV series. Bran’s first encounter with the Three Eyed Raven was particularly good, as was Daenerys’ dream about dragons. There were a lot of neat little background details that helped to make scenes as well – Arya and Jon’s direwolves playing together in the background while Jon and Arya had a heart-to-heart was a nice touch.

What I did find really impressive was the section at the back of the book about how the graphic novel was developed. This part was a step-by -step guide to adapting Westeros into comic book form, from choosing an illustrator to designing some of the key scenes. It was interesting to see how much effort goes into producing a graphic novel.


Nicole hunts for Wilderpeople

OK! Off to a better start this time, after my first Book Bingo book failed to get off the ground. This week, for the comedy square on my bingo board, I read Barry Crump’s Wild Pork and Watercress. If the title doesn’t ring a bell, the film version’s title might: this is the book Hunt for the Wilderpeople is based on.

I used to read a lot of Barry Crump, but over time the stories and characters have all blurred together. I couldn’t say now if I’ve read Wild Pork and Watercress before or not. I have, however, seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople quite recently. I absolutely loved the film.

Both the movie and the book follow Ricky Baker, a teenage boy with a bad reputation. Social Services send him off to live with his Aunt Bella and Uncle Hec (his foster family in the film; his literal aunt and uncle in the book). After tragedy strikes, Ricky is scared he will be removed from his idyllic new life on the farm and sent back into the clutches of the Child Welfare system. Ricky decides to ‘go bush’ with Uncle Hec, spending months living off the land while evading the police.

Most people prefer to read a book before they see its film adaptation. I’m usually only in this boat for books I’m particularly interested in reading – I don’t mind seeing the movie first and coming back to the book, if it was the movie that piqued my interest first. In my case, I’m a big Taika Waititi fan, so I watched Hunt for the Wilderpeople long before it occurred to me to read Wild Pork and Watercress.

Having read the book, I’m pleased I did it this way around. There were a couple of plot points I felt were handled better in the movie (I’m thinking particularly of Aunt Bella’s plot line, and the use of the Child Welfare lady as an antagonist). I also think when the book’s epilogue turned out differently from the film’s ending, I was genuinely more surprised than I would have been if I’d encountered them the other way around. There were a few parts of the book I wished were in the movie, though; the Bird-Lady, who once mentored Uncle Hec in bush survival skills the same way Hec mentors Ricky, was a great addition to the story. Overall, I enjoyed this little slice of classic Kiwi storytelling.


Nicole stumbles at the first hurdle

I have a confession to make: I didn’t finish the first book I chose for my Book Bingo Challenge. This is rather embarrassing, because Book Bingo was my idea to start with; also, it was a book I was so sure I wanted to read.

The book in question was my choice for the tricky ‘no genre label’ square of our bingo board: Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson. I’d thought I’d get that square out of the way early. A lack of genre label on a library book usually denotes a book that defies easy catagorisation – contemporary fiction, for example. Something a bit out of the ordinary.

Shylock is My Name is part of a new series of fiction by different authors, called Hogarth Shakespeare. In each book, the author takes a Shakespeare play and transposes it to modern life. Earlier this year I read Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler – in her version of The Taming of the Shrew, Kate is a kindergarten teacher talked into helping her father’s lab assistant get his Green Card. I’ve also read Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time – this book turns Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tales into the story of a wealthy London businessman who abandons his baby daughter in a re-imagined New Orleans.

I loved both Vinegar Girl and The Gap of Time. In fact, I’m a big fan of pretty much any sort of revamped Shakespeare – The Candle Wasters‘ high school webseries of Much Ado About Nothing, the Ugly Shakespeare theatre group, The Leonardo Di Caprio version of Romeo + Juliet, that one episode of Doctor Who with the witch-aliens… you get the picture. So, you can see why I was expecting Shylock is My Name to be right up my alley.

But I just… wasn’t feeling it. It took me all evening to wade through the first chapter, and I still wasn’t 100% sure what was happening.

How do you pull the plug on a book? I left it until just before it was due back at the library, and concluded that if I’d only picked it up once in the three weeks I’d had it, it probably wasn’t worth renewing. So back to the library it went; hopefully on to someone who’ll appreciate it more. Who knows; maybe I’ll try it again in six months and have a totally different experience!

Have you ever given up on a book you thought you’d enjoy reading? Tell us about it in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.



Nicole is a Library Assistant at Thames Library.

The million dollar question is: what IS Book Bingo? What have we gotten ourselves into?!

Book Bingo is a reading challenged designed to make you consider the genres you normally wouldn’t give a second thought to. How many horror fans do you know who also read romance novels? How about family saga fanatics who regularly pick up a sci-fi? In order to mark off five boxes in a row in Book Bingo, you’ll hopefully have to start reading outside the square. Here’s a copy of the original bingo grid Rochelle and I are using:


Rochelle one-upped me pretty early on by deciding to read ALL of the genres, in order, starting from New Zealand Fiction. I’ll read all of the genres as well, but I’m going to jump all over the board, reading for each square as I find a good book for it.

I’d like to think I already read pretty widely – there are only a couple of squares on the board that have me particularly worried. I’ve already got my pick for ‘no genre label’ ready to go – I’ll be reading Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobsen. Stay tuned!