In 1820, James Fenimore Cooper read aloud to his wife Susan from a boring English novel. At least legend suggests that he thought it was boring and he expressed as much to his wife. She allegedly responded that if he thought he was so clever, he should just write a better book himself.
Cooper accepted the challenge. The result was his first novel, Precaution, a book written in a style similar to the works of Jane Austen, which though widely beloved, probably are found boring by most husbands reading aloud to their wives.
But the book sold okay in England. It was accredited to an anonymous Englishwoman, rather than to the New York man who would go on from that mild success to create the first big fictional American action hero, one that would one day become Daniel Day-Lewis running across the big screen in a distinctly American and probably slightly less boring fashion. To an epic soundtrack I might add.
The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757—published in 1826—became one of the most widely read novels of its day and firmly established James Fenimore Cooper as one of the greats. It’s the second book in the Leatherstockings five-book series that features Natty Bumppo, an American frontiersman raised by Delaware Indians to become a fearless warrior who runs a lot and has super impressive hair.
The series is also often referred to as the first real example of the western genre of literature, the same genre that before too long introduced the world to the heroic card-playing, gun-fighting, whiskey-drinking cowboy who finds himself in the middle of the conflict between Native Americans and settlers, outlaws and hard-working ranchers, or war and a life of farming in peace. Often while wearing an impressively large hat.
It’s a genre that has waxed and waned in popularity through the years and I admit it’s not one I usually gravitate toward. But I did recently read a western novel I liked quite a lot. The book is Guerilla Bride by author J.J. Zerr, who is not an anonymous Englishwoman. And this is a not-boring book.
It follows the story of Emerson Sharp, an unlucky young man trying to find his moral compass and a good horse in the border states at the height of the American Civil War. In the process he becomes a talented gambler, fumbles into the war, accidentally becomes an accessory to murder, and falls in love a time or two. And yes he runs a lot, though usually on a horse and with much less impressive hair than Daniel Day-Lewis’s Natty Bumppo.
I don’t know if you like western fiction, or know someone who does, but I enjoyed this one. And you know, Christmas is coming up and books make great gifts. I often hesitate to recommend reads because I’m afraid that if the person I gave a title to ends up not loving the book, I will be judged harshly. Still, I am definitely willing to venture that this is probably not the most boring book you or the western fiction reader on your Christmas list has ever read. And if it is, well then you should write a better one.
By the way, if you happen to have a special someone on your shopping list who enjoys humorous books about history, family life, sheep and experimental rocketry, I may have another not-boring suggestion for you.
11 thoughts on “Lots of Running, Impressive Hair, and a Not-Boring Book for Christmas”
I actually read The Last of the Mohicans when I was very young…you know one of those guzzlers of the classics and I loved it, but it has since become dim in my mind so I might just revisit it. Loved the introduction about Cooper. So his wife does prove the great woman-behind-the-great-man adage 🙂 xx
I haven’t read it. My American Lit teacher in high school decided we didn’t have enough time for it so we watched the film. Then we also watched it in American history that same year. I’m thinking maybe it’s time to finally read the book.
And I have not watched the movie. Maybe I shall reread it and then watch it. I like to be an utter snob about movies adapted from books but it is fun to be critical 😉 xx
All I really remember about is that it has a fantastic score. And there really is a lot of running.
I had an English teacher at high school who could make any book boring (Catch-22, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, etc – all reduced to mind-numbing tedium by this teacher). Luckily The Last of the Mohicans wasn’t on the class list – I haven’t actually read the original, but I remember reading a kids’ magazine adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans when I was about 7. Very cool that the original came about from a challenge from Cooper’s wife to be not-boring!
At least his first book did, according to his biographer.
Guerilla Bride is open on my side table waiting for another few minutes to delve back into the story. I do like the style of author Zerr, having read his other books, which are not western themed. I too am enjoying this one. Lots of running horses. Now I feel the need to read Last of the Mohicans again, it’s been decades since my previous pass. Plus, one of my own novels in progress is set in the same time period, which is probably my favorite span of history. My other work is set nearer the time of Emerson Sharp, which is coincidentally near the times of some of the experiments recounted in your book, Sarah. I love being a history nerd – I mean, history buff.
Nerd. I prefer nerd. 🙂
Both the movie and sound track of Last of the Mohicans thrilled me. I had never read the book, so I grabbed it, only to discover that character names were about the only resemblance of the book to the movie. Hollywood had highly romanticized the story.
I also read Guerilla Bride and can attest that I enjoyed it thoroughly. Mr. Zerr certainly does know how to write a western!
Hollywood ruined a book?! I don’t believe it. 😉
He was bored with what he was reading so he wrote a book that has probably the most boring first 30 pages I’ve ever read? I’ll take the Hollywood-Daniel-Day-Lewis-filled version any day! Thanks for the recommendation…and I definitely have to add Launching Sheep to my Wish List. I mean, with a title like that, how could I resist?