It’s the general understanding in my family that my Great Grandpa Reg’s schooling ended after second grade. When he was a child, his father needed him on the ranch, and as a result, working took priority over his education. As an adult, he was busy making a living. He lived 30 miles from Scottsbluff and didn’t make it to town very often.
Somewhere along the line Grandpa Reg took up reading for pleasure. He liked reading westerns and was buying paperbacks from the store. In the 1950s or early 1960s he mentioned to my dad, his grandson, that he was running out of westerns to buy. Dad asked him, “Have you ever been to the library?” Grandpa Reg said, “No, I haven’t.” So, dad took him to the library to see if they have any westerns. Grandpa Reg signed up for a card and started checking out books. As he made his way through the large western section, he found he couldn’t remember what he had read. He started penciling his initials in the inside corner of the cover to keep track.
People are also reading…
I did some research and found that western author Louis L’Amour (1908-1988) published around 100 books. Most of which I’ve read. Zane Grey (1872-1939) published 85 books. Grey’s book “Riders of the Purple Sage” is on my to-read list for this year. You can see how a person might lose track of what they’d read, just between these two authors.
Grandpa isn’t the only one to mark in books. When I was a patron at the Mullen, Nebraska library, I found lots of western books with tiny penciled-in brands on the front and back covers. Note: librarians are not fond of this particular method of keeping track of your reading. Nowadays, patrons can use sortable spreadsheets and word documents to record which books they’ve read. There are also several websites like Goodreads.com and Storygraph.com designed for this purpose. Readers can use them to record which books they have read, which books they want to read and what they think of the books they’ve read. Spiral notebooks are also readily available if you aren’t computer savvy. If you absolutely must write your initials in library books, (and remember, we prefer you don’t) please use a pencil.
Reading trends change, and mysteries have taken over the shelves that once bulged with westerns. Some mystery authors write about the west though, and that is almost as good as a Louis L’Amour book. If Grandpa Reg came into the library today, I could recommend several authors. I would start with Craig Johnson, C.J. Box, Margaret Coel, William Kent Krueger, Tony and Anne Hillerman, C.M. Wendelboe, Paul Doiron, and Keith McCafferty.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many westerns being written these days. Gering Library has western titles by Jeff Guinn, William W. Johnstone, Lauran Paine, C.M.Curtis, Johnny D. Boggs, Loren D. Estelman, Kevin McCarthy, J.D. Arnold and John Nesbitt among others. Most of these authors are in their 70s (or have passed away), and their writing style is not always as family friendly as westerns once were.
Grandpa Reg was born in 1887 and died in 1972, so we didn’t overlap much. When I worked at the Scottsbluff Library from 2010-2015 there were still some hardback Zane Grey novels that had been published in the mid-1960s. If you were to open them up, sure enough, you could find RP penciled in the front covers.