Mistakes Were Made: A Book Thread
On a trip to Mammoth Lakes last week, I realized that I’d forgotten to pack the book I planned to read. But then I was watching friends stop to charge their car on the drive up the 395, wrestling in the dirt with their great big bear of a dog, and the charging station was in a lucky place: behind the Museum of Western Film History. There’s a museum of film history in Lone Pine because Lone Pine is next to the Alabama Hills, where roughly a trillion old westerns were shot, and they have a gift shop with a decent selection of books. Given the location, I had a choice between a book about cowboys, a book about gunfighters, or a book about cowboy gunfighters.
So I ended up with a copy of The Ox-Bow Incident, a book I’d never given the slightest thought to or ever planned to read, and it turned out to be a remarkably lucky accident. Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s magnificent western novel is about the pandemic, and the state of emergency, and vaccine mandates and lockdowns. I mean, it’s actually about cattle rustlers and lynch mobs, but it’s much more than that. It’s a quick read, and it’s fiction that contains a world of truth. I’m not going to describe the plot, because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but notice what the sheriff does at the end when he catches up to the riders on the trail. We’re currently living through that moment.
In a remarkably compact and lean story, this book asks about the way people act in emergencies, on limited information, and it examines the way we debate disagreement and different choices in moments when we run out of patience and demand that someone do something. And then it gets to the shame-faced aftermath, and the preference for deflection. I read this book by accident, and the timing couldn’t have been better. Cheap paperback, by the way, widely available from libraries and used book stores.
We had a discussion in a comment thread here, a few weeks ago, about book recommendations. It’s taken me too long to get around to posting it, but here it is.
What books would you suggest to other readers, right now?
While we’re offering recommendations, I’ll just add that I’m loving this band right now:
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