The past few days I have trying to put some extra time into speaking and reading German. I’ve made the unilateral decision that at home we speak only Deutsch on ‘D-Days’ meaning Deinstag und Donnerstag (Tuesday and Thursday). All this was in preparation for a test that never materialized due to a large misunderstanding between the teachers and the students. Now that the fear of an exam has passed, I have relaxed and begun reading English on the train ride to and from Freiburg. The book I have just started arrived as a bit of a surprise in a package from Canada. I’m almost positive that the book is from my father as we share similar tastes in novels…well in this sort of novel at least. Opening the first page of the book while I sat on an empty train platform gave me a shock as I struggled to read the English words having had my mind so set on German recently. Then again, it might just be the genre that makes the reading difficult. Here’s a sample, page 1 – opening sentence. Let’s see how you do with it, dear reader.
“When I came down off the cap rock riding a wind broken bronc, half of New Mexico must have been trailin’ behind me, all ready to shake out a loop for a hanging.”
The famous Western author, Louis L’Amour wrote this in 1966 in The Mustang Man and as the cover tells me, there are over 270 million copies of his books in print. I can tell you why there are so many copies in print…one reason is that L’Amour was a prolific writer, the other reason is that the books are always so formulaic that you just seem to feel comfortable reading them. At times I have been halfway through a book and realized that it is strangely familiar, but that I haven’t read it before (and sometimes you realize you have!).
Reading on the train, I felt like I had come out of the closet so to speak, as it seemed to cause a sensation with those other passengers siting near me. “An English book!” “Cowboys!” and more exclamations were made like I was somehow invisible, deaf, or unaware of the growing excitement around me. At least on this train ride it seems that my fellow German passengers were great admirers of Wild West stories.
I’ve now learned that there are a number of father – son/daughter camps that offer weekend getaways based on a Wild West theme. Who knew!
All in all, it is strange to have this connection with my father…and with my grandfather. I rarely remember a time when I did not see my grandfather without a Western genre pocket book. I am sure, judging from the collection of L’Amour books in the basement at my parents house, that we have contributed to the wider circulation of the 270 million copies sold world wide. In the dark and dank basement, the entire series of books sits on one shelf and my father took them home after his father died. It does feel strange at times to have an almost genetic disposition for a taste in Western novels, but it is also something to delight in as we can trade books with each other, and know that perhaps three generations have thumbed the pages of yet another old trailside yarn.