Summer has always been a time to do some extra reading. Those of us who are educators have to spend a lot of time reading throughout the year. Our reading and writing both often are restricted to ideas and issues associated with our tasks as teachers or leaders. That is we do not always have personal choices as to what or how much we read. For most of us in higher education the summer is a time when we can make some choices about extra reading. My summer reading has often included fun books as well as serious and intellectually-challenging volumes. Vacations are opportunities to do some extra reading, thinking and perhaps even some writing.

One of the best authors to read for leisure and real-life is Louis L’Amour. Earlier this summer I picked up L’Amour’s novel The Mountain Valley War that was first published in 1978. Re-reading this novel brought to mind the many hours and days of reading that I experienced beginning in 1973 when I first discovered L’Amour’s western novels while living in England and working with American military personnel. An Air Force enlisted man loaned me one of his books and I was hooked on reading this L’Amour’s stories. The Sackett stories have been my favorite of all his works. The Sackett novels describe the adventures and experiences of this family over many generations. L’Amour’s first novel in the Sackett saga was published in 1960 and would continue through 17 drama-filled novels about this family.

As a teenager L’Amour left home to begin life on his own, joining a traveling circus and then hopped freight trains across west Texas for adventure and experience. He then signed on as a sailor with a sea-going shipping company and sailed to various ports around the world. While he is thought of as a westerns novelist he has written adventure stories and dramatic novels in other categories of fiction. His memoir titled Education of a Wandering Man became a best-seller in 1989. L’Amour began his writing career in 1938 and would continue writing to his death in 1988 at the age of eighty. He taught himself to write and continued studying and working all his life to improve himself intellectually and literarily.

L’Amour considered himself in the tradition of the great western writers. He carved out a niche for himself and sought to produce quality expressions in the western tradition.

L’Amour often said, “I think of myself in the oral tradition—as a troubadour, a village tale-teller, the man in the shadows of the campfire. That’s the way I’d like to be remembered—as a storyteller. A good storyteller.” His books and stories are a product of his personal study and research.

He studied and researched each of his stories, rooting them in the actual terrain and geography of real places and personalities.

He sought to “fill the boots” of his characters so that he could literally describe and detail the stories of those figures. He often walked and road the trails and observed the geography of those about whom he wrote.

L’Amour wrote short stories and adventure stories for many years before he authored his first full-length novel in 1953 which was titled Hondo and was released as a popular movie. Ultimately, L’Amour would author more than 120 books with over 300 million copies in circulation world-wide. All of his books are still in print and most of his books have been translated into over twenty languages around the world. Over forty-five of his novels or stories have been produced as major motion pictures or television movies. These phenomenal records make him one of the best-selling authors in modern literary history.

In 1983 L’Amour became the first novelist to be honored by Congress with the Congressional Gold Medal honoring his life-work as a writer. In 1984 President Ronald Reagan honored L’Amour with the Medal of Freedom honoring his accomplishments as a popular novelist.

Not only is L’Amour’s novels exciting and interesting reading, they describe the social and cultural setting of the historical periods in which they are set. The author’s careful research and attention to historical, geographical and cultural details provide for all of us an exceptional experience in learning about the west and other historical periods that the novelist shares. L’Amour is worth reading. I would recommend any of his books as good summer reading.

Beau L’Amour, Louis’ son, has produced out of his father’s vast treasure of unpublished manuscripts and notes two volumes titled Louis L’Amour’s Lose Treasures that deal with mysterious stories, unfinished manuscripts, lost notes from this most famous novelist. I have read both of these volumes and found them to be very entertaining and readable. Beau has also taken a manuscript titled No Traveller Returns and produced a very good novel for one to read. There will be more treasures coming from the L’Amour archives in the future. L’Amour also produced several Hopalong Cassidy novels that are very readable.

One of my favorite novels is The Lonesome Gods.

It deals with so many interesting topics regarding the west—Spanish California, the dessert, handicap prejudices and native American religious beliefs.

I would be happy to hear what you think of summer reading and what you might be reading.

Let me hear from you on what you think about L’Amour and his literary legacy. What do you think?

— Share your thoughts with Jerry Hopkins at drjerryhopkins@yahoo.com. You may also reach him by “snail” mail at Dr. Jerry Hopkins, P. O. Box 1363, Marshall, TX 75671. Dr. Jerry Hopkins is a historian, retired university professor