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This is the 25th anniversary of the publication of Lonesome Dove and so I thought it would be appropriate to start a thread about it.

 

First, let me say, that although I live in Texas, I've never been madly in love with westerns, either books or movies. I don't hate them, but I don't seek them out, either.

 

But I distinctly remember the moment when I got this book. It was a Friday, apparently the Friday after the book was first published in paperback. As was my habit, I stopped by the bookstore on my way home from work just to mosey around. There, by the check out stand, was a huge display of a best seller that I had never heard of with the most amazing reviews printed on the dispay stand. I kept thinking, "But it's a Western." Then I read the back cover, thought about it, and finally decided to get it.

 

I started reading it when I got home and didn't look up for 2 hours. My husband came in and said, "There are 3 football games on this weekend that I would like to watch--do you mind if I just sort of disappear like that?" Without looking up from the book, I sort of waved my hand in the air and said, distractedly, "No no. That's fine." And all I did that weekend was read the book. I hardly budged from the bed (I usually read lying down) and when I did, the book was in my hand. It is the most engrossing book I have ever read. It won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

 

So what makes this book so good? First and foremost, Larry McMurtry is a great writer with wonderful plots and characters and beautiful language. Second of all, the story deals with classic themes: what it means to be human and in relationship with others (no, really) and the human impulse to investigate and explore and try new things. It also is a good reminder of how dangerous and difficult the American West was at that time.

 

The main characters are Augustus McCrae ("Gus") and Woodrow F. Call ("Call"), two retired Texas Rangers. The Texas Rangers are a statewide law enforcement agency that began in the early 1800s, when Texas was very sparsely settled and communities would be without any law enforcement at all if there weren't a state agency. As an aside, the Texas Rangers are still in existence and there are still parts of Texas, especially in the south and west, that are so sparsely settled that they need this extra help. In any event, Gus and Call are operating a livery in the small Texas border town of Lonesome Dove. Gus is warm and outgoing and Call is cold and reserved. Gus is happy with good enough, but Call is always striving to achieve more. Despite, or perhaps because of, these differences, they are best friends.

 

When the story opens, a former comrade of Gus and Call's, Jake Spoon, arrives in Lonesome Dove with marvellous stories of the pristine country in Montana. Call is very attracted to moving to a new open country and eventually convinces Gus that they should drive the cattle north to and settle in Montana, which is only slightly west of Texas, but very far north. The story follows their trip as well as those of other characters heading in the same direction. Along the way, they encounter every kind of danger and challenge you can imagine in a wild country. And McMurtry does not shy away from having good people suffer terrible loss and death, including some of your favorite characters.

 

When the mini-series came out, I was very excited. Although everyone, including my father and I, thought that Robert Duvall should have played Call, he was cast as Gus and Tommy Lee Jones was cast as Call. It turns out to have been perfect casting. I talked it up at work and everyone kept saying, "I don't like Westerns. I don't want to get pulled into a mini-series." But they all watched the first night and they were hooked. I'm sure profitability suffered that week because we spent all morning every morning talking about what had happened on the show the night before.

 

There are some nods to Texas and American Western history that but most people--including most Americans--wouldn't necessarily get. They aren't important to enjoying the book, but they are intersting nevertheless. Most notably, Charles Goodnight, one of the founders of a major cattle drive trail from Texas to Montana, makes a brief uncredited appearance. It is generally thought that Call and Gus are modeled, more or less, on Goodnight and his partner, Oliver Loving, respectively (the trail is called the Goodnight/Loving trail). The next spoiler is a big spoiler, so don't read it if you are going to read the book.

Apparently, when Goodnight and Loving's guide, Bose Ikard, died, Goodnight carved a wooden grave marker for him, just as Call does for their guide, Deets, when he dies (I cried and cried when he died). And when Loving died, Goodnight brought him home to be buried in Texas, just as Call does for Augustus (I cried, as you can imagine, at that point, too).

The Panhandle/Plains Museum in Canyon, Texas (near Amarillo, up in the panhandle of Texas) has a huge and well-displayed collection of Charles Goodnight memorabilia. If you visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park nearby, you can see the "shelter" where Charles Goodnight lived. It's essentially a little area scraped out of the side of a hill with a small twig roof over it. And he's one of the towering figures of the history of Texas and the American West!

 

Let me say again that I LOVE this book. It's one of my favorite books of all time. You do not have to love Westerns to enjoy it.

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Well Binker if a review (at least one extolling the virtues of a book) is supposed to make the potential reader want to pick the book in question up and give it a go you got it spot on. :)

 

Like you I've never been one for Westerns, have never read one. My father loved them he had a large collection of J T Edsons (think that's the right name - sure some will correct me if I'm wrong) and other authors in that genre that I can't remember. When he died and I was going through his stuff I tried reading one and couldn't be bothered with it so they all went to the charity shop.

 

Growing up I would watch the movies, John Wayne etc with my dad and enjoyed them but never watched the Lonesome Dove series.

 

Your review makes this book sound like a 'Shipping News' type book. One where I know very little about the subject matter nor the location but the writing and the characters draw you in till you're deep inside their lives whilst learning about their time and place. Another Pulitzer winner as well!

 

Yet another book added to the 'TBR' pile. Thank you, I don't think I'd ever have looked at this book without your review. :)

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"Lonesome Dove"'s been sitting on Mount TBR for a while. I do plan to push it up and have seconded it as the next nominated BGO read. For me it'll make an interesting comparison with Cormac McCarthy's vision of the West in his Border Trilogy novels, the first two of which I've read in the past 12 months.

 

I read McMurtry's "The Last Picture Show" many years ago after seeing Peter Bogdanovich's excellent black & white 1971 film version, which made the acting reputations of Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd. McMurtry's novel was, as I recall, at least as good, if not better. I believe he's highly regarded on your side of the pond, Binker, but sadly less so over here in the U.K.

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There is only one copy in all of the Essex library system, and that is currently 'out'. It is not listed for swapping on RiSi, either.

Nevertheless, I will be keeping a look out for it, on the strength of Binker's review.

And will be reading any other comments posted here with interest!

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I think you will find a lot of differences between McCarthy and McMurtry. From my understanding, Cormac McCarthy's books are a lot bleaker and sometimes not told in a linear fashion (not sure about the last). Lonesome Dove is told in a more traditional fashion and while some very sad and upsetting things happen, the overall story isn't bleak at all.

 

After I wrote the review, I checked what other people had said on amazon in case there was some hostile undertow. The reviews were overwhelmingly good, which made me relieved given that I had gone on and on about it. One person said that she and her uncle had issued a challenge--each of them had to read a book selected by the other. She gave her Uncle a Harry Potter book and he gave her Lonesome Dove. She said that it worked out better for her. He hated Harry Potter and she loved, loved, loved Lonesome Dove. I also read somewhere that it does have a devoted following in the UK, but maybe that was 25 years ago.

 

I found when I went home to start my re-read that it was no longer in my library, the fate of many of the books that I love and recommend to others. But I know it's available in paperback, so I'll just get another copy that will probably disappear.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I couldn't wait for the BGO book read (which doesn't look like it's going to be Lonesome Dove anyway), so I started my re-read. It's as wonderful as I remember. I have a night to myself tonight and I am pretty pleased that I will have several hours in which to disappear into this book, uninterrupted.

 

But I'm not writing this post to confess that I have jumped the gun. Given the make up of nationalities at this site, I thought you would want to know a fact that I had completely forgotten: Woodrow Call is Scottish (if I'm supposed to say "a Scot," I apologize; I try never to have to say or write sentences like this because it's so easy to give offense, but BGOers appear to be a forgiving group). He got brought to the U.S. pretty young, so it's not like his formative years were there, but I still thought that fact would be interesting to the BGO readers.

 

As an aside, I think that is an interesting nationality for McMurtry to pick because the earliest settlers of Texas were overwhelmingly Mexican, German, and Czech. There are still a good number of kolache places in Texas, although there are still many more Mexican restaurants. And central Texas has a number of the painted churches that the Czech and German immigrants built.

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Woodrow Call is Scottish (if I'm supposed to say "a Scot," I apologize; I try never to have to say or write sentences like this because it's so easy to give offense, but BGOers appear to be a forgiving group).

 

As an aside, I think that is an interesting nationality for McMurtry to pick because the earliest settlers of Texas were overwhelmingly Mexican, German, and Czech. There are still a good number of kolache places in Texas, although there are still many more Mexican restaurants. And central Texas has a number of the painted churches that the Czech and German immigrants built.

 

Well as one born and raised in Scotland (though now residing in 'foreign' climes - England!! :D ) I think both 'Scot' and Scottish are acceptable.

 

I've not read the book Binker, but am curious as to why you think the character being Scottish is important/interesting? Does it suit him?

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Like Tay, I was born, brought up and (unlike Tay) still reside in Scotland. I can take just about anything except being called Scotch, which is a type of whisky and refers to products from Scotland. So, a Scot, Scots or Scottish is fine by me.

 

Anyway, I'm going to read Lonesome Dove irrespective of what it is that wins the Group Read just as soon as I finish the Canongate read and await with interest the winner of the GR because I'll probably want to read that, too - why is it there are too many books and not enough time ? :confused:

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It's only important because there are so many Scottish people on this board. I don't think, based on my 24-year-old memory that it is otherwise all that important. But I will let you know if it is.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I finished my re-read of Lonesome Dove this past weekend and have been trying to gather my thoughts ever since. I didn't think it was possible, but it was even more powerful and moving this time. One reason may be that I am 24 years older. Another is that I knew I was going to write a review and really concentrated on parts of the book rather than just letting it wash over me. But I have to say that just letting it wash over you would still make it one of the greatest reading experiences of your life.

 

It is very hard to summarize this book, but I will try. Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae are retired Texas Rangers. I think they are probably in their late 40s or early 50s. At that time that they were active, the main function of the Rangers was to make Texas safe for settlers, which meant fighting Indians and catching horse thieves. They have been retired for 10 years, during which they are settlers in Lonesome Dove, which I have tentatively decided is a little north of Laredo, Texas, on the Rio Grande border with Mexico. Several of the men that work for them date from their Rangering days, including Pea Eye, a sweet, naive man who survived Rangering by attaching himself to Captain Call and obeying his every order, and Deets, an extremely kind black man who is also a very gifted tracker and one of my very favorite characters.

 

One day, one of their Ranger buddies, Jake Spoon, comes to visit and talks up Montana as a wide open wilderness, just ready for settling and Call convinces everyone to go on a 3,000 mile trail drive. Call goes because Montana is now what Texas was when he was a young man--a wild unsettled place, although it's not clear that Call understands this motivation. Gus goes along because on the way, he wants to visit Oglalla, Nebraska where the love of his life, Clara Allen, has settled with her husband. Plus, he misses the Ranger life, too, although he's a little more clear-headed about his own motivations than Call. Others go along for adventure or to get out of Lonesome Dove. They don't actually leave until you are 250 pages into the book, during which time, you have met and gotten a good understanding of almost every character in the book.

 

They make it to northern Montana (close to the Canadian border), which is in fact the Eden that Jake Spoon promised. But there are serpents in Eden. And in fact, the first heart-breaking death arrives when a young man accidentally rides into a nest of water moccasins while crossing a river. The most vicious of these serpents, though, is human, an Indian named Blue Duck [who doesn't appear until page 382 in my book]. But there are others, both Indian and white, and then there's just bad luck. Terrible things happen to many of the characters, but that's because it was a terribly risky time and place to live.

 

Most of the story, though, is the journey getting from Lonesome Dove to Montana and then, at the very end, a journey back from Montana to Lonesome Dove that Call has to make. On the way up, they go for days and weeks without seeing another human being. Most of the buffalo have been heavily hunted and the big herds almost obliterated, but the men still see some buffalo and the farther north they go, the more wild animals they encounter. The Indians are, for the most part, broken and even though they inflict some grievous losses, you end up feeling sorry for them, as Gus and some of the other men do. On the way back from Montana to Lonesome Dove, Call encounters more civilization and has an encounter with Charles Goodnight (see previous post) between Denver, Colorado and Santa Rosa, New Mexico.

 

Gus is a very charming and engaging character. Call is much colder and harder, although I end up finding him to be extremely interesting. He has never married, but is the father of an illegitimate 17-year old boy named Newt. Newt's mother was a prostitute who died when the boy was very young. Everyone can tell that Call is Newt's father--except Call and Newt. There are times that this is funny, but mostly it is sad. One of the funny times comes when Pea Eye comments to Call in all innocence, "Why, Captain, little Newt walks just like you." Newt's observations are among the sweetest in the book and he is upset and worried by all of the things that upset and worry you as the reader.

 

But even though they get to Montana, this book seems to be, more than anything, about the desperate yearnings of the human heart for that which cannot or should not be. Most of all, it's about the yearning of these aging men for the wild west that is almost gone. The journey north is an attempt to go back in time, but, like all time-travel, it's not successful. Call misses Texas before Texas was settled (which is how Montana sounds to him), but as Gus says "It's our fault, you know....we chased out the Indians and hung all the good bandits...[d]oes it ever occur to you that everything we done was probably a mistake? f I'd wanted civilization I'd have stayed in Tennessee and wrote poetry for a living....[m]e and you done our work too well. We killed off most of the people that made this country interesting to begin with." [page 349 in my book] Much later, when they arrive in Montana, Gus and Pea Eye are off reconnoitering and Gus takes off to chase a herd of buffalo just for the fun of it, which Pea Eye finds mystifying. Gus says, "I just wanted to chase a buffalo once more. I won't have the chance much longer, and nobody else will either, because there won't be no buffalo to chase. It's a grand sport, too."

 

Call thinks that's all nonsense because Call has spent his life crushing any emotional connection that would make him vulnerable. At one point, he tells a minor character that "I'm told I don't have a human nature." But it is clear when they get to Montana that he thinks that he may have sacrificed quite a bit in order to chase something he can no longer have and it provokes quite an existential crisis for him. I think Gus's big gift to Call in the end is forcing him into a situation where he makes use of all of his gifts as a fighter, but still has to confront the limitations he imposed on his life by never giving in to the yearnings of his heart in human relationships.

The favor that Gus does for Call is to make Call promise to take his body back to Texas to be buried, which Call does. By this time, Call has lost almost every person who went through the Rangering experience with him: Jake Spoon, whom he has to hang; Deets, who dies in what can only be described as an accidental battle with Indians; and Gus, who dies from wounds suffered in another freak encounter with Indians. The final exchange between Gus and Call breaks your heart. And Call is left bereft, particularly by the loss of Deets and Gus. The only people who knew him "way back when" are Pea Eye and Clara and Clara hates him because Gus prefers a Rangering life with Call to a settled life with her. And taking Gus's body back means that Call has to leave Newt, see Clara, and then spend thousands of miles contemplating his failures and losses.

 

 

But the book is full of people desiring that which they cannot and should not have, often pinning absurd hopes and dreams on the object of their desire. The person who suppresses that humanity, Call, doesn't seem to benefit from it. The characters who are the most content recognize and accept what they can have of what they want.

The one person who seems most content in life is Deets--until they go north to Montana. He doesn't like the thin light in the north and later says, "[w]e way up here and it ain't our country." By the next chapter, he is dead.

 

 

You cannot imagine how much this book and its characters get under your skin. It's hard to leave them behind on page 944. I hope that some of you who have this book on Mount TBR dust it off and read it, but be sure you have some time. You won't want to put it down.

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As much as I might love Deadwood, this really didn't sound like my type of book at all. I am not a 'western' lover at all, but your review, Binker, really makes me want to read this book, thank you.

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  • 5 months later...

I've just finished. It took me a while to read it, not becuase it wasn't excellent but because I didn't have time to really sink into it and it needs that level of commitment.

 

I found the first 100/150 pages hard because I couldn't spend more than half and hour reading and I needed longer to learn the characters and grip the story. Once I got to 150 pages in I had learnt that unless I could give it a good hour or more that I wouldn't bother. So I got myself to 300 pages by this weekend and finished the final 640 odd over the weekend.

 

I cried (at all the points you cried - OH came and gave me a massive hug I was crying so much), I laughed, I wanted desperately for them to all make it. I fell in love with Newt and Call and adored Gus throughout. It was brilliant. I don't know that It is a book I can give as a gift as I know it will be considered inferior for being a western, but I am glad I took the risk and read it.

 

It is a journey book, and you have to be willing to go along the ride all the way. There are times I wanted to stop because I was scared of the Indians and the possible failures/deaths but I kept going because so did the drive.

 

Binker thank you for the recommendation.

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You are so welcome! Thank you so much for making the journey. I had feared that it wouldn't make the trip across the pond very well, but hoped that it would. Larry McMurtry is quite a gifted writer.

 

My husband and I are now watching the mini-series and I would recommend it as well. It's very good, although even a mini-series has to end up with less than the book.

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  • 2 years later...

The rest of this page restored January 2013

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18

bobblington 16th January 2011, 05:57 PM

 

I've just finished. It took me a while to read it, not becuase it wasn't excellent but because I didn't have time to really sink into it and it needs that level of commitment.

 

I found the first 100/150 pages hard because I couldn't spend more than half and hour reading and I needed longer to learn the characters and grip the story. Once I got to 150 pages in I had learnt that unless I could give it a good hour or more that I wouldn't bother. So I got myself to 300 pages by this weekend and finished the final 640 odd over the weekend.

 

I cried (at all the points you cried - OH came and gave me a massive hug I was crying so much), I laughed, I wanted desperately for them to all make it. I fell in love with Newt and Call and adored Gus throughout. It was brilliant. I don't know that It is a book I can give as a gift as I know it will be considered inferior for being a western, but I am glad I took the risk and read it.

 

It is a journey book, and you have to be willing to go along the ride all the way. There are times I wanted to stop because I was scared of the Indians and the possible failures/deaths but I kept going because so did the drive.

 

Binker thank you for the recommendation.

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Binker 16th January 2011, 08:17 PM

 

You are so welcome! Thank you so much for making the journey. I had feared that it wouldn't make the trip across the pond very well, but hoped that it would. Larry McMurtry is quite a gifted writer.

 

My husband and I are now watching the mini-series and I would recommend it as well. It's very good, although even a mini-series has to end up with less than the book.

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megustaleer 16th January 2011, 09:56 PM

 

Have just today had a RiSi swap agreed for Lonesome Dove.

As my half of the swap is The Great Gatsby I think, page for page, I've got the best of this arrangement

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megustaleer 13th August 2011, 11:39 AM

 

Well, I made a slow start to Lonesome Dove, as RL kept getting in the way. The early chapters of the book are slow moving, too, so there wasn't that incentive to 'see what happens next', but you do learn a lot about the various characters, and start to care about them.

 

I took the book on holiday, and while the holiday was less conducive to reading than I like, I did manage to finish it. Coincidentally the drive to Montana and my holiday stated at the same time, so there was the pull of a bit more action as well as a bit more time to read.

 

Anyway, that was a couple of months ago now, so I have just re-read Binker's posts to refresh my memory and they brought the whole thing flooding back. I even got a bit emotional as I recalled all the events she mentioned.

 

I can't add anything to what Binker has already posted, but I really enjoyed Lonesome Dove, in spite of the disjointed way in which I read it and I thoroughly recommend it.

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Binker 13th August 2011, 01:41 PM

 

I've been waiting with bated breath to see if you would finish it Meg and then if you would like it. Thank you for posting. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

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megustaleer 13th August 2011, 05:24 PM

 

So sorry to have been depriving you of oxygen for so long, Binker!

Yes, I did enjoy it. So much so that I have now ordered the DVD. Let's hope I enjoy that, too.

Must stock up on tissues

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Binker 13th August 2011, 06:09 PM

 

I thought I might have been overdoing it with "bated breath," but I was eager to hear what you thought.

 

I think you will like the DVD a lot. Bating my breath again.

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momac 13th August 2011, 07:42 PM

 

Hi Binker: Picked up Lonesome Dove at the library today - could probably use it in a weight lifting program.

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Hazel 13th August 2011, 08:37 PM

 

I've had this book on my wishlist for ages, but I kept putting off buying it as the editions available were Mass Market Paperbacks and I hate those editions, the text is always too far into the spine to be read carefully, and I knew from this thread that this was a b-i-g book. Therefore, tonight, I am delighted to report that there is a new edition out this month and it doesn't look like a MMP at all! Finally, I'll get to read this.

__________________

Viccie 14th August 2011, 05:14 PM

 

I've got this on the TBR pile next to A Place of Greater Safety - they're both massive and a bit daunting. My OH keeps on asking me when I'm going to read it. Soon.

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Binker 15th August 2011, 01:48 AM

 

I hope all of you read it and enjoy it despite its heft. Just re-reading the thread has reminded me of why I love this book so much. And I really didn't want it to end, which make make you feel a little better when you are 400 pages in and not half-way through.

 

One thing I noticed on re-reading the thread is that it has a slow start. I noticed that even I kept telling you how far into the book it was before they even left Lonesome Dove, one of the major characters appeared, etc. I think the slow start is necessary so that you can get to know the characters and understand what they are leaving behind. And also, undertaking a trail drive like this one required a lot of time and preparation.

 

I may have to go read it again. But my TBR pile is kind of full right now, so maybe later.

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momac 15th August 2011, 05:10 AM

 

Hi Binker: Have started Lonesome Dove - having trouble holding onto the book as it's not in very good shape, the spine is broken (the library had made that notation inside the cover) making the book a bit unwieldy - will have to devise some way of reading without having to hold it up as I find it too heavy, maybe set up a tv table and put it on there. I have a bit of arthritis in my thumbs and after a while it gets a bit painful (poor old lady). I've also ordered the DVD - don't know how closely it follows the book but it may be of help. Will manage one way or another.

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momac 16th August 2011, 06:46 PM

 

Hi Binker: Just received our 8 disc collection of the Lonesome Dove series - it will take us a while to get through it but this way hubby can watch it on telly as I know he would never try to tackle the book. It came complete with a deck of playing cards so he has nice new cards to play solitaire with in the cold winter months. I have to admit that I put the book aside, just too heavy and hard to handle so I've wimped out on it. I don't know how close to the book the DVD's will be but it will be great entertainment and hubby will love the Western saga - it was the genre he read mostly when a young fellow. I've printed off your post to refer to Binker - it's good to have other opinions about the characters, story line etc. Thanks for pointing us in this direction.

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Thank you Meg for rescuing this thread, since Lonesome Dove is one of my favorite books of all time (which anyone could see reading the thread). I have some friends in Austin who are from the UK and the husband gives anyone who visits them from the UK a copy of the book. I had told the wife when I first met her (12 years ago) that she should read it and she put it off and put it off, despite being a great reader. She finally read it last year and sent me an email saying that she wished she'd read it when I first recommended it.

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  • 9 months later...

Well I just finished LD Binker, and I thank you for getting me to read this. The characterizations were so strong and detailed! Some things I found a bit simplistic in the movie made good sense in the book. Is Streets of Laredo good? Is it a direct continuation? Gotta go. More later. THANK YOU!

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