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Gone Fishing

Life on and off the waters of the Wood River Valley

Three Reads: Autumnal Themes

Hemingway, Steinbeck & the last days of the Comanches

Nov 7, 2012 - 03:04 PM
Three Reads: Autumnal Themes

Autumn is a great time of year to be a reader. There’s just something especially enjoyable about opening the pages of a new book as the leaves and temperatures are falling.

In autumn’s honor, here are three fall-inspired reads for a variety of literary appetites: One is about the last days of a man’s life during an autumn in Italy. Another is about a famous writer spending the autumn of his life driving across the country with his dog. And the third, a story about a bloody slice of America’s overlooked history—the fall of the nation’s most powerful Indian tribe, the Comanches.


Across the River and into the Trees
By Ernest Hemingway
(1950, Scribner)

Colonel Richard Cantwell is the prototypical Hemingway protagonist. He’s tough, flawed and mangled. He’s got some regrets, likes to drink and finds relationships with troubled women appealing.

Many critics consider this one of Hemingway’s worst efforts. But I—like any biased fan of Papa—really enjoyed the book. It’s a good, manly read that goes well with a shot of whiskey and some kind of wild game, preferably duck. Across the River and into the Trees is an easy read that touches on the loneliness of the last days of life and can cause the reflective reader to think about the impacts and hopes of your own life.

The entire book takes place during an autumn day in Venice, and Hemingway brings the Italian seaport to such life that you can almost taste the Bellinis at Harry’s Bar and the stench of the famous canals.

“I’m a lucky son of a bitch and I should never be sad about anything.–Papa Hemingway


Travels with Charley: In Search of America
by John Steinbeck
(1932, Viking Penguin)

In a lot of ways, this book is the polar opposite of Steinbeck’s celebrated novels like The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men or Cannery Row. Those are works of fiction about folks struggling to make it in America. Travels with Charley is a work of “nonfiction”—though many critics, including his own son, said Steinbeck made up some of the characters in the book.

Regardless of their factual content, Steinbeck’s hit novels also have something in common with this book about roaming around the nation in a pick-up truck with a camper on top and a poodle named Charlie as co-pilot. They share the author’s skilled perceptions about the real struggles of life in America

Written during the autumn of the Noble Prize-winning author’s life, Travels with Charlie is everything Steinbeck was famous for; it is humorous, raw, full of hope and hopelessness. Steinbeck’s take on motor-less motor homes is brilliant and dog lovers are sure to enjoy the human/canine camaraderie.

“A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity in itself. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness …. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.–John Steinbeck


Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
By S.C. Gwynne
(2010, Scribner)

While it may take a while to read the subtitle of this book, the story itself is a swift and fascinating account of one of the most overlooked—and violent—periods of American history.

Empire of the Summer Moon is the story of the last days of what was arguably the most powerful Native American tribe ever, the Comanches. Known for their unsurpassed equestrian skills, the tribe eventually gave in to the advances of America’s unrelenting westward expansion.

Gwynne, who spoke at last summer’s Sun Valley Writer’s Conference, somehow manages to get the reader to empathize with not only the vindictive and grotesquely violent Comanches, but also with the hardened men who eventually took the ever-roaming tribe down.

Amazingly enough, the Comanches last, drawn-out stand was led by an Indian whose mother was once part of a now storied white family from Texas. Quannah Parker became the last great Chief of the Comanches. This is a must read for fans of Western or American history.

“So many raids were made by moonlight that in Texas a full, bright spring or summer moon is still known as a Comanche Moon.–S.C. Gwynne


*Pick up copies of these books locally in Ketchum at the new Chapter One location on Second Street or at Iconoclast (which also has a great website for online purchases) on Sun Valley Road.


Sun Valley Magazine encourages its readers to post thoughtful and respectful comments on all of our online stories. Your comments may be edited for length and language.

Old to new | New to old
Nov 12, 2012 12:57 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Very nice synopsis of all three books and timely information since holdiay gift buying is on most of our to do lists. Thanks, Mike.

Nov 16, 2012 12:38 pm
 Posted by  Mac

Thanks for the nice comments here and elsewhere.
These books would certainly make great gifts for just about any lover of great writing.
And thanks for reading!

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About This Blog

Whether he’s being out-fished by his trash talking mother-in-law, guiding one of his young sons through the perils of manhood or finding inspiration from the people of the Wood River Valley, Mike McKenna’s award-winning writing is always sure to entertain. Order a copy of Mike's highly-acclaimed book, "Angling Around Sun Valley: A year-round fly fishing guide to South Central Idaho" from Silver Creek Outfitters.

Gone Fishing's awards include: "Best Blog" 2010 & 2011 by the Idaho Press Club, "Best Web-only Article" of 2011 by the Outdoor Writers Association of California and "Best Fishing" & "Best Humor" blogs of 2012 by the Outdoor Writers Association of America.


"Angling Around Sun Valley" was selected as the "Best Book" of 2013 by Northwest Outdoor Writers Association!

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