Vital Signs

Notes From a Writer of Trash

The most important datum about Western fiction is that it is at the absolute bottom of the literary heap, somewhere below pornography. English professors would cavil at calling Westerns literature; they prefer to categorize Westerns as subliterature, or entertainment.

Few, if any, educated people read Westerns. The higher the cultural and academic attainments of the reader, the less likely he will be to crack one open. He will read other category fiction, such as mysteries or science fiction, without embarrassment. But you will never catch him reading Westerns. Westerns sell least well in the upper Midwest and East, the areas with the largest numbers of college-educated people. They sell best across the South and in the Rocky Mountain states, where tastes are the most primitive. They sell around military bases, a sure sign that they appeal to the semiliterate. It is known also that Westerns appeal most to graying males, yeoman blue-collar types who have never gone beyond high school, allegedly the least imaginative and progressive elements in society.

Because Westerns are not considered significant literature, they are not usually reviewed. Most newspaper editors of the book page have never assigned a category Western for review. The Library Journal and Kirkus review a few hardback Westerns for the edification of librarians, but that is about the extent of attention paid to category Western fiction. You...

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