February 27, 2023
I've enjoyed a few rave reviews in my day. In fact, here's one that just came in this morning:
"I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed Hellraisers and Trailblazers. What a wonderful book—beautifully written, great photos and of course the artwork is amazing. I think it's your best book yet. Hope to see you in Tombstone at the Western Book Festival!"
I've also had some scathing reviews (be sure to read to end). A review published today in the LA Review of Books, is, well, somewhere in between.
"Hellraisers and Trailblazers highlights women from Sacagawea to Sharlot Hall who shaped some part of 'the West.' Readers meet Martha Summerhayes playing tennis at Fort Apache, in present-day Arizona, alongside Sarah Winnemucca on a mission to 'correct the sins of the reservation system.' The presentation of one woman after another is as fondly pell-mell as a reel of a high school graduate’s childhood milestones: stories wrapped around portraits, photos, maps, newspaper clippings, playbills, and photos. There is no table of contents, just a full-color dive into the authors’ accumulation of research and reporting, with credit given to historians, researchers, and writers on the last page of the book, but with very few references included in the text.
"Bommersbach and Bell have published the equivalent of a film documentary with many engaging pictures, not often stopping to say where they’re from. The writing is approachable to the point of colloquial, giving equal weight to fact and argument, as in the description of stagecoach robber Pearl Hart: 'They were captured, and the press at the time […] went nuts, making her a celebrity whose notoriety spread across the nation. Her trial and incarceration — the first jury acquitted her even though she’d confessed — are gems of Western History.'
"The prose is like a tour guide’s script for a women’s history museum, and it would likely entertain its visitors to the point of tipping the guide. But in a book, I would prefer a less superlative and more substantiated take on history, trading admiration for annotation."
Julie is not alone in the "I'm sorry, I can't take you seriously because of your lack of footnotes" complaint. Here's a review I got from a Brit many moons ago:
"In conclusion, the reviewer admits to ambivalent feelings about these two publications [he was reviewing both my Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp books]. The artwork is very admirable but without the drawings and simulated photographs recreating historical events, the book appears as a visual equivalent of the so called 'faction' books such as Kid Curry by F. Bruce Lamb. History should not need the sugar coating of fiction to make it palatable."
—David Griffiths, London, England, writing in The Journal: The official Publication of the Western Outlaw Lawman History Association, summer of 1995
Spot a trend here? My takeaway is these last two reviewers believe history needs footnotes so it can be taken seriously, and two, they don't like all this sugarcoating with good maps and especially colorful artwork! Dammit, they didn't have color in the Old West!
But the most scathing review I have ever received is a one-liner. It had to do with a series of cartoons I did for New Times Weekly back in the eighties. Here is the cartoon that really honked off Ms. Rollins:
"I don't think Bob Boze Bell is funny, period."
—Chiquita Rollins, Women Take Back The Night