Tag Archives: Authors

Baxter Black

This weekend cowboy poet, columnist, and extraordinary human being Baxter Black passed away. I saw Baxter Black in 1985 at the Garden County Fair. He climbed up on the arena fence and sat there telling stories – some of the stories were in verse. What wasn’t funny was touching. Most of what he said was both. In his own words, “It is a gallows humor in a world where catastrophe is riding on your shoulder.  And…on stage and in books it far out-sells serious poetry.”

Black’s popularity as a cowboy poet started in the 1980s. He rose to fame with the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. In the 1980s he was on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. By the end of the ’80s he was a regular Monday morning commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition. You are probably familiar with his column “On the Edge of Common Sense”which ran in over 100 papers, but he wrote novels as well. He published 30 books of commentary, poetry and fiction.

The funniest book I ever listened to was “Hey Cowboy, Wanna Get Lucky?” read by Baxter Black himself. Black tells the story of Cody and Lick, two rodeo cowboys. They are determined to make it to the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. As they compete in rodeos across the west, these friends find themselves in all sorts of predicaments- hilarity ensues.  

Rather than just write about how funny Baxter Black was, I am going to share some excerpts from “A Commotion in Rhyme” by Baxter Black. It’s one of the books we have in the library- a combination of poems and commentary, one section I liked was

Cowboy Curses:

  • “May you cough at the wrong time in the sale barn and buy 26 head of broken mouth Shetlands…
  • May the choreboy use your good rope to stake the milk cow out in the bar ditch
  • May your only good dog get caught in the neighbor’s hen house…
  • May you notice your missing wedding ring as you put the last scoop of wheat in the elevator”

Here are some book titles Black suggested “one might find on the Barns & Stable Bestseller List”:

  • “Herefords are from Venus- Angus are from Mars:
  • “Chicken Soup for the Freshly Weaned Ruminant’s Soul”
  • “The Joy of Artificial Insemination” 
  • “The Sheep Whisperer”
  • “A Power Line Runs Through It” 
  • “Feedlots of Madison County”

Finally, some Public Signs Black proposed.

  • “HOME COOKING: Today’s special: leftovers, microwaved to perfection just like you get at home
  • No Hunting or Trespassing: Violators will be shot, ground into chorizo and fed to the barn cats.
  • EASY MONEY PAWN SHOP! We lend cash on anything of value! All we require is proper identification and a member of your family as collateral.”

I heard Black called the Will Rogers of our time, and that seems like a fair assessment. He did a good job of explaining agriculture to folks who have no experience in the field- and also to those who do have ag experience. Through this mission he managed to entertain everyone. 

If you would like to take a trip down memory lane, or if you are discovering Black’s works for the first time, you can find several items by Black in the Gering Library, including books and DVDs. If you would like to read or listen to something we don’t have, just ask. I can track it down on Interlibrary loan for you.

Jonis Agee

Have you read “The Bones of Paradise” by Jonis Agee? What did you think of it? Every year Nebraskans are encouraged to read a specific book to facilitate a common topic of discussion. We are fortunate enough to have this year’s author visit the Lied Scottsbluff Public Library August 25 at 1:30 p.m. to share in our community discussion. Everyone is welcome to come listen to Agee speak.

Jonis Agee’s book “The Bones of Paradise” was chosen as the 2022 One Book One Nebraska selection. Agee is the Adele Hall Chair of English at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and has written several books. Her works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry and short stories. Agee received the Nebraska Book Award twice and authored three different titles honored as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

“The Bones of Paradise” begins with two murders which don’t seem to be connected. As the story continues, it moves in and out of the present day at the family’s ranch in the 1900s through recent history at 1890 Wounded Knee. It also delves into some of the characters’ pasts. The main characters in “The Bones of Paradise” are complex and sometimes make choices that readers may find confounding. 

The timeline moves through various characters and a number of storylines. This style of writing is necessary to reveal the backstory so the reader can fully understand the current events. The characters include ranchers and ranch hands as well as some Lakota folks. The plot hinges on how they all came to be in the story.

Agee teaches creative writing, and it comes through in her books. Her writing is descriptive and more literary than plot-driven, “She stooped to pick a wild pink rose, avoiding the tiny spines that slivered like unseen glass hairs onto one’s fingers. There was little scent, but the creamy softness of the petals like the insides of a dog’s ear more than made up for it. She placed one on her tongue, and imagined she could taste the hills, the bittersweet tang of life.” 

Agee’s specialties are lyrical description and a firm sense of place. This book takes place in the sandhills, somewhere south of Valentine, Nebraska. She has a knack for vivid description. “To the right was a vast blue lake, the surrounding marsh alive with birds feeding and mating. The air bore the moist scent of water, so blue it put the distant white-blue sky to shame. She shaded her eyes to stare at the lake where pelicans floated peacefully. Nearby a pair of  swans stretched their long necks searching the waters for food, and farther on, ducks dove and flapped, green necks glistening in the sun.” 

At the heart of this lyrical book is a mystery, but western fans might enjoy it as well. If you like a book that keeps you turning pages, this one might not be for you. “The Bones of Paradise” by Jonis Agee  would not pass the grandma test, due to some coarse language. Agee has written a number of books. We have four novels and a collection of short stories on the fiction shelf at the Gering Public Library.

Tosca Lee

When we got ready to shut the library down at the end of March 2020, I went to the shelves and picked out a couple of armloads of books to take home. Some were for me and some were for my kids. Among those I chose for myself were “The Line Between” and “A Single Light”, a duo of books  by Tosca Lee. 

I knew she was from Nebraska, and I had read the inside cover of “The Line Between” and discovered part of it took place in western Nebraska. That is all I remembered. I started reading and it was surreal. The world was shut down, people were getting sick from a new disease and nobody knew what the future held. 

Lee’s pandemic was decidedly more violent than Coronavirus. I would get so lost in the book when I closed it, I would have to take a moment to adjust my brain and remember that I was reading about a different world than the one I was living in. I enjoy reading books about Nebraska by people who are familiar with our state. Lee described Nebraska well.

When I finished both of those books, I explored another series by Lee available on Libby, The House of Bathory which took place in eastern Europe. She wrote “The Legend of Sheba” and “Iscariot.” Lee also collaborated with Ted Dekker on several books. In all, she’s written eleven books and has been on the New York Times bestseller list. Tosca Lee holds several book honors including the Nebraska Book Award and being named a Goodreads Choice semifinalist.

Lee is a Christian author, but she doesn’t write romance. Her books are adventures, borrowing heavily from the good versus evil model. Her main characters are often running and in fear of their lives in the first pages of the book.

The Western Library System in Nebraska is bringing Tosca Lee to our area. You can meet her in Alliance, Sidney and Ogallala in October. The Western Library System covers a large area and these three locations are more centrally located than the twin cities. Lee will appear at the Sidney High School Auditorium October 11, the Kathleen Lute Public Library in Ogallala October 12, and the Alliance Public Library October 13. All events offer an author meet and greet at 6:00 p.m. The actual events begin at 6:30. Contact the Lied Scottsbluff Library, or the Gering Public Library for more information. 

The Gering Library has five different Tosca Lee books. Is your book club interested in reading “The Line Between” or “A Single Light” either before or after the author comes to the area? The Gering Library can help you find enough copies for your club to read. 

Tosca Lee’s visit is supported in part with funding from the State of Nebraska and from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Technology Act and the Nebraska Library Commission.

Instead of cleaning my house or doing something else useful during the month I spent at home, I read a large number of books. To be honest, it was an embarrassing number of books. I am glad I read “The Line Between” and “A Single Light” at that time, because they gave me an unforgettable experience.