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Bookworm: ‘Tombstone’ for the history buff or fan of the Old West

And for right now, ‘Good Boy’ is good to order

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
"Tombstone: The Earp Brothers, Doc Holliday, and the Vendetta Ride from Hell" author Tom Clavin.

“Tombstone: The Earp Brothers, Doc Holliday, and the Vendetta Ride from Hell”

  • By Tom Clavin
  • c. 2020, St. Martin's Press
  • $29.99, $39.99 Canada; 400 pages

You're not even positive where they are anymore. That box of pictures is surely in storage, but nobody's looked at them in ages; you meant to scrapbook those childhood photos and pics of your sibs but you never quite got to it. In a century, will someone even want them? Unlike the brothers in "Tombstone" by Tom Clavin, nobody's made movies about you.

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Wyatt Earp had not been looking for a long-term place to live. Once, he thought he had that sewn up, but then his young wife and their baby died and by 1876, he'd forgotten about family life and was just looking for a job with a salary. He'd been kicking around out West and had met his best friend, Doc Holliday, while on the job as a bounty hunter but Earp was ready to move on and up. When Dodge City officials called on his peacekeeping expertise, he leaped.

"Tombstone: The Earp Brothers, Doc Holliday, and the Vendetta Ride from Hell" by Tom Clavin.

Somewhere in him, though, he had wanderlust. He wasn't in Dodge City long before he left, a little bit disgusted by the town's politics. He'd heard that the place to be was a new town in lower Arizona, so Earp headed to Tombstone, along with some of his brothers and their womenfolk and "wives."

That, as it turned out, was good for Doc Holliday, too.

For much of his adult life, Holliday had suffered from consumption (tuberculosis) and was quite frail by the young age of 27. By the fall of 1881, however, Tombstone gave him a fresh lease on life; he'd even harked back to an earlier career as a dentist by taking on clients.

While it was true that Tombstone had a wild reputation, that fall, it appeared things were settling down. Earp's brother, Virgil, was the town's Marshal, and Wyatt and Morgan Earp helped keep the peace when needed.

Virgil was no fan of Holliday, but he put up with him for Wyatt's sake. What Virgil couldn't abide, though, were the cowboys who came to Tombstone to rabble-rouse. The Clanton Brothers, and the McLaury's, for instance. They were real trouble...

If it seems as though you've heard most of this before, well, yeah, you probably have. Or, much of it, anyhow, but not all. There's a lot of backstory to what happened at the OK Corral, and "Tombstone" sets it up.

Here, you get more than the usual history as author Tom Clavin often turns his focus on the people who surrounded the Earps in Arizona, giving readers a keener you-are-there feeling and counterbalancing everything Hollywood's ever said. That gives this almost-140-year-old story a fresh perspective, as if you're seeing everything from a saloon rooftop, from the back yard of a brothel, or from next to a water trough. It helps that Clavin's style is light and easy to enjoy.

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Be aware that there are a lot of individuals in this story, most of whom demand attention but you won't mind giving it if you're a history buff or fan of the Old West. For you, then, "Tombstone" is picture-perfect.

“Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs, A Memoir” author Jennifer Finney Boylan.

“Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs, A Memoir”

  • By Jennifer Finney Boylan
  • c. 2020, Celadon Books
  • $26.99, $36.50 Canada; 272 pages

Can you name them in chronological order? The first one might be hard: you were small when you loved that dog. Later ones recall easier and, naturally, you remember the first pup that was all yours. Think: the names come one after another because there was always a dog and in "Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs" by Jennifer Finney Boylan, there was always love.

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Like any other history, your life can be separated into "B.C." and "A.D." That's before canine and after dog or, as Boylan says, "My days have been numbered in dogs."

For her, before James Boylan became Jennifer, there was a dalmatian named Playboy, a "troublesome hoodlum" and escape artist who seemed mostly to ignore Boylan. Playboy showed that it's possible to love someone, despite their faults.

“Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs, A Memoir” by Jennifer Finney Boylan.

On James's eleventh birthday, Penny entered the family. She was also a dalmatian, and an overeater who grew sausage-like, drooly, and messy, but Boylan adored that chubby dog until childhood things were put aside, and Penny resignedly went with them.

There was Matt the Mutt, an out-of-control mongrel who taught Boylan that "sometimes the happiest people are the ones that cause the most pain to everyone around them." An "adorable brown fluff ball" named Brown showed that scars can be healed "if you know love."

Alex was not Boylan's dog at first, and he almost never was; the Gordon Setter's heart had always belonged to Boylan's best friend, Zero – although Alex was there when Boylan fell in love, and again when James Boylan revealed that he was transitioning to fully be Jenny. Then there was Lucy, who disliked everyone; and Ranger, the last "family" dog.

"When I was young," says Boylan, "I was haunted by the person I imagined I could never be." The surprise was that the boy and the man she was "still live within my heart, along with every last dog that ever helped them on their way."

Not to quibble, but "Good Boy" is not just about a good boy.

It's also about a couple of bad boys, a few good girls, a host of hilarious family stories, and author Jennifer Finney Boylan's life, told without any dark corners of insincerity. So it's not about a single "Good Boy." S'okay, we're good.

You won't even mind that you sometimes forget dogs are supposed to be the reason for this book but that they're hijacked by Boylan's most delightful memories, many of which are so evocative and universal, they feel as though they were pulled out of some kind of Late Baby Boomer Handbook. You might not even notice that dogs are just half this book, the other half being a funny, awkward hike toward insight, love, and love of.

This is the sort of book that you want to last just a few more pages. It's trite to say that you'll laugh, you'll cry – but you will. It's one to read with a furry baby lying on your feet. For right now, "Good Boy" is good to order.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.