Sunday, June 24, 2007

Books, books, books

Lots of newish Donner Party books out there or on the way.

First, I recently acquired Green Light (2000), by Patrick Breen. (No, not that Patrick Breen!) It's a horror story about a teenager named Patrick Breen who goes to a creepy summer camp in the Sierra Nevada and... well, let's just say there's a reason why it was published by a vanity press. Although it's not as awful as one might expect, I wouldn't recommend it to anybody but a diehard Donner Party fanatic.

There's another vanity press novel with a young Donner Party descendant for a protagonist, Itchy Donner (2007) by Doug Lambeth. Eleven-year-old Itchy has a rash, hence his nickname, and is obsessed with his pioneer ancestry. It's not Pulitzer Prize material, but not too bad, either. I should mention that even though the book is about a child, it's not a children's book. Available at for download in PDF or as a print-on-demand paperback.

Next year Oxford University Press will be publishing Ethan Rarick's Desperate Journey, the first credible attempt at a Donner Party narrative history since George R. Stewart's Ordeal by Hunger. (No, I'm not badmouthing my own book. Unfortunate Emigrants isn't a narrative history but an anthology of primary sources.) Unfortunately, Ethan doesn't seem to have much sympathy for the Donner Party and has also ta'en a scunner at James F. Reed. Granted, Reed was hard for some people to deal with and he certainly had his faults, but he had a lot of good qualities as well. Sigh. And I'd so hoped that we could get away from the namecalling that's poisoned so much Donner Party writing since Winter of Entrapment came out in 1992... We'll see what the finished result is like.

One book I'm really looking forward to is Daniel James Brown's work focusing on the Graves family and Sarah Graves Fosdick. Dan has a contract with HarperCollins; no anticipated publication date that I know of, but he's done a lot of great research and it will be very interesting to see what he does with it.


Anonymous said...

Dear Kristin,

thanks for this fascinating Blog and your very interesting Website (too bad it's not updated anymore). I've browsed through this blog, but I could not find a review of Rarick's Desperate Passage. Have you read the book and would you recommend it? I understand you've had some points of criticism, but overall, did the book provide a reliable account of the Donner Party? Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Kristin Johnson said...

Greetings. Yes, actually, I reviewed Desperate Passage in Overland Journal, the quarterly of the Oregon-California Trails Association, back about 2009. Ethan's book is quite good; however, I think he's overly critical of the Donner Party in general and James Reed in particular, but you might not see it that way. Certainly it's the most up-to-date narrative history of the Donner Party available (I also like Daniel James Brown's Indifferent Stars Above) and yes, I'd recommend it. Let me know what you think!