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DH: I’ve just let Laura Bell’s memoir of her nearly 30 years in the West reluctantly out of my hands. Claiming Ground has been published by Knopf, edited by Gary Fisketjon, whose master’s touch is glowing in quiet understatement on every page.

What I can imagine about the West from my pocket suburb on the East Coast had been nurtured by three writers: Jim LynchRon Carlson and Jonathan Evison. JE’s friendships know no geographical barriers. I’ve been fortunate enough to interview all of them on Three Guys.

But somehow it was Laura Bell who gave me the West in my mind’s eye. We first meet her as a Wyoming sheepherder in the late 70’s. It’s an isolating life…isolating by design. There’s a tension about Laura that you have to figure out for yourself. It’s a swing in temperament between a strongly felt independence and a savage isolationism. One sheepherder’s social highlight for the year is going to the dentist.

Laura’s even-tempered prose got to me in a slow learning curve. As a reader, I’m not sure how much of her descriptive artistry I’m picking up in all the talk about trails, mountains and valleys. This is a world where your dogs or your horse become people for you because you don’t see anyone else for a week.

And it’s a world where part of your job is to notice when a cow looks confused and is in trouble. This is totally exotic for me, for most city types.

But when she described something that I could relate more directly to, I realized what a sterling silver wordsmith Laura Bell was. There’s a late night scene when Laura’s in bed with her boyfriend. In warm summer, the night breeze sucks the curtain into the screen window. It’s the writer’s genius for the right detail at the right time, whether that’s on the trail or in a bedroom with your lover.

Claiming Ground, perfectly titled to express the beating heart of this memoir, is tripartite  in construction. In the second part, we have moved on to the 80’s with Laura trying to re-establish connections beyond her wilderness world of sheep, dogs and socially misfit range hands. The results are quite rocky. Will her isolating, anti-social side win out? The third part of the story will show you if a humane resolution is possible, if Laura can find a way to be herself.

There’s a great portrait of a librarian in this book who visits ten counties in turn, re-distributing books in small town libraries, making sure that everyone has a chance to appreciate what literature has to offer through an exchange of books that’s also an exchange of friendship.

Reminds me of JE and his exchanges of books among friends. He is always encouraging exchanges of books and friendships as if they were the same thing. Maybe this is a Western thing and on the East Coast we just buy our own.

In Laura Bell’s  sheepherders trailer, there’s a packed bookshelf rigged above her bed. Books are precious in this world. Laura and her friends read them aloud to each other. I’m asking Laura Bell for a guest post in our WWFFIN series about the books that writers love…now that the West has a new essential memoir to put on that shelf.

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3G1B is the collaboration of four friends and colleagues in the book business. Together, they review books and stories, interview authors, and maintain an ongoing conversation about publishing, bookselling, writing, pr, and nearly anything else.

JONATHAN EVISON is the author of All About Lulu and West of Here and TNB's Executive Editor. He likes rabbits. He also likes being the ambiguous fourth guy in the “Three Guys” triumvirate. He is the founder of the secret society, The Fiction Files (if he told, he’d have to kill you). He has a website, but it’s old. Just google him.

DENNIS HARITOU has bought books for Barnes and Noble for seven years, for warehouse clubs for five, and has led a book club. He is currently Director of Merchandise at Bookazine.

JASON CHAMBERS has been in the book business for over fifteen years, including tenures as General Manager/Buyer at Book Peddlers in Athens, GA, and seven years as a Buyer and Merchandise Manager at Bookazine. He now works as an bookstore consultant and occasional web designer.

JASON RICE has worked in the book business for ten years at Random House in sales and marketing and Barnes & Noble as a community relations manager. Currently he is an Assistant Sales Manager and Buyer at Bookazine. His fiction has appeared in several literary magazines online and in print. He was once the pseudonymous book reviewer Frank Bascombe for Ain’t It Cool News. He’s taught photography to American students in the South of France, worked as a bicycle messenger in New York City, and for a long time worked very hard in the film & television business in NYC. Production experience includes the television shows Pete & Pete, Can We Shop ( Joan Rivers' old shopping show), and the films The Pallbearer, Flirting With Disaster, and countless commercials---even a Christina Applegate movie that went straight to video.

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