Montana Required Reading, Part I

A primer of classic Montana texts.

“If you want to know a country, read its writers.”Aminatta Forna

As a people, we’re quickly becoming a society of non-thinking know-it-alls, content to recite snappy headlines and defer to 140-character facts and figures. Gone is immersive education; anecdotal knowledge now carries the day. It’s high time for a return to depth—where depth is appropriate, of course—and what better place to start than our state’s storied literary canon? Delineated herein is the beginning of every Montanan’s required-reading list: novels, essays, articles, and non-fiction accounts, all representing a piece of Montana’s past or present. Read them, talk about them as you ascend a skin track or chairlift, then read and talk about them again. Nobody arrives independent of history—so bone up on these classic books and become a better Montanan. 

The Big Sky, by A.B. Guthrie, Jr. A classic, and really a must-read for any American, The Big Sky tells the story of the mountain men and fur traders whose real-life counterparts went by the names of Bridger, Bozeman, and Colter. Full of timeless themes such as conquest, love, and friendship, The Big Sky is just as relevant today as when it was first published.

Winter: Notes from Montana, by Rick Bass. The author’s real-life account of moving to Montana and finding a new home in the Yaak Valley reminds us not to take Montana for granted. Seeing the mountains, creeks, wildlife, and people again for the first time through his eyes will bring a knowing smile to your face, whether you were born here years ago or are a newcomer yourself.

Winter in the Blood, by James Welch. Welch’s first novel takes place in the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and is a perfect jumping-off point for anyone interested in exploring Welch’s work. Originally published in 1974, this contemporary classic follows a nameless protagonist through his struggles with self-identity and family tragedy.