New Mexico


New Mexico Sunrise
Photo by Dave.Patrick used under a Creative Commons license.

Richard Bradford, Red Sky At Morning (Harper Perennial, 1999).
A coming-of-age story about teenaged Josh Arnold.  After his father enlists in the Navy during World War II, Josh and his mother move from Alabama to Sagrado, New Mexico — a fictionalized Santa Fe — for Josh’s senior year of high school.  The story is autobiographical in part; Bradford moved to Santa Fe when he was twelve. First published in 1968, and written with a lovely and dry sense of humor. Not to be confused with the 2004 book of the same title by James Gustave Speth.

Bradford passed away in 2002; here is The New York Times‘ obituary. Orrin says it’s one of the great coming-of-age tales and one of the funniest books in any genre. Bunny Terry reads it at least once a year because (among other things) it reminds her how much she loves New Mexico. New Mexico writer Michael McGarrity tells everyone who comes to Santa Fe that this is a book they need to read. Jay Miller says it captures the essence of Santa Fe. Karen Fayeth calls it a quintessential New Mexico read. Sarah Wolf calls it a beautifully rendered portrait of New Mexico and its people. Julie says it’s a well-written and engaging book. Dr. Angeline Theisen is a Red Sky At Morning missionary; she’s it’s a cure for malaise. Dinged Corners says it’s one of American literature’s most complex and engaging coming-of-age stories. Jeane Nevarez says it’s a good read. Patrick O’Hannigan calls it the most under-rated of great American novels. On the other hand, Bryan R. Terry hated it and still detests it. The publisher offers this reading guide. When you’re done with the book, you can watch the 1971 movie.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Gila National Forest Canyon
Photo of the Gila National Forest by Dolor Ipsum used under a Creative Commons license.

Sharman Apt Russell, Songs of the Fluteplayer (Bison Books, 2002).
Writing for Salon’s Literary Guide to the World about southern New Mexico, Philip Connors says that

for a vision of contemporary life in this part of the world, one could scarcely do better than to pick up Sharman Apt Russell’s “Songs of the Fluteplayer” (1991), a collection of personal essays that range from the clash between environmentalists and cattle ranchers to the moral quandaries involved in hiring illegal laborers. At its best, it explores human-imposed boundaries — say, between public land and private, or between America and Mexico — with clarity, grace and a subtlety that subverts simple-minded moralizing.

When she wrote the book, Russell taught writing at Western New Mexico University in Silver City, where she has been since 1981, and lived in the Mimbres Valley, also in the southwest part of the state. I haven’t read this one, but I enjoyed Russell’s Kill the Cowboy.

Here is Russell’s bio at WNMU. This brief bio links to several of her articles. Her Wikipedia entry isn’t much longer. Google Books lets you take a look. Janet Schoberg says it captures the charm and challenge of the American Southwest. Susan J. Tweit interviewed Russell for Story Circle Book Reviews.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Petroglyphs
Photo by buggs used under a Creative Commons license.

Kendrick Frazier, People of Chaco: A Canyon and its Culture (W.W. Norton & Co., 1988).
Chaco Canyon, in northwestern New Mexico, was the home to the Chacoan Anasazi, who built roads and multistory dwellings and then suddenly decamped, leaving us the ruins of their efforts. This is a thorough and readable account of the canyon’s ancient inhabitants and what archeologists have figured out about their lives. Since I read it, the book has been updated in a new edition.

Here is Frazier’s Wikipedia page. Here is Google Book Search. JSTOR has a review from the Journal of Anthropological Research if you have privileges (I don’t). Many sites about Chaco Canyon recommend the book, including some that follow. Here is the National Park Service’s Chaco Canyon site. Here is the text of a park brochure with a wealth of information. Christopher H. Sterling offers all sorts of good links; he calls this book the place to start. Minnesota State provides extensive information about Chaco Canyon. Mark Justice Hinton’s site has all sorts of interesting stuff, including a wealth of links, but some of them seem to have expired, including the one to a review of Frazier’s book.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Ranch House Cafe
Photo by toddross used under a Creative Commons license.

David Remley, Bell Ranch: Cattle Ranching in the Southwest, 1824 – 1947 (University of New Mexico Press, 1993).
An academic history of the Bell Ranch, whose operations ranged across three-quarters of a million acres – roughly twenty miles by thirty miles – in northeastern New Mexico, along the Canadian River just outside Tucumcari. Remley focuses on the ranch managers’ changing practices. Modern business practices were adopted at the end of the nineteenth century, when new owners bought the place from Wilson Waddingham. The story closes in 1947, when Bell Ranch was sold and broken up. Like a cattle drive, Bell Ranch can be dry and slow-going, less romantic than Westerns might lead you to believe. On the other hand, the Historical Society of New Mexico selected Bell Ranch in 1994 for the Gaspar Perez de Villagra award for “outstanding publication” in history.

If you have JSTOR access, Darlis A. Miller reviewed it in The American Historical Review. Here are links to book reviews by Remley. The University of New Mexico has Remley’s papers. Here is a list of further reading (.pdf) on the Bell Ranch. This ranchers’ discussion forum has a thread about the Bell Ranch, including the text of a 2005 article about its impeding sale.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Hoover Dam
Photo of the Hoover Dam by ubik14 used under a Creative Commons license.

Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert (Penguin, 1993).
The epic tale of water and the American West. Water is scarce throughout the West, and so its history is one of water rights, irrigation, dams, and lots and lots of politics. Two federal agencies – the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers – have battled for years to control the floodgates. Reisner’s research was comprehensive, and he recounts events over several decades and explains water projects in several states. If this subject matter sounds dry (pun intended) to you, rest assured that it isn’t. This book will change the way you understand half of the country, and should be required reading for anyone living in the Mountain or Pacific Time Zones.

Here is a bio of Reisner. Here is his obituary from The New York Times. Outside of term-paper sites, there is less discussion of it on the web than the book deserves, but here are Jerry Keeney, Faith, Marty, Ray Swider, and Branislav L. Slantchev. And Camron Assadi agrees that it’s a must-read.

Buy this book at Amazon.com.


Photo of a garlic farmer in Las Cruces (not Crawford) by lisacchamberlain used under a Creative Commons license.

Stanley Crawford, A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm (HarperPerennial, 1993).
Crawford has lived on El Bosque Farm in Dixon, in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains, for two decades or so. He and his wife Rose Mary grow garlic in this small town north of Santa Fe, about halfway between Taos and Espanola. This book follows the course of the four seasons of a single year, in the course of which there is plenty of time for Crawford to relate observations about local vultures and magpies, building with adobe bricks, irrigation and fertilizer, and how to harvest and sell garlic.

SpiceLines visited Crawford in Dixon; here is the first of his posts about it. Bee’s Wing read the book too. And in Organic Wine JournalJonathan Russo and Deborah Grayson say Crawford is an example of New Mexico counterculture growing.

Buy it at Amazon.com.