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Literature

11 Jul 2016
It’s hard to believe that more than 25 years have passed since Western writer and fierce conservationist Edward Abbey died, on March 14, 1989. Several recent books take a clear look at his legacy, and though all three emphasize the continued relevance of Abbey’s environmental ideas, none of them shy away from acknowledging his difficult views on other topics—particularly women and minorities. All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West, by essayist David Gessner, is an effective combination of travelogue, biography and memoir. The author examines the work of these two influential writers in an attempt to imagine what they might have to say to Westerners today, when fracking, fire and climate change increasingly pose risks to the landscapes they loved. Gessner drives from his own home in North Carolina to places that were formative to both authors’ lives—from Home, Penn., where Abbey was raised,…
29 Jun 2016
“A helluva place to lose a cow,” Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce allegedly quipped about the Southern Utah scarp of hoodoos that still bears his name. Well beyond cattle, smart people with maps and survival gear have vanished into the folds of the Colorado Plateau’s convoluted topography. Dreamers and adventurers have long been drawn to the region, for various reasons. Spanish explorer Garcia López de Cárdenas first peered into the Grand Canyon while chasing the Seven Cities of Gold; early trappers like Antoine Robidoux sought wealth of the furry kind; and Brigham Young spied his God’s Promised Land. In 1869, John Wesley Powell came through, but three crew members left before the expedition’s end, only to be killed by Mormons, or perhaps Paiutes—nobody knows for sure. To this day, spellbound wanderers seek out these canyons; some never leave, ultimately adding their bones to those already enriching the barren ground. Among the…
09 Jun 2016
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“Wesley is one of those Montana men whose mouths hardly move when they speak, for whom words are precious things they are loath to give up,” writes first-time novelist S.M. Hulse in Black River, a story haunted by loss and violence in a dead-end prison town. Although the narrative begins from the perspective of Claire, Wes’ wife, at a hospital in Spokane, it quickly shifts: Claire is dying of leukemia. Her last wish is to return to her chosen home in Black River, Mont., where her son still lives. It’s a landscape Hulse describes in gorgeous detail: “The foothills rose abruptly here, as though the earth had suddenly run aground of something much stronger and sturdier and been left with nowhere to go but skyward. Old logging roads crossed the bare slopes like neat surgical scars.” But Wes, a retired corrections officer, returns without his wife, hoping to reconcile with…
02 Jun 2016
Photographs in the new book To See Them Run offer a glimpse into the Great Plains culture around coyote coursing—a sport that involves athletic hounds trained to run down coyotes. The book, along with images by Scott Squire, includes vignettes of the collection’s main characters by writer Eric Eliason. The sport, writes Eliason, is “an uncommercialized and never-before-studied vernacular tradition.” Although coyote hunting is widespread across the country, coursing, a subset of hunting, is relatively uncommon. Many states allow coursing and offer bounties—in Utah, it’s $50—for each coyote carcass. Coyote-hunting contests are held in several Western states, including New Mexico, Idaho and Montana. In 2014, California became the first state to ban coyote-killing contests, which sometimes includes coursing. Opponents of coursing say the practice perpetuates unnecessary cruelty and wildlife abuse and isn’t effective in population control. Yet proponents of the sport say it helps tamp down coyote populations and protect…
19 May 2016
Some environmentalists and scientists have begun calling our current epoch the “Anthropocene”—to acknowledge the massive changes humans have induced in global ecosystems. But biologist and author Edward O. Wilson has proposed an alternative name: “Eremocene,” or the “Age of Loneliness,” a name that alludes to the fact that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, one for which humans are primarily responsible. The impending loss of so many of our fellow creatures means that humanity faces what can best be described as a kind of “species loneliness.” Regardless of what we call this new epoch, there are witnesses emerging—writers attuned to their environment—who are keenly aware of the implications of species loss, and who vow to document past beings and savor the life that remains. In Giant Sloths and Sabertooth Cats: Extinct Mammals and the Archaeology of the Ice Age Great Basin, zooarchaeologist Donald Grayson surveys North…
11 May 2016
Don’t be fooled by the length of Robert Garner McBrearty’s debut novella—at a mere 132 pages, The Western Lonesome Society includes enough intrigue to fill books twice its size. Characters battle mental illness, kidnappings and Comanches to find their way home after wandering across the wild and lonely American Southwest. Full of lost souls, this absurdist Western thriller (perhaps the only one of its kind) is a trip through the human subconscious, alternating between three increasingly peculiar storylines. Anchoring it all is Jim O’Brien, a professor obsessed with committing his family history to paper. Two of his ancestors were abducted by Native Americans during a raid on their Texas cabin in 1870; Jim finds connection in the fact that he was also kidnapped as a child. All the characters, especially Jim, grope for purpose. But the professor’s vapid journal entries—“Spent night at Mesa Verde … Saw big wild turkey. Had…
19 Apr 2016
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“My god that you could walk through such a landscape. My god that such a landscape existed anywhere but in your dreams. And yet here it was.” California-based novelist Christian Kiefer creates a gorgeous, desolate tableau in which his characters are bewitched by natural beauty, even as they’re betrayed by human actions—especially their own. Wildlife-rescuer Bill Reed and his unofficial Idaho sanctuary are in peril as The Animals begins, when the district game warden threatens to close the place down, citing federal environmental rules and regulations. Meanwhile, Bill’s nightmarish past catches up with him when Rick, who was once his closest friend, is released from a long stretch in prison. The two were inseparable during their bleak childhoods in Battle Mountain, Nev., enduring family tragedies and alcoholic parents. Together, they later escaped to Reno, only to get lost in dead-end jobs, drugs and trouble with the law. Now Rick has…
05 Apr 2016
The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories is the first collection of short fiction from Denver-based writer Manuel Ramos, often called the “Godfather of Chicano Noir.” The stories’ settings range from El Paso to rural Colorado and the megalopolis of Los Angeles, and from the Mexican Revolution to the 1950s and the present. The mostly Chicano characters include lawyers, veterans and a prostitute, with a guest appearance by Jack Kerouac. Written between 1986 and 2014, the stories reflect the stylistic development of Ramos, author of the Edgar Award-nominatedThe Ballad of Rocky Ruiz, among other acclaimed crime novels. Standouts include the eponymous “The Skull of Pancho Villa,” in which the skull, nicknamed “Panchito,” that supposedly belonged to the “Robin Hood of Mexico,” is stolen in an act of revenge. In “Bad Haircut Day,” an ambitious but heretofore ethical Denver attorney finds himself covering up a murder. A wheelchair-bound former baseball…
23 Mar 2016
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Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town is not intended for readers with delicate sensibilities. Jon Krakauer’s newest book investigates, in great detail, several rapes perpetrated between 2008 and 2012 by members of the University of Montana. In Missoula, the “Griz” are hometown heroes—and those who cast aspersions on the celebrated players’ reputations had better be prepared to face the consequences. The rapists and their victims receive equal treatment here, along with prosecutors and defense attorneys, judges and detectives. Krakauer allows all of them to speak for themselves; no one emerges untainted. The “justice” in Krakauer’s title remains elusive at best and is tarnished throughout, due to clumsy cops, politicized prosecutors and a widespread lack of empathy for the few women willing to confront their attackers—always a minority among rape victims. Rape, says one prosecutor, “is the only crime in which the victim is presumed to be…
15 Mar 2016
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In my hometown of Mentor, Ohio, it seemed like everyone around town knew Joe Biel. He was a few years older than me, and was known for selling “zines” at punk shows in Cleveland. Those zines eventually led to Biel starting Microcosm Publishing—an independent publishing and distribution company—in 1996; in 1999, Biel relocated to Portland, Ore. On the 20th anniversary of his company, Biel has now released a book that’s quite personal—Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life and Business with Asperger’s. During a recent phone interview from Portland, Biel discussed his upbringing in Ohio, and his discovery of punk rock. “My family life was pretty bad as a kid. My dad was disabled, and my mom was really violent,” Biel said. “Between those things, when I found punk rock around 1992, it helped me find a moral compass and find a more productive use of my energy and my time.…

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