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Literature

10 Nov 2016
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It’s been 30 years since Marc Reisner’s landmark history of Western water, Cadillac Desert, was first published. The book’s dire tone set the pattern for much subsequent water writing. Longtime Albuquerque Journal reporter John Fleck calls it the “narrative of crisis”—an apocalyptic storyline about the West perpetually teetering on the brink of running dry. When the book’s second edition was released in 1993, on the heels of a particularly dry string of years in California, Reisner saw fit to characterize the drought as a “punishment meted out to an impudent culture by an indignant God.” Thanks to books like Cadillac Desert, Fleck writes, “I grew up with the expectation of catastrophe.” Yet in his own reporting, Fleck, who recently became director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, discovered a very different story. “Far from the punishment of an indignant God,” he writes, “I found instead a remarkable…
13 Sep 2016
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It’s clear that many pop-culture fanatics like for the legacies of their heroes to be scrubbed and romanticized. For proof, you needn’t look much further than most biopics and TV shows about the entertainment business, in which character flaws may occasionally factor in, but are typically eclipsed by brilliance. Cultural consumers of this revisionist mind who wish to learn about the rise of California rap should view Straight Outta Compton, the candy-coated 2015 big-screen dramatization of the saga behind N.W.A., hip-hop’s first explosive Los Angeles export. However, those who crave the dirty details—no matter how horrendous, despite how some characterizations may impact one’s feelings for beloved classics—will prefer to digest Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap. Authored and intensely researched by former LA Weekly music editor Ben Westhoff, the volume is as eloquently written as it…
23 Aug 2016
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On March 26, 2016, Jim Harrison died at his home in Patagonia, Ariz., a final poem left unfinished on his desk. Some writers leave too soon; others, like Harrison, depart when they’re good and ready. He had lived hard, first in Michigan and later in Montana, where his prodigious appetites combined with his love of hunting and fishing to create a persona both urbane and rugged—a sort of backwoods bon vivant. His face, rough-hewn and canny, was that of a man who had lived several lifetimes. “He was active and creative to the end, but it was time to go: No one was less-suited to assisted living,” his friend, the novelist Thomas McGuane, wrote in The New Yorker. Although Harrison’s oeuvre encompassed screenplays, poetry, essays and food reviews—including an ode to a 37-course French lunch—he’s most renowned for his novellas. Harrison has been synonymous with the form since his 1979…
11 Aug 2016
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In a time of questionable candidates and flame wars galore, Alexander Zaitchik has a new book that displays the disarray. A longform Jedi with roots in the alternative press, the author last surfaced between periodical pieces with Common Nonsense, a graphic look at “Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance” in the Tea Party era. So it’s fitting that his second major project has been released in the middle of such comparable political hysteria. For those lamenting an apparent widening attention deficit in modern journalism, Zaitchik’s detailed work should come as an informed relief. His latest, The Gilded Rage: A Wild Ride Through Donald Trump’s America, is a hearty bone for long-readers, on either side of the divide, who feel reporters have neglected to communicate the larger stories underpinning Donald Nation domination. Though his dispatches arrive amidst a dizzying daily variety of Trump coverage, Zaitchik writes clear of the hype…
03 Aug 2016
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The Mexican-American border has inspired its own literary genre, unleashing a flood of poetry, reportage, nature writing, crime fiction, novels, essays and even coffee-table photo books. Together, words and pictures paint a sharp portrait of a landscape caught between delicate light and terrifying darkness. Two recent books bring unique perspectives to this invisible slash across cultures, and to the dreams of the people who yearn to be on the other side of it. Jason de León’s The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail is a disturbing book about an immense human tragedy. But somehow, it’s the pigs I can’t get out of my head—not just the pigs, actually, but the horrible reality of what they represent. De León buys a pig and hires someone to kill it. Shot in the head, the animal struggles mightily as the author rubs its belly, mumbling, “It’s OK. It’s…
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…

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