This is a self-interested thread and so I’m opening it to all Land Desk readers (not just you paying folks) to get a bigger response. Basically, I’m looking for some book recommendations. But I’m also interested in knowing what folks are reading during these odd times. Bonus points for newer works relating to the Western U.S.
So, let’s hear it: 1. What book is sitting on your bedside table? 2. And what are some of your favorite Western U.S.-related works of fiction, non-fiction, and/or poetry?
To kick things off, I’ll start:
On my bedside table: I just started Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Yes, just started—for the first, not the third or fourth time. I know, I know. I’m afraid I’ve been remiss in my Didion reading in the past and now, well, I’m trying to catch up, and find myself dazzled by her sense of place—or placelessness—that is Southern California, as in this line: “… for time past is not believed to have any bearing upon time present or future, out in the golden land where every day the world is born anew.”
Also: John D. Leshy’s upcoming Our Common Ground: A History of America’s Public Lands. I’ll review it in an upcoming Dispatch.
As for other faves? There are so many! I’m hoping readers will clue us into newer works and younger writers. So I’ll just list a few of my favorite standards:
Chuck Bowden. Bowden’s best known, perhaps, for his writing on the narco wars along the U.S.-Mexico border, which is powerful and terrifying, but I prefer his writing about the Southwest desert ecology and communities, which can be dark, but also beautiful and accurate. As an editor at High Country News I had the honor to edit Bowden’s 2010 feature on the Drug War. Our conversations invariably drifted away from textual matters toward culinary ones, like how best to cook risotto and how Marcella Hazan once urged Bowden to handle a gnocci as if it were Marilyn Monroe’s breast. He submitted this essay to HCN just before he died in 2014. I recommend Killing the Hidden Waters, Blood Orchid, Red Line, and Blue Desert.
And in a totally different tune, One Man’s West, by David Lavender. Lavender captures a moment of great change as he chronicles his experiences in western Colorado and eastern Utah mining and ranching regions between the 1930s and 1950s. It includes some wonderful descriptions of what is now Bears Ears National Monument. • As a young dude I was blown away by Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony. Then I read Storyteller and I was like, That’s it!
Lydia Millet isn’t typically considered a “Western” writer. But she is: she lives in Tucson and writes about the Southwest. Her novels and short stories are masterful and insightful. Start with the surreal Oh Pure and Radiant Heart.
Raymond Carver, considered one of the best American short story writers, was born in Oregon and wrote about the West. Try Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories.
Simon J. Ortiz!
I have a copy of Richard Shelton’s Selected Poems 1969-1981 that I picked up at Bookman’s in Tucson in the late 1980s. I treasure it and return to the poems, most of which are centered in the Sonoran Desert, over and over again.
And, finally, perhaps the most comprehensive history of any community, anywhere: Allen Nossaman’s Many More Mountains. Nossaman’s three volume tome on Silverton, Colorado’s, early years is encyclopedic and meticulously researched, but it’s also a compelling read.
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