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Literature

13 Jul 2017
If a city’s planners are savvy, they’ll adapt to the ebb and flow of natural resources with entrepreneurial vision. When the logging industry collapsed in Oakridge, Ore., the town reinvented itself as a haven for mountain bikers. Downtown Tacoma, Wash.—once shattered by depression and crime—now revolves around the Museum of Glass made famous by artist Dale Chihuly, who was born in the city. Monterey, Calif., represents one of the most successful examples of the resuscitation of a struggling city. The rough-and-tumble fish-processing town made famous by John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel Cannery Row is all but unrecognizable today as a glitzy tourist destination—a transformation that Lindsay Hatton explores in her debut novel, Monterey Bay. In a story that begins in 1940 and concludes in 1998, she chronicles the process of gentrification and its various losses and gains, both economic and social. Her aged protagonist, Margot Fiske, looks back on the Cannery…
06 Jun 2017
First things first: Coyote. When you read the word, how many syllables do you hear? Your answer, according to Dan Flores, author of Coyote America, may be “immediately diagnostic of a whole range of belief systems and values.” The ki-YOH-tee versus ki-yote divide is one of the best indicators of a person’s coyote politics, a nearly hard-and-fast way that we subconsciously identify ourselves: as defenders of the species in the case of the former, or as a manager, shooter and/or trapper in the latter. In Coyote America, Flores occasionally assumes the mantle of the coyote’s head of public relations, demonstrating how the species, once “dead last in public appeal — behind rattlesnakes, skunks, vultures, rats, and cockroaches,” overcame its stigma as a “varmint” to become a darling among the very people who most infrequently encounter it—modern-day urbanites. More often, though, Flores is content to serve as a guide to the…
10 May 2017
Dozens of nonfiction books have delved into the history of nuclear facilities in the West and the Manhattan Project, detailing the Department of War’s secret acquisition of land in Los Alamos, the rapid emigration of eminent scientists, and their feverish work to build the atomic bomb. But when it comes to the human drama behind the science, several writers have turned to fiction, and women’s perspectives, to tell the story. TaraShea Nesbit’s poised 2014 novel The Wives of Los Alamos delivers the details of life in the top-secret town through the incantatory collective first-person voice of the scientists’ wives. In Nora Gallagher’s elegant 2007 novel Changing Light, set in 1945 Los Alamos, a female painter befriends a scientist injured in a radiation accident who can’t disclose any details of his work. Now, Elizabeth J. Church’s debut novel, The Atomic Weight of Love, draws on her personal history to spin a…
13 Apr 2017
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For Mark Sundeen, the search began with a guilty meat snack. After two decades of bumming around the country—first as a outdoorsman stringing together jobs in the rural West, and later as a city-bound freelancer and “money-lung … whose sole purpose was to inhale dollars, transform them into pleasure, then exhale a stream of carbon into the air, feces into the sewer, and plastic containers into the landfill”—Sundeen settled in Missoula, Mont., seeking a simpler existence. He got engaged to a woman with similar values, bike-commuted 14 miles daily, lived on garden feasts that took hours to concoct, and left the sink cluttered with wholesome dirt clods. In a world where human appetites obliterate entire ecosystems, Sundeen recognized that what we choose to consume has moral implications. But one night while grocery shopping, faced with the $6.50 price tag on organic butter, he broke—and headed instead for the much-cheaper stuff…
09 Mar 2017
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“The grass is dry and golden, waves scour the headlands, and the sea churns around me …” When Teow Lim Goh first walked through the old immigration barracks on Angel Island, in San Francisco Bay, she was waiting to learn her U.S. immigration status. It was 2010, and Goh, a poet, had received a coveted H-1B visa, which allowed her to stay and work in the U.S. She had emigrated from Singapore, attended college in Michigan, and had been put into a lottery system for the visa. While her circumstances were much different than those of the Chinese immigrants who passed through Angel Island from 1910 to 1940, as she walked the island’s paths and looked out over the same ocean vista, she felt that she shared their feelings of hope and uncertainty. From that visit came Goh’s first book, Islanders, a collection of fictional poems. Called the “Ellis Island…
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…

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