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Literature

27 Sep 2014
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For 25 years, Peter Essick traveled the globe as a National Geographic photographer, and he was recently named one of the world’s 40 most-influential nature photographers. In 2010, Essick began “a potentially controversial” project in his native California: shooting in Ansel Adams’ Sierra Nevada—and in Adams’ signature black-and-white style. Paying homage to a master without imitating the work is a delicate balance to strike. Essick’s results, though, are stunning. In The Ansel Adams Wilderness, he captures groves of shimmering aspen trees and alpine lakes, whose calm surfaces perfectly mirror the granite formations and pine trees above. Quotes from Emerson, Thomas Cole and others, plus Essick’s own notes, round out the book. Essick, like Adams, conveys a deep respect for his subject matter. And he defends his use of digital technology: If Adams were working today, he says, “He would have a similar model” of the latest camera—although “his would probably…
16 Sep 2014
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In her deft debut novel, Colorado writer TaraShea Nesbit imagines the lives of the wives of the men who were stationed in New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, working on the Manhattan Project during World War II. Nesbit writes in the collective voices of the women, whose physicist husbands suddenly announced, “We are going to the desert,” without offering too many details. The women cannot even tell their relatives exactly where they are headed. “Our mothers understood,” Nesbit writes. “Our mothers had kept great secrets.” The collective narration gives the prose an incantatory rhythm that suits the story, once the reader becomes accustomed to the frequent contradictions within a sentence. For example: “We arrived in New Mexico and thought we had come to the end of the earth, or we thought we had come home.” Out of the threads of each woman’s experiences, a tapestry is woven, revealing a peculiar,…
05 Sep 2014
If it’s possible to paint in words alone—to create a wildly colorful story of grief in sentences layered like one of van Gogh’s swirling night scenes—Colorado author Peter Heller accomplishes it in his second novel, The Painter, narrated by artist Jim Stegner. A fly fisherman with a violent streak, Stegner is determined to overcome his tragic past, but he can’t seem to avoid causing more pain for himself and others. When Stegner moves from Taos, N.M., to an off-the-grid cabin tucked into the mountains near Paonia, Colo., he finally finds himself in a landscape he considers “a good place … to make a field of peace, to gather and breathe.” But not long after he’s settled in, his dark side resurfaces, and he kills a man in an unpremeditated act. Instead of spending his days as he had hoped—painting canvases and fly-fishing as the sun dips below the horizon—Stegner packs…
27 Aug 2014
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You’ve heard of The Horse Whisperer. Now, meet The Horse Lover, a cowboy on a mission to save wild mustangs—1,500 of them, all nickering and snorting at the Mustang Meadows Ranch in South Dakota. “When my brother told me he’d agreed to keep hundreds of wild mustangs on his ranch, I thought he’d temporarily lost his common sense,” writes former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the author’s sister, in the foreword to H. Alan Day’s memoir. The 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act dictated that thousands of mustangs on public land be rounded up, corralled and offered for adoption—something for which many of the animals proved utterly unsuitable. That gave Day the idea for his project: a refuge for wild horses. Already a cattle-rancher who owned and managed two ranches—totaling 250,000 acres, in two states—Day bought a third, a 35,000-acre property in South Dakota, just to provide…
15 Aug 2014
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After nearly two decades of literary silence, former mystery writer Bernard Schopen is back with Calamity Jane, a new novel that asks serious questions about the West. His protagonist, independent filmmaker Jane Harmon, returns triumphantly from Hollywood to Blue Lake, Nev., to showcase The Last Roundup, a documentary she’s made about the townspeople’s lives. Jane’s received “bouquets of encomium and accolades for her assessment of the rural West and the American desert, of what should be done in it and who should do it.” The Last Roundup even aired on PBS. Winnifred Westrom, the book’s narrator, is a former schoolmarm and closet poet who reassembles the story of Jane’s one-year sojourn in Blue Lake and tries to come to terms with this modern-day Calamity Jane (as the locals call her), who’s wreaked havoc on their lives at every turn. Winnifred has sympathy for the realities that Jane’s film portrays, but…
08 Aug 2014
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In Katie Gale, anthropologist Llyn De Danaan chronicles the life of a 19th century Salish (Pacific Northwest Native American) woman who married a white man, gave birth to four children, became a successful oysterwoman, suffered greatly in a divorce settlement, and watched two of her children die of tuberculosis before succumbing to the disease herself. An extraordinary life? Not really. An exemplary one? No. But Katie Gale represents more than an individual: She stands in for an entire generation of Native American women trampled under the boots of white expansion. “Of this I am certain: Katie Gale was a refugee, a person displaced by war and threats of war from her country of origin,” argues De Danaan. Katie’s tribe lived on the oyster-rich Washington coast “before the first non-Indian oystermen arrived in Oyster Bay with their values, dreams and aspirations that rapidly turned a largely subsistence harvest to one based…
27 Jul 2014
Jerry D. Mathes’ second nonfiction book, Ahead of the Flaming Front, portrays the day-to-day life of a wildland firefighter. With a poet’s sense of language, Mathes describes his experiences as a rookie, gaining knowledge as he rises through the ranks. Mathes works mostly for the Krassel Heli-Rappellers, a fire crew that works out of the Payette National Forest in Idaho. He performs a variety of jobs—not just sliding down ropes into remote fires, but also pitching in on hand crews to build fire lines, working as a sawyer, and traveling to fill in on other crews throughout the West. Although the landscape and environment change, the physical routine and the danger of the work do not. Mathes introduces us to a range of characters—perhaps too many to keep track of—but he gives us vivid portraits of the women and men who pursue this hazardous and sometimes tedious job. What emerges…
25 Jul 2014
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Idyllwild has always been known for its arts community—and now, it’s become a destination for lovers of literature. For 10 consecutive Sundays during the summer, the mountain town, located an hour’s drive from the CoachellaValley, hosts authors at Café Aroma to discuss their craft, thanks to the Idyllwild Authors Series. This year’s series will conclude on Sunday, Aug. 3, with an appearance by Dete Meserve, author of the novel Good Sam. Eduardo Santiago, the founder and host of the series, said Idyllwild is a perfect place for literary events. “Idyllwild welcomes the arts,” Santiago said. “All of the arts are represented all the time. We have a lot of musicians in our town, so there’s always music everywhere—every restaurant you walk to, and every plaza. We have a lot of art galleries, so you get to see a lot of sculptures and paintings.” However, something was missing from the Idyllwild…
15 Jul 2014
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Most communities across the West, urban and rural, are home to the animals in Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s new book, The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild, a collection of joyful meditations on the fauna that scamper over our lawns and roost on our power poles. While eastern gray squirrels, crows and the other denizens of Haupt’s bestiary make up the most accessible of the local wildlife, Haupt worries that their very familiarity renders them somehow “unwild” to us, and therefore not worth our notice. We imagine wildlife as, say, a moose wading in some distant boreal swamp, but consider nearby and more common animals like racoons and starlings as much less important, reducing them “to fluffy cuteness or mere annoyance.” That simplification, Haupt argues, robs us of a better understanding of the world and our influence on it. “I come to this understanding by exploring wilderness with a pack on…
11 Jul 2014
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Josefina Lopez has lived an incredible life—and that life has inspired her acclaimed work as a playwright and now as a novelist. She’ll be appearing at Café Aroma as part of the Fourth Annual Idyllwild Authors Series at 3 p.m., Sunday, July 13. Lopez is best known as the award-winning writer of Real Women Have Curves, a play which went on to be adapted into a film. Her personal story, in some ways, is one of living the American dream: Lopez was 5 years old when she came to the United States with her family from Mexico. She grew up in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, was part of the first graduating class of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. During a recent phone interview, Lopez discussed the shock she felt when she learned she was undocumented. “I didn’t know I was undocumented until…