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Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Literature

06 Dec 2017
Stanley Crawford defies most of the stereotypes of a “Western American writer.” The Dixon, N.M.-based author is more likely to wear sandals than cowboy boots. He owns a pickup truck, but his automotive passion is for working on impractical yet dapper vintage European cars; his most recent project was the restoration of a 1984 Citroen Deux Chevaux. His latest aspiration is to compete in the 2018 Brompton World Championship, a decorous folding-bike race held every summer in St. James’ Park, in London, at which gentlemen are required to wear a jacket, shirt and tie. Despite, or perhaps because of, the glee he takes in flouting the usual image of a Western writer, Crawford has earned a reputation as one of the most original and incisive authors writing about the region today. His memoirs Mayordomo and A Garlic Testament are celebrated for their droll yet humane reflections on how their author’s…
16 Nov 2017
The tacos dorados, Francisco Cantú tells me as we push through the turnstiles into Nogales, Mexico, are some of the best he’s ever had. So we beeline through the bustling streets toward the small metal cart in search of the paper-wrapped stacks of crispy chicken tacos dripping spicy red salsa. Cantú is the author of The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the Border, forthcoming this February from Riverhead Books. The book is a beautiful and brutal chronicle of the four years he spent working as a Border Patrol agent, and the years afterward, in which an immigrant friend, José, is deported to Mexico—and Cantú finds himself navigating border policy from the other end. The book, his first, is already generating buzz; Cantú has received a Whiting Award in Nonfiction and a Pushcart Prize, and a section of the book recently aired on This American Life. On this Monday, we’ve…
07 Sep 2017
In his remarkable memoir Attending Others, Brian Volck reflects on his career as a pediatrician, including stints at inner-city hospitals in the Midwest; several volunteer missions to Honduras; and years on the Navajo Reservation. Through his practice, Volck has gained considerable wisdom—though he’s too humble to call it that. Attending Others is less a compendium of lessons learned than a gorgeous meditation on things that cannot be fully understood, such as the mysteries of the human condition. Volck focuses on how vulnerable we become through our bodies and our bonds with those we love, especially in the ties between parents and their children. His experiences with his own and other people’s children serve to perpetually reinforce what he calls “the first lesson of parenthood”: “You’re not in control.” The memoir’s structure is indicative of its overall humility. After an opening scene at a Navajo wedding, Volck goes into the stories…
14 Aug 2017
On Aug. 21, 2017, the moon will ride its elliptical orbit precisely between the Earth and the sun, plunging the land below into the crepuscule of a total solar eclipse. Beginning at around 10 a.m. Pacific Time, the dark path of totality will sweep northwest to southeast across the United States, casting its eerie gloom upon Western towns such as Madras, Ore.; Rexburg, Idaho; and Casper, Wyo. The sky will turn violet; shadows will sharpen; pigeons will roost; and owls will take wing. Millions of umbraphiles—eclipse chasers—will crane their necks to witness more than two minutes of lunar ecstasy, transfixed by an occluded sun that science writer David Baron describes as “an ebony pupil surrounded by a pearly iris … the eye of the cosmos.” Although partial solar eclipses and lunar eclipses are relatively common, total solar eclipses are rarer beasts: When totality last traversed the entire width of the…
26 Jul 2017
Listen up, water-loving Westerners: We’ve got a problem—a trout problem. For decades, anglers have fetishized these silvery stream-dwellers, maniacally pursuing rainbows, browns and brookies to the neglect of other underwater life. Every year, obliging fish managers pump America’s waterways full of millions of hatchery-born trout, diluting gene pools and overwhelming native species. We fishermen consider ourselves enlightened stewards, but our trout myopia reveals our true self-centeredness. And let’s not even get started on bass. Fortunately, there are plenty more fish in the sea—to say nothing of rivers, creeks and lakes. For anyone seeking a deeper understanding of what lies beneath the surface of Western waterways, Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West offers a lively primer to the region’s aquatic biodiversity. Over the course of 11 chapters, Mark Spitzer, a writing professor at the University of Central Arkansas and a certified angling addict, travels the country seeking the kinds of…
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…

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