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Literature

05 Jun 2015
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First published in 1886, The Story of My Heart, by Richard Jefferies, is a slim, mystical volume—a nature-writer’s exploration of his own soul. Three years ago, well-known naturalist and author Terry Tempest Williams and her writer husband, Brooke, stumbled upon an old copy of the book in an independent bookstore in Maine. They were immediately caught by its stunning prose. “My heart was dusty,” Jefferies writes in the opening paragraph, “parched for want of the rain of deep feeling; my mind arid and dry, for there is dust which settles on the heart as well as that which falls on a ledge.” Who was this eloquent writer from another century, they wondered? Their search for the answer would lead the pair to England and then France and the Louvre, as well as on a journey into their own hearts. Jefferies, it turns out, was an English nature writer, essayist and…
19 May 2015
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Relicts of a Beautiful Sea is a wide-ranging, obsessively detailed and oddly inspiring book—an intriguing tapestry of scientific exploration and natural history that also takes turns as a eulogy, a love letter, a poem and ultimately a plea. In Relicts, Christopher Norment—a professor of environmental science and biology—sets out to consider the nonmonetary value of six “relatively obscure” Great Basin and Mojave desert species that we can’t eat, hunt or sell: black toads, Inyo slender salamanders and four species of pupfishes. Why these six species? In part because of their obscurity: Due to their small sizes and relative inaccessibility, Norment writes, they “carry little of the innate appeal” of charismatic megafauna such as grey wolves or whooping cranes, nor do they play much of an economic role. That obscurity allows us to ponder their worth without immediately reaching for our wallets. They are also, however, aquatic species restricted to tiny…
16 Mar 2015
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Best-selling author Andrew Neiderman holds two prolific jobs. The Palm Springs resident writes novels under his own name—46 so far, in fact. Seven of his novels have been made into films—most notably The Devil’s Advocate, starring Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron. He’s also the ghostwriter for the famed V.C. Andrews series, for which he’s penned 73 novels. The franchise by the late Virginia Andrews was at 30 million books sold after Andrews’ death in 1986—and is now at 106 million books sold. It’s one of the world’s biggest and longest-lasting literary franchises. Every time I’ve visited Neiderman at his south Palm Springs home over the last 15 years, he’s been working on yet another project—a book, a script, a play or a production venture. His newest novel, The Terrorist’s Holiday, was published March 10. “The Terrorist’s Holiday was a novel always in my mind to write,” Neiderman said.…
13 Mar 2015
Brazilian-born novelist Adriana Lisboa’s latest novel, Crow Blue, depicts a precocious young woman’s quest for a place inside a splintered family. Vanja is only 13 when her mother dies. That loss sparks her journey from Rio de Janeiro to Colorado, where she reconnects with her estranged stepfather, Fernando, an ex-guerrilla in his 50s who works as a security guard at a public library. “It wasn’t an adventure,” Vanja says of her move to Fernando’s home in Denver’s sprawling suburbs. “It wasn’t a holiday or fun or a pastime or a change of scenery; I was going to the United States to stay with Fernando with a very specific objective in mind: to look for my father.” Fernando agrees to help Vanja search for her biological father—an American Vanja has never met, and whose whereabouts are unknown. Fernando and Vanja create a patchwork family life as the teenager starts school, befriends…
05 Mar 2015
Set in modern times, in a small “passing-over place” in northern Utah, the debut novel by Idaho author Braden Hepner, Pale Harvest, follows Jack Selvedge, a 20-year-old dairy farmer working his grandfather’s land, struggling against his own indifference. Young Rebekah Rainsford shakes things up when she returns to town, fleeing her abusive father. She becomes Selvedge’s obsession, a symbol of hope. “She had brought with her an essence. … It was a sullen thing she carried, in some ways frightening and in some ways appealing and in all ways maddening. It was something he needed but could never get in the remote and meager collection of houses.” As their relationship forms, her dark history forces him to confront the chasm between his ideals and reality, while two major betrayals threaten everything. Hepner captures the nuances of the dramatic landscape of the Cache Valley, where cultivated fields give way to desert,…
13 Feb 2015
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Fourth of July Creek, the robust debut of Portland, Ore.-based novelist Smith Henderson, follows the life of Pete Snow, a state social worker in the fictional town of Tenmile, Mont. At work, Snow is steady and skillful, able to calm frightened children and parse messy domestic situations. But after hours, he’s an alcoholic prone to unbridled benders, alienated from his own land-baron dad and fugitive brother. He has lived in an isolated cabin ever since he left his cheating wife. One day in the early 1980s, a disheveled child named Benjamin wanders into the town, west of Glacier National Park. Pete buys Benjamin new clothes and medicine for giardia and scurvy, and returns him to the remote spot the boy calls home. Benjamin’s father, Jeremiah, a wild-bearded, scripture-quoting, shotgun-toting survivalist, collects his son while threatening Pete with a “fatal wrath.” But Pete refuses to give up on this odd family,…
16 Jan 2015
In her debut novel, Steal the North, Heather Brittain Bergstrom draws on her own childhood in eastern Washington and current life in Northern California to share the tale of a shy Sacramento teenager inhabiting those same locales. Bergstrom offers a riveting story of first love entwined with faith, family tragedy and the power of place. Steal the North begins with 16-year-old Emmy reluctantly heading north to Washington to spend the summer with an aunt, Bethany, about whose existence she has just learned. Emmy’s mother, Kate, had always insisted that she had no living relatives. Now married and expecting a baby, Bethany tracks down her estranged sister and begs her to send Emmy to Moses Lake, Wash.—because Bethany has suffered earlier miscarriages and believes that she needs Emmy’s help, along with a special faith healing ceremony, to carry this child to term. Staying at her aunt’s trailer park, Emmy meets Reuben,…
13 Jan 2015
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Jervey Tervalon adores Los Angeles—and he wants you to adore it, too. The author, who also teaches literature at the University of California at Santa Barbara, challenges the notion that New York City is the cultural center of the cosmos. “Los Angeles is wonderfully diverse,” he says. “I’ve been dedicating myself to creating a model in which L.A. never has to take a back seat to New York.” Born in New Orleans, Tervalon grew up in South Central Los Angeles and earned his MFA at UC Irvine. He taught high school in L.A. and co-founded Literature for Life—a nonprofit online literary salon and journal dedicated to bringing the work of multi-ethnic local writers and artists into area schools. His sixth and latest novel, Monster’s Chef, tells the story of a former drug addict who lands a job as personal chef to a wealthy but suspiciously reclusive hip-hop artist. It’s a…
12 Dec 2014
Something about Michelle Huneven’s novel, Off Course, makes people want to talk about themselves. Women, especially. I sit down at her wide, rough-hewn kitchen table, vowing not to be one of them. Her 14-year-old terrier mix, Piper, cuddles unabashedly at my feet; a black cat nuzzles my elbow. My resolve topples. While Huneven pours lemon-verbena ice tea into two large juice-jar glasses—“Is it sweet enough?” she asks—I let it slip that I, like Cressida, the novel’s protagonist, lost years of early adulthood to a love affair destined to fail. “Years I wish I could rewrite,” I confess. Then I catch myself. Stop. Talking. Huneven narrows her eyes behind her fashionable glasses and pushes a fine dark-blond wisp of hair off her forehead. She listens more than tolerantly. “It’s good,” she says, the way her novel draws out personal stories. “It’s really good.” In fact, she says she wrote it for…
10 Dec 2014
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Growing up on a farm outside Prescott, Arizona, writer and researcher Rafael de Grenade learned how to survive in rough country. At age 12, she dropped out of school to work on a nearby ranch; at 14, she began attending college classes at night. Since then, de Grenade has traveled to more than 30 countries, worked on construction crews and fishing boats, worked as a field botanist, and earned a master’s degree in creative nonfiction writing and a doctorate in geography from the University of Arizona in Tucson. Her Fulbright Fellowship took her to Baja California, where she studied the cultural and conservation role of desert oases. At the Tucson Desert Oasis Initiative, she helped city and county government collaborate with nonprofits on projects to make Tucson a “model of sustainable desert living.” Her memoir, Stilwater: Finding Wild Mercy in the Outback, was released in June, and traces her season…