Books

Bill Broyles' Picks

Bruce Aiken's Grand Canyon: An Intimate Affair
The majesty and mystery of the Grand Canyon has lured many artists, and at the moment Bruce Aiken may be foremost among them. His distinctive landscapes, vistas, and details of the rim at sunset, the sheer walls in shadow, and the roaring rapids in the gorge are captivating. Among my favorites are “Makin’ the Pull at House Rock Rapids,” “Evening on the Tonto Plateau,” and “Supai.” This is the first book featuring his work and it is sumptuous. The text narrates Bruce’s journey to the Canyon and his 33-year career running the water plant below the north rim. Because the book is published by the Grand Canyon Association, it features his canyon paintings, but at least as interesting is his larger career as an artist, which is too briefly covered in the book’s appendices. You may wish to buy an extra copy and cut out certain gorgeous pages for framing.

I still would like to read a personal book by Aiken and his wife, Mary, chronicling their journeys through the canyon, his growth as an artist, and their raising a family in a wilderness; readers can find hints of this in their two charming essays in another book, Grand Canyon Stories Then and Now (edited by Leo Banks and Craig Childs).
Bruce Aiken's Grand Canyon: An Intimate Affair
The majesty and mystery of the Grand Canyon has lured many artists, and at the moment Bruce Aiken may be foremost among them. His distinctive landscapes, vistas, and details of the rim at sunset, the sheer walls in shadow, and the roaring rapids in the gorge are captivating. Among my favorites are “Makin’ the Pull at House Rock Rapids,” “Evening on the Tonto Plateau,” and “Supai.” This is the first book featuring his work and it is sumptuous. The text narrates Bruce’s journey to the Canyon and his 33-year career running the water plant below the north rim. Because the book is published by the Grand Canyon Association, it features his canyon paintings, but at least as interesting is his larger career as an artist, which is too briefly covered in the book’s appendices. You may wish to buy an extra copy and cut out certain gorgeous pages for framing.

I still would like to read a personal book by Aiken and his wife, Mary, chronicling their journeys through the canyon, his growth as an artist, and their raising a family in a wilderness; readers can find hints of this in their two charming essays in another book, Grand Canyon Stories Then and Now (edited by Leo Banks and Craig Childs).
Exodus/Éxodo
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Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of the Middle Rio Grande Bosque , A
Slow down. Meet the middle Rio Grande. Pull up a bench, drift in a raft, or walk its banks and bosques. This fascinating book will introduce you to more than 700 common birds, plants, insects, fish and mammals that live in or along the river from Cochiti Dam, north of Albuquerque to Elephant Butte Dam, near Truth or Consequences, NM. This stretch of 175 miles includes Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The array of species is truly astounding, and each species is shown in a color thumbnail photo and described for a wide range of readers. I especially enjoyed the spiders and bugs.
If I Die in Juarez
Someone asked me why I liked this book. I don’t. I hate it, just as I hate that it had to be written, and I hate what is happening to our border communities and citizens. I hate wasted lives, disintegrating society, absolute corruption, loss of freedom and basic safety. And I hate that I feel powerless to stop it. But the world must know what is happening here. And this book drives the reality home.
In a deft tale about the deprived meeting the depraved, Duarte draws three Mexican girls to the festering border city, Cuidad Juárez, where in real life, and death, hundreds of young women have been viciously tortured and then murdered. Evita, age 14, dreams of peace and draws butterflies with out-sized wings so it can fly away. Beautiful Petra, 19, rapidly advances in her job at the maquiladora but deals with the devil. And Mayela, 12, a precocious painter is compared to Frieda Kahlo. They are spun into the vortex of desperation and human predators that are as true as tomorrow’s newspaper headline. With the help of family and friends, they find courage and hope. It may be the most important book you read this year. Your family may be next. News at ten. Nightly.
See the photos in Charles Bowden’s Juárez: The Laboratory of Our Future or his Exodus if Duarte’s sensitive, understated prose isn’t graphic enough for you.
Little Big Bend: Common, Uncommon, and Rare Plants of Big Bend National Park
This especially beautiful plant book features 252 of Big Bend’s plants. It may be the best of a recent bouquet of superb books about Texas plants. Roy Morey’s definitive photographs and clear text bring life to the landscape and its wondrous plants. Readers will especially enjoy the sections on photography and where to see certain plants within the park. My only quibble is that the title does not begin to do the book justice.
Tucson was a Railroad Town: The Days of Steam in the Big Burg on the Main Line
This profusely illustrated history is more than just another train catalogue; it is a flesh-and-blood book about railroaders themselves. It narrates how the railroad affected the lives of its employees as well as local citizens. For example, the advent of diesel locomotives and of automated wheel bearing oilers eliminated many jobs. Or, several locomotive engineers who had lost vision in one eye could no longer make regular runs, but they were allowed to keep their jobs and work the a spur line that ran from Tucson to Nogales between about 1910 and 1950. The book is filled with human faces and interesting stories about those who proudly served the railroad. To understand Tucson, you must know the railroad, and this book is a fascinating place to start.
Vanishing Borderlands: The Fragile Landscape of the U.S.-Mexico Border
Many of us love the Southwestern borderlands for their stirring landscapes and timeless people. In transfixing photos and enchanting essays, John Annerino ably brings us both. He reminds those of us who live here why we love the Southwest, and to those who live elsewhere, he explains why. But, though beautiful land enchanting, the borderlands are fragile and at times perilous. He reminds us what is at stake along the border. Annerino knows both sides of the line and this book is exceptional.
Wings in the Desert: a Folk Ornithology of the Northern Pimans
Some books defy definition. This is one. It is a bird book about Native Peoples. It is an ethnology about living places. It is a dictionary about life. It is Amadeo Rea’s personal adventure among the complex group of Indians who live in south-central Arizona and north-central Sonora. Rea brings us gently and intimately into their world, and reminds us that our Linnaean classification system is but one way to observe and think of Nature. This book is a companion to his milestone books At the Desert’s Green Edge and Folk Mammalogy of the Northern Pimans.
Zuni Origins: Toward a New Synthesis of Southwestern Archaeology
Where did the Zuni come from and when did they arrive? Were they related to the Mogollon people of east-central Arizona? Who were their neighbors, and how did the Zuni come by food and conduct trade? This imposing book convenes a cast of experts to address basic questions, and in the process discusses everything Zuni. This model of inquiry and exposition is now the standard for Zuni studies and, because of its scope, is a major book about the history of humans in the Southwest. Readers, even browsers, will be richly rewarded. The chapters are clearly written. I’d start with chapter 7 on the archaic origins of the Zuni, chapter 8 on agriculture, and chapter 17 on trade networks and copper bells. It is now the benchmark of Zuni studies.

About Bill Broyles

Broyles is a research associate at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center, and he is already looking forward to next year’s crop of books!

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