Books

Best Reading 2008

Arab/American: Landscape, Culture, and Cuisine in Two Great Deserts
By Gary Paul Nabhan. University of Arizona Press. 0pp. Index. . $17.95.
In nine elegantly rendered essays, Nabhan ruminates on the ties - historical, personal, cultural, and environmental - that extend from his ancestral homeland in the Middle East to his adoptive home in the Sonoran Desert. And these connections are more concrete and meaningful than you might imagine. In a time of bitter conflict between the Arab and Western worlds, Nabhan makes a convincing argument for peace and environmental sanity based on shared kinship and landscape. []
Possibly the Southwest’s most famous Arab-American is Hi Jolly, the camel driver hired by the US Army back in the 1850s. Know to others as Hadji Ali, he is honored with a monument at Quartzite, Arizona. But his story is only one of thousands where migrants from the Middle East venture to the new world, bringing customs, foods, words, and culture. They have been here so long and securely that we seldom stop to think about their arrival. Gary Paul Nabhan journeys to home to Syria and Oman to reconnect with his ancestors, and finds more links with the Southwest and the Middle East than he ever imagined. This revealing book is an enthusiastic reminder to rejoice in the family of man. Because of this book, we’ll need to refocus our perceptions of who we are.
By coincidence, in the past few weeks I interviewed two friends from the small community of Ajo, Arizona. Their families came to America before 1900, one family from Turkey and one from Syria. Their names were Americanized and today their many friends and neighbors rarely stop to think that these second and third-generation Americans step out of Nabhan’s delightful book and into the American Dream.
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Bruce Aiken's Grand Canyon: An Intimate Affair
By , Susan Hallsten McGarry. Grand Canyon Association. 150pp. Index. Includes fold-out maps.. $55.00.
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).
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Bruce Aiken is an artist with a strong sense of place. His place is the Grand Canyon, within which he and his family lived for over thirty years, while he tended the Park’s precious water supply at Roaring Springs. From this most fortunate niche, he was able to paint the wonders of the world’s most famous Canyon in all kinds of light, times, and seasons. Happily, the Grand Canyon Association welcomed the project of documenting this man’s body of work and sharing with us his very blessed life.The result is a beautiful volume which includes 70 full page, color reproductions of his paintings and numerous smaller paintings and photographs. Accompanying maps and appendices invite further study. []
Exodus/Éxodo
By Charles Bowden. University of Texas Press. 295pp. Bill and Alice Wright photography series;. $50.00.
Cardona’s large-format black and white photographs, nearly 200 of them, tell stories about people, mostly Hispanic, on both sides of the border and elsewhere: a spade jammed into the ground on a desert roadway [is someone buried here?], a man and his dog asleep in a doorway, a clean-up crew on a rooftop after Katrina. But if Cardona speaks with photo images that attack the mind, Bowden’s text attacks our conscience. His words are simple words arrayed in simple sentences that pile up meaning upon meaning until, eventually, the reader is crushed by the content. In some sense the text is reflected in the astonishing color photo on the jacket: a desert landscape littered with abandoned detritus of humanity. Hundreds (thousands?) of water jugs, backpacks, jackets, shirts, even briefcases; so many, in fact, that large areas of ground in between chollas and other desert plants are completely covered with human refuse. Mind boggling. []
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Fragile Patterns: the Archaeology of the Western Papagueria
By Jeffrey H. Altschul, Adrianne G. Rankin. University of Arizona Press. 731pp. . $49.95.
Some 42 professionals, including anthropologists, archaeologists, ethnobotanists, paleontologists, and more, contributed to this scholarly volume of 700-plus pages. Included is a 63-page bibliography, 281 figures, and 38 statistical tablrs. Missing is an index and a glossary. The Western Papagueria in this case, occupies an area south of Arizona's Gila River to the Gulf of California and west to the Colorado River and inhabited by the O'odham speakers of the area. The scholarly tome is for specialists, researchers, and students. Included are biographies of four who made major contributions to the study and archaeology of the area. In addition, all aspects of human occupation are covered from prehistoric times, such as adaptation to changing environments; material culture; trade and travel; archaeological investigations; and rock art and geoglyphs. The book concludes with a discussion on management of cultural r4sources and past, present, and future cultures of Papagueria. []
Hohokam Millennium, The
By Paul R. Fish, Suzanne K. Fish. School for Advanced Research Press. 154pp. . $24.95.
This book is a laudable effort to share what is known about the people who dominated central Arizona from about A.D. 450-1450 in what is called the Hohokam Millennium. These were the famed canal builders of the Salt River Valley, who at one time irrigated 70,000 acres. This volume assembles the experts to share the latest archaeological findings and to put that culture into modern perspective. The excellent photos and extensive maps breathe life into people who are now gone--- or are they? Some believe that modern tribes are their descendants, making the culture that much richer. It’s a beautiful book with stimulating reading. And the shadow of the collapsed irrigation technology looms like a vulture over modern cities and farms--- if drought and depletion could happen to the grandest ancient farmers of the Southwest, could it happen to us? []
What happened to the prehistoric Hohokam? Evidence of a flourising and rich culture is still apparent in the Salt River Valley: hundreds of miles of canals that furnished life-saving water for nourishing lives and farms; remains of platform mounds; ball courts; shell jewellry; and pottery featuring the unforgettable Kokopelli. A number of anthropologists/archaeologists have contributed expert analyses of every aspect of the culture also suggesting that the modern Pimans are their descendants. Added to the understanding of the Hohokam cultural tradition are fine color and black and white photographs accompanied by numerous sketches. In addition to scholars and students, this is one book that a general public will enjoy. []
If I Die in Juarez
By Stella Pope Duarte. University of Arizona Press. 328pp. . $16.95.
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.
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Nearly 15 years after local rights workers began documenting the Juarez deaths, over 500 young women have been brutally murdered, the killings continue and few of the crimes have been solved. Organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report that crimes against women are on the rise in much of the world, but Mexico is one of the worst cases anywhere. After years of investigation, Southwest author Stella Pope Duarte concluded that she could best express the full reality of the story in a fictional format. Her poignant eulogy to the brutalized women and their devastated families is so sad on so many levels that it is difficult to read. It vividly reflects, in the very human struggles of the families, the horrific effects of poverty, lack of education and opportunity. It is a war zone in Juarez and Duarte has stunningly realized in her novel a place and a people trying to survive amidst the greed, avarice and predation of a failed state and two failed governments. []
Legacies of Camelot: Stewart and Lee Udall, American Culture, and the Arts
By L. Boyd Finch. University of Oklahoma Press. 194pp. . $24.95.
A touching, personal, and thoroughly enjoyable reading pleasure, this biography-cum-history covers, for the most part, events that occurred in Washington D.C. when Stewart Udall was Secretary of the Interior in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, but the long-term tenure of the Udalls in New Mexico makes it a southwestern book and Finch’s careful research and writing makes it excellent reading. Anyone who was an adult at the time of Kennedy’s inauguration will probably remember Robert Frost’s part, and Finch gives us an insider’s perspective on that event as well as other cultural “happenings” of the time. The significant role of Stewart and his wife Lee in the flowering of government support of the arts in what came to be known as the American Camelot makes the title word legacies especially appealing. []
Finch, an aide to Interior Secretary Stewart Udall during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, has written an elegant insider's portrait of a small-town Arizona couple and their transformative impact on art and culture in national life. Drawing on exhaustive research in the Udall papers at the University of Arizona and his own vivid recollections, Finch paints memorable portraits of John and Jackie Kennedy, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, and other figures drawn into the Udalls' intimate Washington circle. He also traces the trajectory of Stewart Udall's evolving views on history and on the environment, and highlights Lee Udall's underappreciated role in preserving and promoting Native American folk art. This important and compulsively readable book explains how the Udalls drew on their southwestern backgrounds to shape the core of what we now nostalgically refer to as "Camelot." Scholars and general audiences alike will find it a pleasurable and rewarding read. []
Silver and Stone: Profiles of American Indian Jewelers
By Mark Bahti. Rio Nuevo Publishers. 212pp. Includes glossary and schedule of juried and unjuried Indian Markets and Fairs where the artists featured in the book may be found.. $40.00.
From interviews and often re-interviews over the years Bahti, a second generation Tucson dealer in Native American art, has selected nearly 50 individual artists and their family members to highlight with personal texts and fine color photos. Many of the artists work in other media but the focus of this book is silver jewelry and accompanying minerals such as coral and, of course, turquoise. Good color photos highlight each artist’s work and the texts explain how each one came to be an artist working in silver and stone. This book arrived early in the year but it is easy for me to predict that there will not be a better book among my choices by year’s end. []
Forty-eight talented and creative Native artists working with stone, shell, and silver, are profiled between the covers of a beautifully published volume. It must be emphasized that each item produced by these artists is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. There are no mass-produced pieces of jewellry here. Each has a story to tell about his or her background and how they came to design their works. Bernard Dawahoya, for example, is an Arizona Living Treasure, who tells how he tied coins on train tracks and let the trail "flatten them real good." The creativity of these artists knows no bounds. The book is amply illustrated showing the jewellers at work and their individual pieces of wearable art. A glossary helps understand some of the terms used in the book. A winner, I say! []
Vanishing Borderlands: The Fragile Landscape of the U.S.-Mexico Border
By John Annerino. Countryman Press. 128pp. $29.95.
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. []
Willard Clark: Printer & Printmaker
By David Farmer. Museum of New Mexico Press. 95pp. . $34.95.
On his way to California Clark hit Santa Fe in 1928 (remember what happened in 1929!) and decided to stay. He weathered the Depression years as a commercial printer, but one with the artistic skills which allowed him to create handsome, multi-color illustrations for menus, sales brochures, and the like. WWII changed that when he went to work for the Los Alamos National Laboratory where he stayed until retirement 40 years later, then he picked up his wood-block cutting tools, bought other printing presses and began a second career as printer and printmaker. Farmer gives us a biography of both of those “printerly” years supplying dozens of color and b/w illustrations of Clark’s style which was perfectly suited to the Santa Fe that was becoming “the city different.” Handsome book, well-designed and beautifully printed. []
Wings in the Desert: a Folk Ornithology of the Northern Pimans
By Amadeo M. Rea. University of Arizona Press. 293pp. Index. . $70.00.
"Piman imagination seems to have soared on the wings of birds, more so than with any other group of living things," ornithologist and ethnobiologist Rea writes in this fascinating book. For the past four decades, Rea has been a patient observer and keen listener, absorbing and assimilating what his Pima acquaintances have told him about the role of birds in their lives and culture. The result is a bird book like no other, describing species through Piman eyes while also explaining birds' place in the Piman world view and their various uses in ceremonial, religious, and everyday life. Because Rea allows his consultants to speak for themselves, this encyclopedic volume, intellectually rigorous and beautifully illustrated with line drawings, possesses an engaging informality that magically draws readers into the O'odham world. It is a gold mine of information for scholars and a joy for lay readers. []
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
By David A. Gregory, David R. Wilcox. University of Arizona Press. 517pp. . $75.00.
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. []
The Zuni language is spoken only in the pueblo of Zuni and there are no known relatives to this "linguistic isolate." Thus, some 21 scholars have contributed results of research on the question of Zuni origins, and their possible link to the Mogollon culture. They have studied prehistory, archaeological evidence, rock art, settlement systems, economic systems, migration patterns, and more in their efforts. Maps, charts, drawings, and photographs are liberally placed throughout with closed to 60 pages of references. It would have been nice to see a translation of Zuni words that appear in the index, where possible. This huge, scholarly book will be welcomed by professionals in a number of fields including students. []
Pima County Website