Books

Bill Broyles' Picks

Lizards of the American Southwest: A Photographic Field Guide
There’s something endearing about lizards. Maybe it’s that we can watch them fairly close-up, or that they seem preposterously agile climbing walls and jumping for insects. Whatever it is, we love’em, and so do the 77 enthusiastic experts who wrote Lizards of the Southwest. It is a grand guidebook, complete with excellent photos of the 96 native species found west of the Pecos, detailed information on each one, and insight into their ecological niches. Special features include-easy-to-use checklists and a thumbnail pictorial guide to families and genera. The book is authoritative (think handbook of the latest scientific names and research), but it also will be quite readable and helpful for a wide general audience including curious youth. It will be a standard reference for years to come, but moreover it is an impressive appreciation for our sunny weather friends.
Lizards of the American Southwest: A Photographic Field Guide
There’s something endearing about lizards. Maybe it’s that we can watch them fairly close-up, or that they seem preposterously agile climbing walls and jumping for insects. Whatever it is, we love’em, and so do the 77 enthusiastic experts who wrote Lizards of the Southwest. It is a grand guidebook, complete with excellent photos of the 96 native species found west of the Pecos, detailed information on each one, and insight into their ecological niches. Special features include-easy-to-use checklists and a thumbnail pictorial guide to families and genera. The book is authoritative (think handbook of the latest scientific names and research), but it also will be quite readable and helpful for a wide general audience including curious youth. It will be a standard reference for years to come, but moreover it is an impressive appreciation for our sunny weather friends.
New Mexico Colcha Club: Spanish Colonial Embroidery & the Women Who Saved It
It is safe to say that there has never been one morning that I awoke thinking about embroidery, certainly not “colcha”-style which is a long, couching stitch typically used on bedspreads. But this book certainly merits eye-opening attention on any of several levels: its perfect photos of altar cloths, clothes, quilts, rugs, including revealing details; its well-told blending of history and domestic life; its knockout design that features a fine mix of color, font, and layout; its heartwarming stories about the New Mexico women who kept this tradition alive for the past four centuries; or its pure passion for the craft. It is a superb, cheersome book, and interesting also in that it is a softcover book with a jacket.
No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels
You’re riding your chopper motorcycle in tight formation with the Hells Angels at 90 miles an hour down a Phoenix freeway at night. Your front wheel is a foot from the bike in front and you are about to die. You are Jay Dobyns, ex-football player, aka Bird Davis, undercover cop for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco, and you’ve infiltrated the baddest outlaw motorcycle gang on the planet. Now that you’re in, how do you get out? And how do you ever return from your biker persona to your old self? How do you salvage your family and sanity? Fiction? No bro, true story. Most of the action takes place in Arizona, with big scenes in Nevada, California, and Mexico. Meeting the characters, especially Big Lou, is worth the trip – none of them is totally evil nor totally good, even Dobyns, but all are dangerous. Ignore this tight, vivid narrative at your own risk.
Poetry of Remembrance, A: New and Rejected Works
Too many poets write to become something they are not; Levi Romero writes to be someone he is. And his poems are wonderful. Dragon flies, low rider cars, grandmothers, and adobe homes appear with ease and depth. This book is exceptionally comfortable and satisfying, even if you don’t read the bits of Spanish or know the particular geography of New Mexico. His images flow easily, such as “along the walking trail/ of the west rim/ the shadows of our noses/ fall into coyote paw prints/ etched into the damp soil’ (p. 66). His ‘High School English” is universal in its moods and insight into adolescence. His “Dance of the Hollyhock” welds reader with poet in its lines “as we move on, knowing that the palm heat of plenty/ at times burns with the cold hand of not enough” (p. 104). One especially touching poem, “El vientinueve de agosto,” is a tribute to mothers, and includes the lines “and the stories are spoken/ as if they matter.” Romero’s poems matter.
Resurrection: Glen Canyon and a New Vision for the American West
Of this year’s fine crop of books about water in the West -- James Lawrence Powell’s Dead Pool, Char Miller’s Water in the 21st–Century West, and Robert Glennon’s Unquenchable -- this one is the best, for it vividly shows what water means to those who live here. In 1963 Glen Canyon dam harnessed the Colorado River and created a massive reservoir, Lake Powell, a favorite spot for house boaters and fishermen. But Nature has not cooperated, and the West faces a draught and changing climate. Boat docks are now high and dry; stream bottom sediments are now erosion badlands, and high overhead a bathtub ring mars the canyon walls. On the other hand, cottonwoods and cattails are returning to riverbanks that just a few years ago were covered by 140 feet of lake water; hikers can now take remote canyons to river’s edge. Lake Powell may never again be more than half full, and like the proverbial glass of water, we in a changing West must decide if life is half full or half empty. Our expectations need a realignment. McGivney’s clear, objective prose is matched with stunning photos by James Kay. The book is a visual parable.
Readers may wish to revisit Eliot Porter’s The Place No One Knew and Tad Nichols’ Glen Canyon: Images of a Lost World.
Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History
Add the illuminating multiple perspectives of Rashomon to the taut psychology in The Oxbow Incident, and we have Karl Jacoby’s superb study of a little known 1871 “lynch-mob” massacre of Apache women and children in southern Arizona. In four views we are shown four competing cultures—Anglo, Hispanic, Apache, and O’odham. Two of them had lived in the territory for centuries, two were new-comers, and each had its own heritage and agenda. For example, the Apaches took anyone’s horses as they would wildland game and didn’t consider it to be theft. The O’odham disliked warfare, but were spirited and capable warriors who fought to save the tribe, not to gain another group’s possessions. Jacoby weaves clear pictures of each culture before the massacre at Camp Grant, and then shares each group’s memory of the aftermath. His research is original, laser-sharp, and highly illuminating. Shadows at Dawn is model of how to go beyond the narrative of an event and explain its reasons and consequences. If 2009 has a “must-read,” this is it.
Sweet Smell of Home, The: the Life and Art of Leonard F. Chana
You want to know about ageless life in the desert? Read this. It’s a joyous passport to the Tohono O’odham Nation west of Tucson, Arizona. The paintings and drawings of native artist Leonard Chana jump with life. I’m having several of the vibrant, evocative pages framed for hanging; they are pure delight. My favorite is “Youth: Endless Time.” Or maybe it’s the untitled figure 41, showing a man and his son eating watermelon under their ramada. Chana is the most cheerful painter of desert people since Ted DeGrazia. And the text? It bounces with the talk of real people, ones you’ll enjoy knowing.
Telling New Mexico: a New History
To know New Mexico’s soul, read Telling New Mexico, a compilation of 51 essays about the state. Try Jason Silverman’s story about the Clovis recording studio that propelled rocker Buddy Holly’s meteoric rise, or Roland Dickey’s ode to wind and windscapes, or Gail Okawa’s search for her grandfather once confined to WWII Japanese internment camps in Lordsburg and Santa Fe, or Marta Weigle’s illuminating piece on “engineering” New Mexico as the land of enchantment for tourists. Each of the essays in this book is excellent and many are superb. The book has seven parts --- Light, Land, Water, Wind; Beyond History’s Records; The Northern Province; Linking Nations; Becoming the Southwest; The ‘New’ New Mexico; and My New Mexico --- but feel free to plunge in anywhere. Other states should do so well.
To Walk in Beauty: a Navajo Family's Journey Home
This profoundly moving book is about a Navajo family, the Begays. Their story is told in compelling, personal photographs by Stacia Spragg-Braude and in the family’s own words, excerpted from recorded interviews. It is the story of identity, who we are, and what is our place in the world. Steeped in history, Churro sheep, and modern afflictions, the family struggles to survive by relying on “the old ways” to heal both the body and the spirit. In the words of Alta Begay, “My dad’s analogy was that we need to be like the sheep – be hardy and resilient” (page 122), and they were. The forceful images take us inside the family as if it were our own, for in many ways it is.
If you have driven the highways of our Native nations and perhaps wondered “Who are these people?” and “What’s it like to live here?”, then read this book. In an afternoon you’ll gain the insight of a lifetime.

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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