Books

Bill Broyles' Picks

Butterfly Landscapes of New Mexico
Steve Cary loves butterflies and you will, too. He tells where you can find them in New Mexico, shows how to identify them, and excites you with page after page of intriguing winged characters with names like Arizona skipper, orange spiderling, lustrous copper, and dotted checkerspot. Informative sidebars explain that butterfly eggs may survive several years until conditions are right, discuss why some habitats are better than others, introduces us to some famous lepidopterists, and explains why we need butterflies. The approach is fresh, and this is an attractive book in all respects.

Dreamland: the Way Out of Juarez
Think of Dante’s Inferno coupled with Albrecht Dürer’s woodcuts of the Apocalypse and you’ll have a sense of Charles Bowden’s Dreamland. Illustrated by the Alice Leora Briggs, the drawings are unsettling, sinister, and rife with symbols -- I dare you to turn the page before closely studying every painful detail. Together the text, art, and design smash our dreams –dreams that a murderous city will grow calm, that that the sick will be cured, that the dead will be revived, that good will prevail. The nightmare continues, as Bowden denies all hope for Paradiso. If Bowden’s Murder City is his reporter’s voice, Dreamland is his soul screaming. In Murder City he chronicles all 1,607 murders in 2008; in Dreamland he follows the trail of murders committed by one man, Lalo, who kills and buries his victims in Juárez while, by the way, he is also a paid US informant. The book is savagely haunting, but that’s how nightmares go. I’ll leave you to discover the way out of Juárez.
Endangered: Biodiversity on the Brink
While reporter Mitch Tobin was filing environmental stories with a Tucson newspaper, he was also keeping fuller notes, not only on endangered Southwest bats, wolves, condors, humpback chubs, and jaguars, but also wildlife managers, ranchers, scientists, and politicians. Tobin goes far beyond the headlines to bring us the story behind the story—personalities with dust on their boots, cryptic policies, and animals lying dead at our feet. Like the good reporter he is, Tobin can take a vat of facts and distill a spirited story, one served with thoughtful analysis and constructive suggestions. The result is a very solid but entertaining history of the Endangered Species Act in the Southwest.
Exploring Desert Stone: John N. Macomb's 1859 Expedition to the Canyonlands of the Colorado
Drawing from extensive historical documents and personal trips, Steven Madsen unrolls the first big adventure to explore and record the topography of Canyonlands. The first half of the book narrates the details of the survey, with all of its fascinating characters and descriptions of “new” country, including copies of original maps and landscape sketches. The second half is a bonus: diaries of engineer Charles H. Dimmock and geologist John S. Newberry, a color folio of landscape views from the original report, letters written by Newberry and Frederick W. von Egloffstein, and a back-pocket copy of the survey’s map.
Gift of Angels, A: The Art of Mission San Xavier del Bac
Some years ago Bernard “Bunny” Fontana wrote what may be the smallest book on a Southwest mission; it was a postage-stamp-sized miniature book on Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo in Texas. With publication of A Gift of Angels about mission San Xavier del Bac near Tucson, he has now written what is arguably the largest book on a Southwest mission and certainly the grandest. The text is splendid, covering statues, paintings, relief sculptures and angels of this 18th century living church. In the color photos, shot by Ed McCain from scaffolds and with special lights, we see this international treasure more clearly than anyone has ever seen it before or will again.
Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West
With railroads came farms—cotton, fruit, grain, vegetables—and those same rails brought cheap labor needed to work those farms. The workers included migrant hoboes, drifters, Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese and Mexicans, whose slogan was not “Westward Ho!” but “Al Norte!” They all struggled against bad bosses, hunger, prejudice and poverty. The story is framed as century-old history, but the issues are as modern as today’s newspaper: immigrant labor that is indispensable, but disposable until the next harvest.
Life of Maynard Dixon, The
Even if you don’t know the name Maynard Dixon, you’ll easily recognize his work, for his paintings, drawings, magazine covers, and murals have become emblems of our Southwest. This biography is rich with his art, making it an excellent introduction. The book has the friendly feeling of an artist’s studio and the vigor of the man himself. Family photos, excerpts from letters and Dixon’s poems, and many stories bring him to life, and what a life it was. He believed, “The artist’s job, as I see it, is to try to widen people’s horizons—show them the wonder of the world they live in" (p. 185). To double your fun, add its companion book, The Art of Maynard Dixon.
Turquoise Ledge, The: a Memoir
Novelist and artist Leslie Marmon Silko sets out to “construct a self-portrait” and in turn gives us a wonderful glimpse of ourselves as she talks about ants, relatives, rain, and rattlesnakes as seen from her Tucson home on the edge of a desert wilderness. Her house needs fixing, her life occasionally teeters, and the world sometimes rumbles out of control, but her gentle story-telling and penetrating observations keep us on the move as we laugh and walk with her. The result is universal Southwest, an utterly refreshing blend of Native ways and modern science as she and we find joyous fragments of unexpected turquoise in our lives. It’s a desert lover’s delight.
We are an Indian Nation: a History of the Hualapai People
For too long the Hualapai, a proud people living in northwestern Arizona, have been one of the least visible Native Nations, but their story is that of many First Nations. Historically they battled the U.S. Army pushing them off their lands, eastern settlers grazing their grass and cutting their timber, railroad companies taking their water and Indian agents sending their children to abusive schools, but few outsiders knew or understood them. Shepherd has taken his prodigious research and written a thoroughly readable, balanced book that brings to life the Hualapai and their struggles. This is a major contribution to understanding Arizona’s history, just in time for the state’s centennial.
Working the Line
If you haven’t been able to wrap your mind around the explosive U.S.-Mexico borderline, maybe David Taylor’s large photographs will help explain its vastness, dangers and disarming beauty. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who believes a border fence will cure an immigration malady. Taylor walks in the shoes of Border Patrol agents to see the world as they see it—and live it. He enjoys access to places that few of us will ever go or dare to go. You may not believe your eyes. Essays by Hannah Frieser and Luis Alberto Urrea complement Taylor’s powerful lens-work. This artful slip-case edition includes a 23-foot-long accordion-fold book of photos as well as a large hard-bound book.

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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