Books

Bruce Dinges' Picks

Border Runs Through It, A: Journeys in Regional History and Folklore
Drawing on his long-running "Arizona Illustrated" public television series, folklorist "Big Jim" Griffith distills four decades of life, love, and endless curiosity into this wise and entertaining introduction to the culture, customs, and folkways of the Sonoran Desert. Topics range from place names to mission architecture, lost treasure to street art, feast days and festivals, tall tales (told with a sly twinkle in the eye), music, and above all food. Always emphasizing the things that bind us (Anglo, Hispanic, and Native American) together, Griffith provides what he aptly describes as "a map, complete with instructions, to the cultural treasures that lie buried, often just beneath the surface or in plain sight, in this fascinating country." It ought to be handed out at every airport, train station, and border crossing. Drawings by cartoonist David "Fitz" Fitzsimmons complement Griffith's sprightly text.
Desert Visions and the Making of Phoenix, 1860-2009
Unlike Topsy in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," Phoenix didn't just grow. In this impressive study, ASU history professor VanderMeer examines the politics and economics of city-building in the Salt River Valley, showing how business, political, and cultural leaders first carved out a modern city in the desert and then, after WWII, devised strategies that transformed Phoenix into a sprawling metropolis. By taking the long view, VanderMeer not only identifies the factors that make Phoenix unique, but also draws useful comparisons and crucial distinctions with other urban centers in the West and across the United States. This is essential reading for anyone interested in twentieth-century urban America.
Dry River: Stories of Life, Death, and Redemption on the Santa Cruz
Good writers seize opportunity where they find it. In this case, award-winning essayist Ken Lamberton uses his family’s involvement with the Tucson Audubon Society’s Santa Cruz River Habitat Project to explore the historic, cultural, environmental and personal impact of the desert watershed. On foot and horseback, often in the company of his wife and one or more of his daughters, he moves northward from the river’s headwaters in Mexico to its confluence with the Gila north of Tucson. Taken together, his lyrical ruminations trace a string of life stretching through the arid landscape and offering redemption for those who understand its past, present, and future. This is an elegant and important book from one of southern Arizona’s most gifted writers.
Field Man: Life as a Desert Archaeologist
Julian Hayden was the real deal, and the world seems like a smaller and less interesting place without him. Fortunately, Bill Broyles had the foresight in the 1990s to turn on a tape recorder and ask Julian, a consummate storyteller, about his life. Here is his opinionated account of eight decades in search of adventure and knowledge that brought him into contact with many of the great names in southwestern archaeology and enabled him to formulate his own innovative theories. Broyles and Boyer resist the impulse to intrude so that what we read are Julian's own words expressed with his characteristic smile and a sly twinkle in his eye. Those of us who knew Julian are transported to his back yard, where we heard many of these stories for the first time. For others, this absorbing book provides a fascinating account of a life well lived and a vivid portrait of what now seems like a heroic era in the desert Southwest.
Killer is Dying, The: A Novel
Los Angeles has Raymond Chandler. San Francisco has Dashell Hammett. And now Phoenix has James Sallis. In this compelling novel, the author of "Drive" probes in supple language the minds of a trio of outsiders - a dying hit man, a battered cop, and an abandoned youngster. As the characters circle one another in the wake of a botched assassination, Sallis takes readers on a tour of the twenty-first-century urban psyche fueled by loneliness and isolation. More than just a satisfying mystery, this is great literature.
Kit Carson: The Life of an American Border Man
Remley steers a steady course through troubled waters in this interpretive biography of the legendary, and controversial, guide, soldier, and Indian agent. When viewed within the context of his time and culture, Remley concludes, Carson emerges as “a common man of mind and feeling, a human being of his day and place, misrepresented in his own time as a great white hero, and in ours as another damned killer.” Tightly argued, clearly written and backed by an impressive bibliography, this volume in the University of Oklahoma’s western biographies series offers a balanced appraisal for scholars and general readers, alike.
Last Gunfight, The: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral - And How It Changed the American West
Skeptics who doubt the need for yet another recounting of the 1881 gunfight that pitted the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday against the Clantons and the McLaurys will need to reassess their views. Guinn, the bestselling author of "Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde", plumbs a sprawling array of sources to weave a compelling narrative of flesh-and-blood human beings inexorably drawn into an iconic confrontation on the cold, windswept streets of Tombstone, AZ. In his deft hands, this often-told story takes on new depth and meaning as it unfolds against the backdrop of frontier settlement, community development and territorial politics.
Navajos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life
Kristofic writes with wit, insight, and affection of the formative years he spent as an Anglo kid, or "White Apple" to his Navajo classmates, at the reservation school at Ganado and later at public high school in Page. Kristofic's adventure begins when his divorced mother accepts a nursing job with the Indian Health Service. He quickly and painfully learns how to be a Tough Nut ("the Navajo Way"), forms bonds with neighbors and classmates, and discovers the complicated answer to The Question: "Are you a Navajo?" His thoughtful and entertaining memoir opens a revealing window on contemporary reservation life and sheds light on the important matter of how we view others and define ourselves.
Old Border Road: A Novel
Froderberg reaches for the literary heavens in her lyrical debut novel and, by and large, she hits the mark. In a drought-stricken corner of the Southwest (the town is unnamed, but Froderberg clearly means Yuma), a teenage bride struggles to define herself in a parched physical and emotional landscape where dreams evaporate and trust is as elusive as the life-sustaining rain. Abandoned by her parents and betrayed by her husband, she draws biblical lessons from the natural world and from the resilient people who make their way through this hard land. At once stark and evocative, this compelling story explores terrain that is achingly personal and boldly universal. Comparisons to Cormac McCarthy are inevitable, but they underscore rather than diminish Froderberg’s stellar accomplishment.
Queen of America
Urrea wields his pen like a magician waving a wand. In this luminous sequel to "The Hummingbird’s Daughter" (Southwest Books of the Year Top Pick, 2005), he recounts the further adventures of Teresita, the “Saint of Cabora,” as she flees revolutionary Mexico, pursued by assassins and acolytes, to Tucson, El Paso and eventually Clifton, AZ. It is obvious that Urrea has something exceptional in store for readers when he depicts his heroine as a Gilded Age superstar. Struggling to find herself and her place in a world bent on using her saintly image for its own purposes—good, evil and downright crass—Teresita makes her way across America, looking for happiness and testing the boundaries between faith and commercialism. Beautifully written, with wry wit and gentle wisdom, Queen of America separates the woman from the saint and offers up profound, sometimes aching, and always entertaining insights into the nature of faith and the pitfalls of fame.

About Bruce Dinges

Bruce Dinges is director of publications for the Arizona Historical Society.

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