W. David Laird''s Picks

Arizona: A Celebration of the Grand Canyon State
Recently retired as Outreach Historian at the Arizona Historical Society, Turner brings his decades of study and research on Arizona topics to this bravura--in the best sense of that word—effort. Ten topical chapters allow scope for sub-chapters that get at the details of events, and more than 300 illustrations show us how those people and events appeared to their contemporaries. A bibliography, divided by subjects, will allow readers to do their own searching, and the index is thorough and easily accessible.
Border Runs Through It, A: Journeys in Regional History and Folklore
Everyone calls him Big Jim (except perhaps for his diminutive wife, Loma). I know one person who calls him, affectionately, “Large James.” His presence in research and literature of the lore and folk-life of Southern Arizona and the entire Sonoran Desert region has been as large as the name. Griffith was host of a long-running series of vignettes on Tucson’s public TV station, KUAT. Here he takes those snippets about history, cultures, places (and place names), food and everythingelse human, and turn’s them into delightful short essays. The indefatigable David “Fitz” Fitzimmons provides visual spice with his trademark cartoons, including, on page 33, one of Big Jim himself. In case you weren’t paying attention, let it be known far and wide that Jim was one of nine recipients this year of the NEAs National Heritage Fellowship.
Crazy From the Heat: A Chronicle of Twenty Years in the Big Bend
In a certain mood this reviewer might say, of Evans’s title, that it should be “Crazy like a Fox” as his images zig and zag among subjects and styles and techniques. The range of his photographs is startling; from six young Hispanic males knee deep in water, to a Mexican hognose snake with its long shadow on a stark white background, to a double-foldout of a desert scene that is surely West Texas but could as easily be Arizona. Sprinkle in a few nudes (including one, extremely pregnant, after a mud bath) and some time-lapse shots of night sky and, finally, the adjective that I settle on to describe this collection is stunning!
Desert Towers: Fat Cat Summits and Kitty Litter Rock
This remarkable, very large format, book might give some readers an attack of acrophobia with its photos (a few are early black & white) of rock climbers suspended over hundreds of feet of “nothing” or clinging to the faces of rock towers, just specks far above ground. Interspersed among the 500 or so color photographs are 30 essays with titles like “First Ascent of Spider Rock” and “Sundevil Chimney Free”. The majority of these towers are in southern Utah, but a few (perhaps a dozen) dot northern Arizona, and of course western New Mexico’s iconic Shiprock is here.
Field Man: Life as a Desert Archaeologist
A few of the words that come to mind while reading this book--remarkable, amazing, unique and unforgettable—describe Julian Hayden, who was all of these, and much, much more. Self-taught, he made archaeological discoveries and propounded theories unrecognized and sneered at by the professional community. That’s what his weekends were dedicated to; on weekdays he and his crews trenched sewer lines and installed septic tanks in Tucson. Then he “discovered” the Pinacates (that clump of desert rock due south in Sonora) and spent, by his estimate, 160 weekends exploring them and thinking about the implications of the artifacts found there. Editors Broyles and Boyer let him speak for himself, no questions, no interruptions, and boy does he say what is on his mind!
Killer is Dying, The: A Novel
Sallis has authored nearly 30 books, about half of them novels. His sizzling, non-stop "Drive" was recently turned into a highly-praised movie. In this latest, set in Phoenix, three lives which seem fated to meet in some disaster find their destinies in other ways. The killer-for-hire of the title has cancer. He has one last job to do, but someone beats him to it, and he finds himself compelled to find out who and why. Meanwhile, the wife of one of the two detectives assigned to the case is also dying of cancer. A third story line introduces a young man whom we may think will later become a killer-for-hire. Terrific writing that will capture the imagination of any mystery fan.
Queen of America
Urrea, a distant relative, re-names Teresita Urrea, known as the Saint of Cabora (see “The Hummingbird’s Daughter” in our 2005 list), a queen for the adoration that those who believe in her healing powers bring to her. Driven out of Mexico by politicos who fear her following among the people, she struggles to find out who she truly is while she is hounded both by those who wish her dead and those who wish to tap into her power. In it’s episodic style Teresita’s story may remind some readers, as it did this reviewer, of those grand Victorian literary adventures experienced by the likes of Huck Finn, or even the much earlier Tom Jones.
Randy Lopez Goes Home: A Novel
After a lifetime away, Randy Lopez’s three original names have been lost to memory when he returns to Agua Bendita, his birth-village in northern New Mexico. He comes to understand that he must rebuild a bridge that will allow him to cross the raging river and reach the woman he has loved for as long as he can remember. Anaya’s many-themed allegory reminds us about both the need and the necessity of connecting people and cultures across time, and reminds this reviewer of the power of his wondrous first novel, Bless Me, Ultima, published nearly four decades ago.

About W. David Laird

W. David Laird is the former head of libraries at the University of Arizona. He owns Books West Southwest, an online and mail order book service. He was on the first Southwest Books of the Year panel in 1977; after a few years off for good behavior, he came back on in 2001.

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