I spent part of 2016 with my nose buried in a tattered copy of Moby Dick. Having avoided this cultural coin in the change purse of early-American literature for this long, I had always wanted to check it off my lifetime reading bucket list. It took months. It was torturous. More than once, I wanted to abandon the endeavor and trade it in for the 2014 Emoji Dick version that was "written" with the help of an automated Amazon translator. Yet, I made it to the end. (Spoiler alert: The whale wins.)
We promise that the books we highlight in the following pages won't be like that. They're new works with new ideas that we think you, dear readers, will actually enjoy. Some have local connections, like the latest in the mystery novels that form the foundation for the Longmire TV series, a hiking guide with ideas for off-beat adventures where you might even learn something, and former journalist John Fleck's analysis of successful water management in New Mexico that's also an admonition to the future about community cooperation. Others are books we just really liked, such a graphic novel about Marines and a riveting exploration of genetics and ethics.
And we couldn't fit all the book info we wanted to impart in just this section of the paper, so check out an Arts and Culture feature on a local publishing imprint and the Three Questions section in the calendar with former SFR columnist Rob Wilder. Finally, if you want more about Melville, don't miss a tidbit about his romance with Nathaniel Hawthorne. Happy fall, y'all. (Julie Ann Grimm)
Speaking to Scars
Not-quite-memoir cuts close to teen anguish that strikes young women
As she labored away in an administrative position at a university creative writing program, Kathleen Glasgow was trying to write her first novel.
It was not the inaugural book that she published this summer, however.
The pivotal moment came on a city bus on her way to work late one Midwestern spring when she saw them: angry scars on a teenage girl's arm, scars not unlike the ones she made on her own limbs.
"I didn't want to write this book. I was writing another novel, and I certainly didn't want to go back into the past and dredge up all these emotional feelings, because I have worked really hard to get beyond that and not harm myself," Glasgow tells SFR from her home in Tucson.
The girl noticed that she had noticed. She tugged at her long sleeves, pulling them back into position.
"I should have said something to her. I should have said to her, 'You are not alone, and I did it and I am here and you will be here later,'" she says. "And in essence, I decided that I didn't have that book growing up and I am going to write that book for girls and boys like her."
Books about depression and self-harm didn't make their way to mainstream shelves until Glasgow, now 47, was in her 20s. When she found 1994's Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel, Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen, which had published a year earlier, and the 1999 Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, she says she felt validated.
Nine years after that bus ride, Girl in Pieces made its debut. Unlike the works from Wurtzel and Kaysen, Glasgow's is not an outright memoir. Yet there are pieces of her in the plot that revolves around Charlie, a teenage girl who readers first meet mute in a psychiatric hospital.
"I gave Charlie my scars and the emotions behind the scars, but her story belongs to her. Her particular trajectory in life is completely fictional and it's not mine," Glasgow says. "But when I was writing the book, I was really specific with myself that if I was going to talk about such an emotional subject—self harm—that I was going to be completely honest about it and I was going to go for broke, because not many people really understand why people do it and what it's really like."
Self-harm such as Charlie's deliberate cutting of her arms and legs with broken glass is rarely suicidal, psychologists say, but people describe it as bringing a sense of relief and control, often followed by regret and shame—a repeating cycle common for people with depression and victims of or witnesses to violence. Most agree it affects girls in disproportionate numbers.
Glasgow says she distracted herself from some of the hard-to-handle "last gasps" of the book with binges on Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.
"There were times when I had to stop and walk away and not go back to it for three months. It's very hard. It's a subject that if you've been through it or you suffer depression, it can be pretty triggering. I had to be careful with writing it at the right times," she says.
Healing come in many forms. Although it's a trite chronology for anyone who's heard their share of "the mountain called me" stories about how people land in Santa Fe, Charlie's time in our city in the novel is important in the plot.
Glasgow has visited often, including during her days as a student at the University of New Mexico, she says, and her next book—already under contract with Random House—is set in what she describes as a fictional Northern New Mexico town. It, too, is about a teenage girl.
Glasgow says she's drawn to write about young women because she feels "perpetually stuck in adolescence."
"I once read something that said the moment your addiction starts is the moment that you stop emotionally developing as a person. … So if I thought about it completely, adolescence for me was a time when I had no idea who I was and I was trying to bury my past in a way and have a future, but yet I was keeping myself in the same spot by harming myself and drinking too much. Adolescence is this passionate time. You want to know about the world, and you have not quite been as pared down by experience as you will be when you are an adult. You have to round off your edges to get a job or go to school. So I think it's a brilliant time to write about and to think about." (JAG)
The Hour of Land
A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks
Author: Terry Tempest Williams
That who we are as a people, what we have become as a nation, and where and how we govern ourselves is echoed in our public lands resonates through Terry Tempest Williams' latest book, The Hour of Land. The stories of ourselves are etched in those miles, in America's "evolving idea," as Williams writes. In a book commemorating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, created Aug. 25, 1916, Williams tours national parks from Big Bend at the Mexico border in Texas to Gates of the Arctic.
Some of them provide familiar territory for Williams, like the towering peaks of Grand Teton National Park she grew up hiking. Some, like Big Bend's towering sandstone canyons, offer new terrain for her to explore. And some are made new by the company she keeps, as she returns to Gettysburg National Military Park with her adopted son from Rwanda, a survivor of the genocide there, who asks how any war can be "civil."
True to her form, meditative prose poems consume some chapters and we're left only with glimpses of the sea birds. But what emerges clearly is that we are not yet done with damaging these places. We're still desecrating the few burial mounds preserved in Iowa's Effigy Mounds, threatening to slice up Big Bend in the name of a border wall to block immigration, and encroaching on the solitude Theodore Roosevelt sought in the North Dakota park that now bears his name with drilling rigs and natural gas flares.
Over and over again, she makes clear the need to preserve these places, not just for the sake of the land, but for the sake of ourselves. It's not just the plants and animals that need these spaces, she insists, invoking Wallace Stegner. We need them, too. (Elizabeth Miller)
Author: Craig Johnson
Every night, at 12:34 am, Highway Patrol Trooper Rosey Wayman receives the same call for help over her patrol car radio. She'd normally rise to the occasion, but the caller's voice sounds eerily like that of Trooper Bobby Womack, who died 35 years ago. Has Wayman lost her mind, or is Womack's ghost trying to tell her something? The Highwayman is the 14th installment in Craig Johnson's Longmire series, which began in 2006, and serves as the inspiration for the popular television show, now in its fifth season, filmed at Greer Garson Studio at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and on location throughout New Mexico. Sheriff Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear seek to uncover the mystery of Womack's death and affirm Wayman's sanity.
Johnson's greatest strength lies with his dialogue, which comes off as folksy and natural, but don't expect him to introduce the protagonists. He doesn't spend much time describing characters or setting, leaving the reader unmoored from one scene to the next.
The conclusion of the story also leaves one asking, "Oh, it was that guy?" It might be best to catch this one when they adapt it for television, but if you're looking for a carefree read peppered with snappy dialogue, it's good for a lazy afternoon. (Andrew Koss)
Author: Louise Erdrich
When a shot fired at a deer in the field behind his house accidentally kills his neighbor's 5-year-old son, Landreaux Iron turns to the Ojibwe traditions for a path toward atonement, and gives his youngest son to his neighbors to raise as their own. "Our son will be your son now," he and his wife declare.
The roughshod justice mercilessly intertwines the two families (already tangled through estranged half-sisters) around a boy named for generations of healers. In Louise Erdrich's recognizable blending of past and present, the narrative leaps back centuries to weave in the story of the earliest namesake for the boy, LaRose. Her deft hand is again at play creating characters who feel familiar while riding far beyond the bounds of any stereotypical boxes for them. A narrative that, by certain measures, hovers around a recovered alcoholic Native American, depressed housewife, angst-ridden teenagers and a precocious child explodes into terrain that reminds us of the intractable draw of our ancestors, the inescapable reach of our own grief and how the stains of suspicion and guilt can corrupt even the boldest gesture toward redemption.
Those familiar with Erdrich's previous works, including National Book Award winner The Round House, will recognize some names in this latest entry into her ongoing saga of Native and white families in North Dakota. Above all, Erdrich's work shows clear mastery in this highly literary exploration of the limits of our generosity and the rippling damage of bones badly set as they heal. (EM)
Hiking to History
A Guide to Off-Road New Mexico Historic Sites
Author: Robert Julyan
With due deference to the Sierra Club's Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area as the dominant hiking guide for our readers, this work is a worthy addition to the outdoor reference collection for locals in that it's really only sort of a hiking guide. If you've already taken your in-laws to Bandelier too many times, the book might also up your tourism hospitality game. Robert Julyan presents essays and general directions on 22 interesting day trips that hopscotch through time and place with way more details than you find on trailhead signs or roadside markers.
"I've always felt that history is best experienced on foot, if for no other reason than that was usually how it was made," he writes in the introduction. In the right crowd, you might even read parts of the short pieces aloud to your companions during the road trip. While Julyan hits the obvious highlights of state's history including the turquoise mine near Cerrillos, the Manhattan project and Billy the Kid's Wild West in Lincoln County, the spots he suggests for visits are not just off-road, as the title boasts, but also off-beat. Travel along the same road that brought New York City artists to Taos in the 1890s to a boulder that marks where a broken wagon wheel set off a reimagined creativity in the region for many easterners who would follow. Walk through the Pecos Wilderness to the picturesque meadow known as the home of Beattys Cabin and get a primer on how the elk that stalk there now are only present because of help from a herd in Wyoming when the native elk had been hunted to extinction. Not all the places are accessible for all travelers, but most don't require epic training either. Or, one could simply enjoy the encyclopedic stroll through the imagination without leaving the library. (JAG)
Challenging the West’s Water Myths
Journalist sets out to write the stories of adaptability and adjustment
When longtime water-beat reporter John Fleck found himself spending a spare afternoon in Prague along the Vltava River, near the place where a narrow, fordable section drew people and the City of Bridges followed, the idea that water is at the core of our communities clicked into place. "If you're a journalist and a storyteller, thinking about a community and trying to understand how a community functions, you can always start with the water," Fleck says. "Water was always this central organizing principle from which everything else follows."
We gravitated then, just as travelers gravitate now, to the banks of the Thames in London or the waterfront in Seattle, he says. Cities are where they are because of the water they access—like Santa Fe, situated where the river runs out of the mountains.
"If you want to understand a city, you can always start with its water and think about how it grew and evolved, how people came together collectively to manage the water, to build around it, to think about it," he says. "Then this thing happens often, and that's especially true in the West, where we kind of overshoot our water."
In the three decades he spent reporting on water, including a long stretch at the Albuquerque Journal, perhaps the steadiest stream had predictions for drought, and then, in recent years, drought.
"I realized we were confronting that drought that we always feared, and that the kind of chaos and crisis that everyone expected wasn't happening," he says. "I got really interested in the question of why that is, how that is, what is it that we're doing that's different than what I had expected, and sort of confronting my own assumptions that grew out of that apocalyptic narrative of Cadillac Desert and Chinatown."
He's since left newspapers in part to have time to write a book on all he'd learned, but also to teach the next generation of water managers at the University of New Mexico. He wrote Water is for Fighting Over and Other Myths about Water in the West as a way of telling, in depth, case studies of the planes that don't crash and the cars that don't wreck: the many success stories for water management. Fleck characterizes the book as a balance to the "narrative of doom" prevailing in nonfiction about the West, pushing back with figures like that Albuquerque's per-capita water use has reduced by half since the mid-1990s; that while the population of Las Vegas, Nevada, has increased by 600,000, the city's water consumption has dropped by 33 percent, and in the farm country of Imperial Valley, on the Colorado River Basin, water use has declined 20 percent since the early 2000s. He writes about how Californian communities have collaborated on how to re-water their aquifers to keep the ocean out.
"We know we have the tools to use less water. Everybody can use less water. And once we recognize that, then it's easier to compromise and collaborate with your neighbors," he says. "There's this instinct to want to go to the barricades and fight for a lot of people, but if we can get beyond that expectation of the classic quote that Mark Twain never said, that beer is for drinking and water is for fighting over, then you can create the space for collaborative solutions."
When John Wesley Powell first explored the American West in the 19th century, he declared no cities could ever rise from so arid a landscape. He's right and he's wrong, Fleck says. The 20th century industriously produced a system of dams and canals that do allow for people to live in dry climates, as well as grow crops and raise livestock there. But, he adds, "We've also demonstrated that Powell was right, that we can't support as much as we thought we could. … So can we, through these collaborative human relationships in our communities and our water management communities, figure out to walk ourselves back from the brink? Because if we try to keep expanding acreage and diverting more water out of our rivers, that's going to fail."
There's a limit out there somewhere, and communities will have to decide which end to constrain: growth, or water consumption.
"I think that's the choice that every single community faces," he says. "There is no more water, because of climate change, there is probably less water, so communities that have a water supply need to recognize that there's risk that that water supply could be smaller. And they could choose to continue to have lawns and swimming pools and palm trees and not grow, or if they want to grow, they can choose to conserve water, to use less water, to manage their water better to allow the growth that they want."
The newest piece of that conversation about how to allocate water stems from its oldest uses, and that has meant trying to allocate some water to the rivers themselves.
"This is one of the hardest parts of the problem, because we have all these legal and policy structures that were built before we had this broad set of environmental values. So figuring out how to carve out some water for this—it sounds weird to call it a new use because it's really the oldest of uses, but in our human management of water it is kind of conceptually new—is really important," Fleck says.
We've seen that in the Santa Fe River, which now has the Living River Ordinance, and in San Luis Río Colorado in Mexico, where a dry riverbed in a town named for the presence of a river saw water for the first time in decades after a historic agreement among the Colorado River's shareholders led to dam releases just for that purpose.
"You have to think about how to use less water in some other area in order to enable that, and these are hard conversations about values as communities," he says.
Environmentalists thought it would never happen, and now they've seen it once. Doing it again may be the challenge.
"I think we can," Fleck says. "If that's what we decide we care about, we can do it." (EM)
The White Donkey
Author: Maximilian Uriarte
While Marine-turned-comics artist Maximilian Uriarte draws all the characters in his new graphic novel, Terminal Lance: The White Donkey, with a high level of detail, he handles the backgrounds of locations like Hawaii, Oregon and Iraq in a sort of washed-out, dreamlike fashion. Minimal colors represented in watercolor set the mood for most scenes and make limited instances of vivid color hit much harder. The tale of a young Marine named Abe who enlists to fill some unknowable void within himself, Uriarte's creation is semi-autobiographical and acutely terrifying throughout each of its sections.
Uriarte shirks the convention of graphic novel narration to focus on conversational dialog of Marines; rarely have we seen a more intimate or authentic view into the day-to-day of our armed forces. The portrayal of the actual people behind the war and their reasons to fight is stark and honest, and we learn that even mundane routines have the potential to become emotional minefields. Abe's descent from bright-eyed, optimistic youth to unraveling, explosive drunk grappling with PTSD is difficult yet movingly real. His failed attempts to re-assimilate into civilian life are disarmingly genuine and patiently crafted. Uriarte's first foray into a format longer than his recurring Terminal Lance strip (which appears in the Marine Corps Times), The White Donkey is nearly impossible to put down. As we root for characters that seem unflinchingly true to life, Abe's story remains gripping right up to the very last emotionally charged page.
(Alex De Vore)
An Intimate History
AUTHOR: Siddhartha Mukherjee
Physician Siddhartha Mukherjee masterfully traces the progression of "one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in the history of science." This story begins in 19th-century Austria, where an Augustinian abbot named Gregor Mendel quietly established the rules of inheritance. From that point, Mukherjee invites readers to discover every major insight of genetics alongside the scientists who brought them to light. The author, who won a Pulitzer prize for The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, writes a scientific procedural as thrilling as any mystery novel, each revelation—from the discovery of DNA to a complete map of the human genome—representing another piece of the puzzle.
Along the way, Mukherjee explores some of the social consequences of genetics. On one side of the coin, we've sequenced diseases, found a scientific basis for sexual preference and traced all humans to a common African ancestor. On the other: Carrie Buck and Hitler.
And then there are the ethics of now. Scientists are on the cusp of "broadly manipulating" the genome of a human embryo. It's technology that could potentially eliminate certain diseases, like Huntington's and cystic fibrosis, while also paving our way to designer babies.
Coming from a lineage speckled with mental illness, Mukherjee is intimately connected to his subject. Stories of his family's struggles with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia weave throughout the scientific narrative, adding a personal touch to the story, and perhaps offering readers a point of connection. (Steven Hsieh)
Author: Stephen Graham Jones
The troubles with being a werewolf in modern Americas are multifold—not only are there the standard-issue gauntlets of hunting and being chased for having hunted, but there are the woes of holding down a job, maintaining a credit score, keeping school records and retrieving shed clothing. There is, as well, the ongoing worry of getting caught. Werewolves, Stephen Graham Jones posits in Mongrels, must have to move a lot.
Mongrels, Jones' latest in a line of more than 20 books and his first successful foray into the subgenre, is the offspring of a class he taught at the University of Colorado focused on werewolves. He told Westword, "I had so much werewolf stuff in my head. I had to unpack it. I finally had enough nerve to tackle what I saw as my big werewolf novel, the one I was meant to write."
The story is of a transient, mismatched family: the narrator is raised by his aunt and uncle, his mother having died the day he was born, as is expected in werewolf families. They traverse the southern portions of America, avoiding snowfall as they roam from the house in Arkansas where the narrator's storytelling grandfather dies mid-morph, prematurely aged out of existence at 55 and already too old to continuing "wolfing out."
All the while, the narrator edges toward age 16 and the answer to the question that should, by then, arrive—whether he'll transform, like his aunt and uncle do, or whether, as was the case with his mother, the genes have skipped him. And which side does he want to land on anyway?
It's not all trouble and terror, as Jones layers in a good dose of the humor no doubt required by a contingent that suffers great difficulty keeping tabs on a pair of pants. (EM)
Santa Fe Reporter